How Valentines should go nuclear

Valentines and nuclear waste - a novel gift idea for your loved one...

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Love is compulsorily in the air and we’re all being urged to buy, buy, buy to prove it. But marking the day with more than a simple (recycled) card is full of ethical pitfalls. If you’re a Green, what are the options?

A short-haul mini break to hold hands in a European city is obviously out of the question. Similarly, diamonds have been tainted with every ethical dirty stick there is, including genocide, so I can’t see myself lusting after any of those. And any flowers available at this time of year, even if they haven’t been soaked with chemicals throughout their lives, are likely to have been either forced up in overheated greenhouses or flown in from warmer parts of the world.

Supporting a local restauranteur with a candle-lit dinner seems like the best idea for Wednesday, although I have probably left it too late to book anything now. Greenpeace’s case against the Energy Review has hit the High Court at the same time as the Green Party is focusing on Trident, so I have been busy with nuclear-related businesses most of this week.

The Greens are supporting Greenpeace’s case and put in a witness statement detailing how the consultation leading up to last year’s Energy Review was too short. It also asked questions that were hard to answer sensibly, and which betrayed the Government’s foregone conclusion to endorse a new round of nuclear power stations, and all of this went into the statement as well. I went to the Old Bailey on the first day of the case last Wednesday along with reps from the other groups supporting the case, including UNISON, the PCS union, Nuclear Free Local Authorities and the Welsh Anti-Nuclear Alliance.

At lunchtime, I joined a Green Party delegation to 10 Downing Street to deliver a letter outlining our objections to another huge waste of money that it’s hard to believe Labour are planning – the renewal of our Trident weapons of mass destruction.

Later on I went to meet Under-Secretary of Defence, Derek Twigg, with Green MEP Caroline Lucas. The MoD agreed to this meeting in lieu of us being able to take part in the rubber stamping debate that will be held in Parliament, and we grilled him quite thoroughly on the various moral, practical, financial and diplomatic madnesses associated with replacing the UK’s ‘nuclear deterrent’.

Predictably, we didn’t hear much new. Mr Twigg has memorised all the dodgy assumptions from the Defence White Paper issued in December, and he didn’t deviate an inch from these lines when we tackled him. Still, we left them some written questions to answer, and at least I got to see some first-class ministerial doublethink in the flesh.

Also this week, proposals for what to do with the nuclear waste from our current nuclear power stations were endorsed by the Geological Society of London. Tons of highly radioactive material has been sitting around at places like Sellafield for years while the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) tried to come up with a safe way of storing it in the long term. ‘Geological disposal’ is now the preferred plan – i.e. burying it under ground for a really, really long time and hoping for the best – and now the RGS has agreed this is the least risky way of coping with it.

The conjunction of all this nuclear action with wondering what to do about Valentine’s Day gave me a curious thought. If diamonds are actually forever, nuclear waste very nearly lasts that long, so could the Government perhaps save a bit on the cost of burying all that waste by enlisting the help of the man who can sell anything, Richard Branson? To complement Virgin Atlantic’s flights, Virgin Galactic’s near-space travel and Virgin Health Bank’s stem cell storage plan, he could launch ‘Virgin Isotopic – the nuclear option for lovers’.

It’s a simple idea. Romantic souls looking for the ultimate gesture would pay – say - £200 to have their declaration of love etched (with lasers!) onto one of the copper cylinders in which spent nuclear fuel will be contained. The personalised canisters would be taken to a depository far under ground and then kept completely safe and secure under every conceivable political or geological circumstance for hundreds of thousands of years.

A ‘business class’ option could be added to the scheme, where the different nuclear isotopes in the waste would be separated and customers given a choice of radioactive elements to reflect the level of their commitment. More cynical or realistic lovers could opt for a cylinder of caesium-137 – with a half-life of 34 years, this material could be safely handled again after less than a thousand years. Idealists could opt instead for a batch of plutonium-239 – its half-life of 24,000 years means the canister would remain lethal effectively forever.

Thinking about it, this is a definite winner. After all, unlike a diamond ring, it’s incredibly unlikely any of this stuff will be lost or stolen. Well, let’s hope not anyway.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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Can Nicola Sturgeon keep Scotland in the EU?

For Sturgeon, Scotland's rightful place is in the EU. If that means independence, so be it.

In the aftermath of the EU referendum, when Remain voters were still nursing their hangovers, a meme began to circulate on Scottish Facebook pages. It was an image of Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, her arms outspread, with a simple message: “F***in’ calm doon. Am oan it.”

At a time when British politicians are mired in the kind of chaos seen once in a generation, Sturgeon has emerged as a figure of calm. While her fellow Remain campaigners were speaking tearfully to news cameras, she addressed EU citizens, telling them: “You remain welcome here. Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”

When Boris Johnson declared, “Project Fear is over,” she retorted on Twitter, “Project Farce has now begun.” Her message has been retweeted more than 6,000 times. Faisal Islam, the political editor of Sky News, remarked on air that she seemed to be “the person with the most thought-through plan”.

Sturgeon now presents herself as Scotland’s anchor to Europe. Yet critics view her actions as those of a veteran independence campaigner seizing a chance denied to her by the Scottish referendum two years ago. In reality, she is working for both objectives.

It is hard to imagine now but the Scottish National Party was once suspicious of the idea of an independent Scotland in Europe. The idea took hold thanks to Jim Sillars, the Labour MP who led the 1976 breakaway that formed the Scottish Labour Party. He defected to the SNP in the early 1980s and became one of its strongest pro-EU advocates. The promise of an independent state within a larger framework was soon a mainstay of the party’s campaigns. The 1997 manifesto promised voters “the restoration of self-confidence and the creation of a modern democracy in the mainstream of European life”.

In the early years of the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon’s approach to the EU was one of a negotiator, not an idealist. In 2003, she put forward a motion that the Scottish Executive should oppose the reduction of Scottish seats in the European Parliament from eight to seven. “Scotland, with no seat on the Council of Europe, no commissioners and fewer MEPs than comparably sized independent member states, has little enough influence in the EU,” she argued.

Her interest in representation emerged again in 2005 when she described an EU proposal on software patents as “a serious threat” to developers. She noted that: “There was apparently no Scottish minister at the Council to represent Scottish interests, the UK instead being represented by an unelected member of the House of Lords.”

Sturgeon’s commitment to work with the EU has not always been reciprocated. In the Scottish referendum, as deputy first minister, she promised the continuity of EU membership. Yet José Manuel Barroso, the then president of the European Commission, said it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible”, for an independent Scotland to join. Some consider his statement to have been crucial to the success of the No campaign.

When the EU referendum arrived, Sillars, the architect of the SNP’s Europhile agenda, criticised the “love affair” that he believed his party was indulging in and joined the campaign for Brexit. Sturgeon made a different calculation. She threw herself into the Remain campaign, though she was careful not to stand alongside David Cameron. She played down the Scottish independence line – when asked, in the run-up to the vote, if she was a unionist, she described herself as “an enthusiastic European”.

She turned her reputation as a “nippie sweetie” to her advantage. Once viewed as a dour machine politician, now Sturgeon was warm to voters while cutting Boris Johnson down to size. There was no need to scaremonger over Europe, she said. A positive campaign was enough. There is no doubt that she tapped in to the popular feeling: 62 per cent of voters in Scotland opted to remain in the EU, compared to 48 per cent in the UK as a whole. Every local authority area north of the border voted Remain.

As the referendum results rolled in, she prepared to go it alone. “There are no rules,” Sturgeon told Andrew Marr. “The status quo we voted for doesn’t exist.” To her, Scotland’s rightful place is in the EU and if that requires independence, so be it.

She offered to meet Brussels diplomats. She contacted EU institutions. She put forward a motion in the Scottish Parliament demanding “the Scottish government to have discussions” in pursuit of “protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU”.

Yet Barroso’s warnings may come back to haunt Sturgeon. She has always painted a picture of an independent Scotland in Europe as one that is nevertheless tied to the British Isles. Its currency is the pound; Scots and the English move freely between Glasgow and Carlisle. EU member states may seize on her proposal, or use it as a way of repeating the rebuff of 2014. Sturgeon the nippie sweetie negotiator has her plan for a European Scotland. Now she must wait for Europe to answer. 

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit lies