Meet the arrestables

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express

I’m getting used to the jet-set life of a Green politician. This weekend it was the National Express up to Scotland to protest at the Faslane naval base against the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear missile system.

After a very short night’s sleep in Edinburgh, our group from the English and Welsh Greens set off at 4am on the Sunday with members of the Scottish Green Party, including Mark Ballard MSP. After picking up more people and another MSP in Glasgow, we arrived just before dawn near the base, which sits at the top of a spectacular sea loch on the west coast of Scotland.

We made on foot for the south gate of the base, which is easiest to block as it lies at the end of a narrow road running along the edge of the loch. There we found two friendly policemen - it turned out that on Sundays the South gate isn’t actually used so, after a short picnic breakfast, we set off again for the North gate, which is next to a busy roundabout.

Unfurling our banners - one 6 metres long - we arranged ourselves dressed in black into the vague shape of a nuclear submarine in front of the entrance to the base. True to the rumours we had heard, the Scottish police were very nice and tolerated this for a while, before sending their friendliest officer to warn us we would be arrested if we didn’t move out of the way. A few delaying tactics disguised as meetings between the organisers later, all of us not keen to spend 24 hours in a Glasgow jail moved aside, leaving our ‘arrestables’ (some very charming women) sitting in the road.

This remained the situation for the rest of the day. We lost count of the number of times the police gave our ladies their absolute final warnings, but they never carried out their promise to take them away, instead steering the base traffic carefully around them. So we kept them supplied with tea and cakes and settled down to enjoy the convivial atmosphere that has developed around the base since the start of the campaign on 1st October.

After a few hours about 30 young Finns and Swedes joined us, bringing more cakes, as well as hula-hoops and footballs to play with and a book of rock song lyrics which they had doctored on the ferry to produce a range of funky peace songs. The Scandinavians were due to blockade the following day - likely to be a bit more lively being a Monday. Later on, a group of Quakers arrived at the other side of the road to hold a meeting, which several of our group joined and more Glasgow Greens turned up with a big tub of soup for us all.

Other visitors included Angie Zelter, the instigator of the Faslane 365 campaign, who came down from the permanent peace camp up the road and filled us in on progress so far. Arrests have varied on different days (clearly the Green Party isn’t seen as a serious threat) – with a total of 118 people taken into custody, all of whom have been warned but not charged. Entry to the base has been seriously disrupted on 12 of the 16 days so far.

Angie set up Faslane 365 this year to apply pressure for the disarmament of our current nuclear missiles and to raise opposition to a replacement for Trident – a decision on which is likely to be taken by the government early in 2007.

This isn’t your usual issue of right versus wrong, or even of ‘real world’ practicalities versus ‘nice idea’ moral imperatives. The groups taking part in Faslane 365 are, in fact, enforcing the law. The UK is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), under which we have promised to negotiate in good faith towards nuclear disarmament. With North Korea’s exit from the NPT and development of nuclear weapons, and with the current scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear power programme, it is more important than ever that we stick to both the letter and the spirit of our commitments.

By keeping Trident and planning a replacement, the government is failing to do this in two ways, hence our slogan, ‘What part of non-proliferation don’t you understand?’ (and hence the 6m length of the banner!).

Greens will be back at Faslane over the next few months with other blockading groups. These groups are an eclectic mix, ranging from clowns to Nobel Peace Prize recipients, and including authors, musicians, elected representatives and geographically based groups of campaigners from across the UK and Europe.

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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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.