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.