Nuclear friction. Photo: Flickr/UK Ministry of Defence
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What are the political implications of moving Trident to Wales?

Whispers of our nuclear deterrent relocating from Scotland to Wales could be a clever move by the Tories.

Funny that one of the biggest potential threats to a working UK government is one of the biggest symbols of our national security. Yes, Trident is rearing its ugly periscope again, as whispers around Whitehall suggest it could be relocated from Scotland to Wales.

The Mail is reporting that MoD officials are secretly looking at plans to move our nuclear fleet from the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde to Milford Haven, a natural deep water port in Pembrokeshire.

Labour’s First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has previously indicated that he would be prepared to see Trident moved to Wales.

Scrapping Trident is a joint “red line” issue for the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens if they are to prop up a government in Westminster. This essentially means that Labour will have a hard time making deals with these smaller parties in the event of a hung parliament unless it is willing to somehow compromise its pro-Trident stance.

Although the MoD insists it has no intention of moving Trident, the prospect of such a strategy is clever politics from the Tories.

First, it weakens the SNP in its campaign for a second independence referendum. It calls Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff. Trident was key in the build-up to last year’s referendum, as the SNP promised an independent Scotland would scrap it, and save money by doing so. In the event of another vote, it would no longer have such a visceral subject in Scotland to use in its campaign if Trident were to be moved. 

Before the referendum last year, there was talk of Trident being moved to England – something the UK government would not discuss publicly, to avoid seeming as if it were making contingency plans for Scottish independence. Now it looks like the Tories are trying to get one step ahead of Sturgeon.

Second, it takes the sting out of the SNP’s potential post-election negotiations if there is the prospect of one of the party’s boldest “red lines” being washed away by the gently lapping Pembrokeshire waters. As James Forsyth points out at the Spectator, although it’s unlikely the SNP would work with the Tories in Westminster, there are opportunities for the latter to tempt the former into some form of agreement.

But such plans would not spell a black and white win for the Tories. Weakening the SNP’s non-negotiable stance on Trident could help the party along in a deal with Labour, a potential “confidence and supply” arrangement that has so far seen a significant obstacle in the parties’ disagreement on nuclear disarmament.

As well as this, the idea of moving Trident to Wales would be a political gift for Plaid Cymru, which would finally have something tangible to rally against and over which to gain traction, in the absence of any SNP-style drive for Welsh independence.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear