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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.