Discussing the SNP position on NATO membership, John Finnie MSP likened it to “being opposed to knife crime but joining a gang provided they do not keep a knife your house”. Coarann takes a look back at Workshop 3 at RIC 2013, Scotland for Peace: The alternative to the arms industry and Britains imperial past.
The title of the workshop, ‘Scotland for Peace’, was guaranteed to appeal to committed pacifists present, although not me, so frequently has the mantra for ‘peace’ been repeated to induce oppressed people into giving up the armed pursuit of justice and liberation, that I have long since developed an aversion to it.
Two things conspired to change my mind, however. First, in my experience of attending conferences, the most promising titles have turned out to be the worst workshops and I had never tested if the reverse was true. Second, the line-up of speakers (John Finnie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands; Isobel Lindsay of Scottish CND; Neil Davidson of the Alternative World War 1 Committee; and Nighet Nasim Riaz of Asians for Independence) augured a fair discussion of Scotland’s imperial history, the war on terror, and issues of security and foreign policy in an independent Scotland.
Neil Davidson proceeded by reminding us that the centenary of the start of the First World War in August 2014, a few weeks before the Referendum, will provide a filter for the No Campaign, presumably to link the memorialisation of Scottish casualties to allegiance to the Union. Davidson asserted that the issue of militarism is at the heart of the campaign for independence. He traced the path whereby, through the integration of Highlanders into the British Army, Scotland became the military, and subsequently colonial vanguard of British expansion, and how military culture had become so deeply embedded over successive generations, that people felt it was in the tradition of their country (as well as their family and community) to volunteer.
Nighet Nasim Riaz spoke of the consequences of Britain’s involvement in the ‘war on terror’, from the suffering in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the demonisation of the Muslim community in the UK. She envisaged a country where Muslims are not continually called out to apologise for individual acts of murder. She expressed her pride in the positive work Scotland is doing to encourage sustainability in Malawi and Pakistan, noting that this could be improved in an independent Scotland, and concluded by urging Scottish Muslims to participate in the independence campaign as it is in their best interests to do so.
John Finnie is perhaps best known for his decision to quit the SNP over the party conference vote to stay in NATO, albeit whilst banning WMDs from Scottish territory, a position Finnie likened to being opposed to knife crime but joining a gang provided they do not keep a knife your house. His fruitless attempts to extract information on the amount of Scottish Government money going to companies involved in the armaments trade were dramatically demonstrated by holding aloft several pages of yellow-redacted data with little text remaining. Statistics or lack of them aside, Finnie concurred that the military was ‘in the brickwork’, and advocated diversification, for example, by transferring production of warships to ferries and, as a member of the audience suggested, frigates for oil.
Finnie pressed the need for a precise constitution which takes a credible view of the real threat to security. Whilst not giving up on his opposition to NATO membership, he noted that the SNP’s proposed position does not oblige captains of stopping-off aircraft and naval vessels to divulge the nature of their cargo. Finnie advocated a human rights-based approach which prioritises welfare over warfare, and pointed to the Edinburgh Conversations (a series of mediation talks which took place at in the early 1980s, at the height of the cold war) as offering a constructive role for an Independent Scotland in global conflict resolution.
I had not heard Isobel Lindsay speak before, but I found her methodological approach to be more convincing, and of more practical use than all the visionary, tub-thumping speeches of the day. She proposed a series of simple messages to take to the electorate, which only take few minutes to explain, i.e.:
Even with SNP’s conservative plans, we would save £1 billion per year. (Other plans put it closer to £2 billion.) In a new Scotland, this could be diverted to constructive projects, including jobs.
Trident provides only 520 jobs in Scotland. In short, Scotland gets very little.
A constitutional ban on weapons would make an Independent Scotland a safer place. (And curtail British involvement in illegal wars).
Lindsay also restated the need for sophisticated debate, and addressed the task of making human security relevant. This could involve asking people (a) What security means to them? (a warm home, food on the table, decent jobs?). (b) What are the greatest threats to this? (A Tory government in Westminster? An economic model habituated to capitalism?). And finally, (3) what are the solutions?
In conclusion, this was a much more stimulating and useful workshop than I anticipated. The overall message was that we cannot change our colonial past, but we can take a new, more just path in the future. I may not be a pacifist, but I’ll go along with that.