Willie Rennie MSP writes… Trident: We must consider effect of disarmament on our international relationships

Our party has always had a sceptical view of nuclear weapons. Whether we personally adhere to a multi-lateral or unilateral route to disarm, few members feel comfortable with the concept or reality of such a powerful weapons system.

There are issues of geo-diplomacy and security and not just party positioning at stake. Although not in power now, we need to consider our policy as if we were in government not just a party in opposition hunting for differentiation.

The United Kingdom is a stable partner amongst the nuclear defended nations of the world. The importance of stable partners should not be understated especially when the Non Proliferation talks take place every five years. Britain has been an important cog in the reduction of nuclear capability across the globe through these talks.

We need to consider the effects on geo-diplomacy if we unilaterally disarm. It is a delicate balance and we should be extremely careful when seeking to change that balance.

The local economic impact and the future of thousands of workers in the Faslane area is a factor too. I would never argue for jobs at any cost but equally a sudden change in policy would show a level of disregard for people’s livelihoods that would be out of character for our party.

And we cannot simply dismiss the role of our nuclear capability in securing the long period of relative peace and stability since the Second World War.

I accept there are counter arguments that we should abandon our capability. Some of them I find persuasive even if my ultimate conclusion remains the same.

However, these are enormous decisions with the future of our country’s security and that of our international partners at stake. I would therefore argue that we must set a high bar if we are to change our policy from the long deliberated and developed position.

No like for like replacement, an end to Continuous at Sea Deterrence and a reduction of submarines from four to three is a sensible and pragmatic approach in the fine traditions of our party. That is why I urge the conference not to change it in one conference motion but to engage in a longer deliberation of the issues.That kind of deliberation would be a reasonable and sensible response to such important matters.

That’s why I’m supporting Tim Farron and voting for Judith Jolly’s Amendment 1.

* Willie Rennie is a Member of the Scottish Parliament and former Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

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This entry was posted in Conference and Op-eds.


  • ‘a reduction of submarines from four to three is a sensible and pragmatic approach in the fine traditions of our party’….. More like the smudge, fudge , half baked traditions etc This would NOT be a full deterrent ………… more like in the fine tradition of cant make up their minds – make a ‘compromise; and please no one. This will give a stick to the to beat us with Tory pro Nucs……….. AND a stick for anti Nucs elsewhere ., I despair – an ideal opportunity again wasted. First big challenge – failed if we take this course IMO.
    Nucs are WMD – they are wrong – Liberals be bold AND do the right thing.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Sep '15 - 9:29am

    I’ve been most interested in Judith Jolly’s amendment too. I don’t really like any of the policies on offer or the existing one. I’m interested in getting rid of the nukes and seriously improving our conventional forces. We need to heavily involve the defence community in this chat and see what they think.

    I was thinking the other night and I thought the logic of nuclear retaliation could make sense if we are subjected to a limited nuclear strike. I don’t have much sympathy for what I call “the spite strike” – an all out nuclear retaliation once we are wiped out, but there is a logic in avoiding nuclear blackmail and not surrendering as soon as someone drops a nuke in the British countryside, or wherever they might first try as a warning.

  • Allan Heron 20th Sep '15 - 9:44am

    “And we cannot simply dismiss the role of our nuclear capability in securing the long period of relative peace and stability since the Second World War.

    I accept there are counter arguments that we should abandon our capability. Some of them I find persuasive even if my ultimate conclusion remains the same.”

    Would love to see some evidence that it’s “our” nuclear capabilty that has secured the “relative peace and stability”. Methinks the American capability might have a tad more to do with it.

    And to suggest it’s “ours” is simply wrong. We cannot use them independently of the USA but we continue to pontificate as if this is not the case. They are part of the USA’s capability in all but name.

    The proposal to cut the number of submarines from four to three was ridiculed before the election, and was hardly a policy of long deliberation, but precisely one to provide differentiation with the Tories.

    Hard to see that this is any different – just the same old cliches recycled once again.

  • Gareth: “Not been a popular position in Scotland, has it?” – The Scottish people are divided on the issue, and there are quite a lot of people here that support keeping nukes and another large section of the population that want them scrapped. Both arguments have merits but I personally think the side that wants to unilaterally disarm has the strongest case and I therefore support the UK giving up trident.

    What there is no support for anywhere however is a fudge of keeping a less effective version of trident. Removing the Continually At Sea part of the deterrent that ensures we can always strike back if we’re attacked first, but keeping the ability to incinerate a large city nevertheless.

    I don’t believe that Willie will be able to hold on to the 6%(ish) of the list vote in Mid Scotland and Fife needed to keep his seat. Almost nobody is going to be motivated to vote Lib Dem if they come up with fudges like that.

  • Toby Fenwick 20th Sep '15 - 11:56pm

    With all due respect, Willie, our current policy is strategically incoherent nonsense: for a party accused of sitting on fences, this is the largest and most expensive fence we’ve ever created.

    Judith Jolly’s amendment, preferably with clarity that we were ruling out any Trident/submarine based option, represents by far the best way forward.

  • John Barrett 21st Sep '15 - 12:02am

    If keeping the existing jobs supporting Trident is the best we can come up with as an argument supporting the Lib-Dem policy for holding on to weapons of mass destruction,, we will deserve the ridicule Scottish voters will dish out next May

  • The view that Scotland needs the Trident jobs is at best patronising guff, what Glasgow doesn’t need is to be hit by the fallout of a nuclear strike on Holy Loch because the 4 London paid-for, American supplied, subs are based there.
    I am a multilateralist, but the truth is that we have no independent deterrent and so in procuring the replacements will just be giving a very nice fillip to the US arms industry. Instead of the ludicrous, let’s go down to 3 subs fudge, why not undertake to spend half the money on developing our own genuinely independent deterrent and the other half on something good for society.
    Finally, no-one has ever really explained why Trident needs replacing – have the uranium warheads gone off or soemthing?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 21st Sep '15 - 6:48am

    Although I am personally in my heart a unilateralist for I believe that we could as a country lead on this matter, I support much that Johnmc has stated.

    Supporting the acquisition of WMDs on the grounds of employment seems a pretty immoral position, and as for then placing these weapons in a country that actually does not desire there presence appears equally questionable.

  • In war people will use whatever weapons they have whether it is moral or not . Those countries which do not have the latest weapons put themselves at risk. Would Putin have dared to seize Crimea and support the rebels in Eastern Ukraine if that country had not given up its nuclear weapons ? Having said that there does not seem much point in us having any weapons which we cannot use without the consent of another country such as the USA. An independent nuclear deterrent should mean exactly that.

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