The world is becoming a more and more dangerous place for working people.
A tragic war continues to rage in Ukraine, an unjustified Russian invasion provoked by NATO, the United States and Britain. The same Western powers are preparing a new cold war against China, pivoting vast military resources to South East Asia and conducting an economic, diplomatic and propaganda war. Conventional military spending is skyrocketing. The number of nuclear weapons held globally has increased for the first time since 1985.
Here in Scotland, on the periphery of Europe and far from Westminster where the ruling class decide questions of war, we can feel far removed from the danger. Perhaps as a result we can feel that there is less urgency or that we have less of a responsibility for the fight for peace in 2023. That is a dangerous illusion.
Just as the fight against the climate crisis, which capitalism has created and is unwilling to and incapable of resolving, requires the efforts of working people across the entire planet, so to does the fight against imperialism’s reckless and inherent drive to war. We live in a time when the imperialist chain of bases and alliances stretches right across the face of the earth, where wars are fought globally and nuclear annihilation could be triggered in a matter of minutes. There is nowhere to hide. The fight for peace is just as fundamental for young workers and students in Glasgow as it is for young people in London, Washington, Moscow or Beijing.
Just as crucially, as socialists and trade unionists living and struggling in one of the foremost imperialist countries, one of our primary duties is to combat and end the imperialism and the aggression of Britain’s ruling class.
Scotland plays a fundamental role in those imperialist plans. Most obviously, Scotland hosts the Faslane Naval base on the Gare Loch, near the mouth of the Clyde, less than 30 miles from Glasgow and also home to Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines and Trident nuclear missiles. This would make Faslane a key target in any conflagration. Any nuclear strike here would also exterminate some of Scotland’s most populous areas, even putting aside that this would undoubtedly be part of a broader nuclear armageddon which would wipe out all of humanity. There is also a massive risk of a nuclear accident either by human or mechanical error at the base itself or from the convoys servicing it which pass through densely populated areas.
Scotland also has a network of conventional military, naval and air bases scattered throughout it, making it strategically key to logistics, war planning and regular military exercises for Britain, the USA and NATO. This also has implications for the fight against the climate crisis. The UK and US militaries are some of the world’s biggest polluters, something the new drive to war will only aggravate. Young working-class Scots, denied the chance for meaningful work, education or a dignified life elsewhere, are preyed on to fill the ranks of the army and navy. Scotland also houses sites and factories for some of the world’s biggest multinational arms manufacturers including: BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Thales, Raytheon, and Leonardo. Recent years have seen substantial investment by these firms.
Despite this, since a relative high point in living memory with the protests against the Iraq War, the peace movement in Scotland, has struggled to gain traction with a new generation of young people. We could be left with the impression that campaigning for peace is something that only needs to happen in London– rather than in each and every community across Scotland.
The increase in danger and reckless aggression by the USA, Britain and NATO has not been matched by a similar increase in resistance and campaigning for peace by working people. The major campaigning bodies for peace in Scotland have been less active across the board. In the wake of the 2014 independence referendum many peace organisations, like sections of the labour movement, have restricted their outlook and their potential to grow by adopting the shortsighted and mistaken view that the fight for peace and nuclear disarmament can only be achieved by supporting independence under the SNP.
This polarising view and main focus for campaigning removes the potential for support from those who aren’t necessarily supporters of independence and risks relegating the peace movement to simply being a fringe offshoot of the SNP’s project. It is also incorrect and risks fostering illusions about what the SNP’s brand of ‘independence’ would achieve in terms of peace.
The SNP and Greens have now dropped all pretence of any opposition to NATO. Their model of independence is firmly rooted in NATO and EU membership, with full incorporation into both military structures. Both parties have shamelessly rattled the sabre for more escalation in Ukraine rather than calling for peace.
The independence only model is also profoundly defeatist: the idea that our movement can only achieve anything by hitching itself to an SNP project and hoping for the best rather than leading a proactive fight. Scotland’s youth and working people have a proud history of fighting for peace, including through organisations like the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Stop the War.
Just as with the history of the labour movement we see that the peace movement is most effective when it is militant and united across Britain, against the machinations of the ruling class. What Scotland and what Britain need is a class conscious and mass movement for peace, with a clear understanding of imperialism, capable of uniting working people regardless of their stance on independence.
It doesn’t matter if the nuclear bomb falls on Faslane or on Devonport. Our fate will be the same.
It doesn’t matter if NATO troops have a saltire or a union jack on their sleeve. The fate of those on the sharp end of imperialism will be the same.
Our struggle can’t be put on hold pending independence and jam tomorrow SNP promises. The stakes for working people are too high.
Johnnie Hunter is the General Secretary of the Young Communist League