Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Under Water

By the time you read this, submariner William McNeilly will be locked up in a police cell. According to The National he had decided to hand himself in to police today after nearly a year on the run. Why? Because he had written a dossier in which he described the Trident submarines as a "broken system" and warned that with ageing equipment and human errors in safety systems there was a "disaster waiting to happen."

This makes sense. Load up nuclear bombs full of fissile material and stick them in boats that sink, and then keep them sinking year after year... it seems inevitable that an accident will happen. It is safe to assume that many minor accidents already have. Luckily for the people of Glasgow, they have been minor. Because a major accident at Faslane, just 25 miles upwind of Scotland's largest city, would mean disaster. Just recall the effects on Wales of Chernobyl, thousands of miles to the East, and then imagine that happening doon the watter. If, like this writer, you love Glasgow and have close family there, this thought brings a chill to your spine.

If this seems far from this column's normal themes of poverty and social justice in Scotland, think again.

Investment and Return
William McNeilly is talking about a system whose renewal will cost an estimated £100bn. You may safely take that as the baseline figure - look at cost escalation in the Eurofighter project if you want evidence of defence projects running, inevitably, massively over budget.

That is £100bn being taken out of the hands of the poor - this year's proposed welfare cuts of £14bn are a an indication of how the maths works. It's £100bn less on hospitals.  £100bn less on schools. £100bn less on childcare, social workers, homeless shelters... however you look at it the list is almost endless.

In short, it is £100bn less investment in human capital. Instead of making society better by investing in its people, Westminster proposes to chuck it into the sea.

Human capital pays dividends over a lifetime. The child whom you educate, the woman who is earning a living thanks to the free childcare you are offering, the clever 18 year old who can afford university because there are no tuition fees... From all of these people in whom we have invested there is a long term payback.

But not from the dangerous rust buckets that carry Westminster's bomb. We had guessed that they were dangerous. But it takes a brave man like William McNeilly to remind us, at huge cost to his life, how much our lives are at risk.

Ironically, Trident being dangerous could be just what the defence lobby wants to push MPs into committing to the £100bn renovation. "Trident is dangerous - William said so - so let's renew it now before the bloody thing blows up." You can imagine the conversations in the Members Bar at Westminster. Scotland's 56 will be unable to stop this because renewal is Tory, Labour and Liberal policy. They will have to use their most Machiavellian methods to encourage back bench rebels - surely there is someone in the remnants of Labour who has a moral backbone - to join them.

Of course if Scotland were independent it would not have these terrible weapons of mass slaughter doon the watter. We'd invest the money in the people of Scotland, and make our home a better place.

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