A Documentary About Direct Action for Disarmament & Peace in Scotland

On 7 July 2017, the United Nations (UN) conference to negotiate a legally-binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), by 122 votes to 1, with one abstention. The treaty will come into force once 50 states have ratified it; so far it has been signed by 56 states and ratified by three. On the 6th of October 2017, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in recognition of its efforts at raising awareness nuclear weapons’ catastrophic potential and in appraisal of its attempts at achieving an international treaty for their prohibition.

Reuters  reported that “the cause of arms control got a publicity boost in October when the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize.” However, the treaty negotiations were boycotted by the United States, Russia and other nuclear powers.

Recent developments have exacerbated the need to abolish nuclear weapons. ICAN writes that on the 1st of March 2018 the Russian President Vladimir Putin “made headlines by boasting that the Russian Federation’s new ‘invincile’ nuclear weapons can breach NATO’s missile defences in a speech. In particular, Putin bigged up Russia’s new nuclear cruise missiles, which are currently being tested. Putin’s statement was made on the back of US president Donald Trump’s claim last month that, if Russia did not stop modernising its nuclear force, ‘we’re going to be so far ahead of everybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.’”

This recent exchange of aggressive rhetoric by the two world leaders has drawn widespread criticism due to its pettiness and imaturity. However, it is important to remember that these macho performances strike a cord with a large number of their local supporters as they are used to represent their nations’ status and power. While the cause of nuclear non-proliferation is gaining traction in both institutional and movement spheres around the world, Washington nevertheless is continuing to modernise its arsenal, increasingly producing deadlier weapons.

Here in Britain, as a first step towards nuclear disarmament, many different action groups and campaigns are employing non-violent direct action in order to achieve the complete renunciation of nuclear war and its weapons by Britain and all other countries.

DIRECT ACTION FOR DISARMAMENT & PEACE

Exploring Non-violent Direct Action in Scotland

– A few words about the documentary – 

This short documentary only focuses on Scotland. It explores the everyday life in the Faslane Peace camp, the longest continuously functioning protest camp in the world and documents the days of resistance of the disarmament camp organised by the Trident Ploughshares campaign. The documentary was made on a very low budget and it was entirely produced by us.

An introduction to the movement and some personal thoughts:

I came in contact with members of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the Trident Ploughshares campaign, Faslane Peace camp residents, members of the Nukewatch network and other people supportive of the same cause, including activists who traveled hundreds of miles to join the following actions and events. Thus, my conclusions are limited to covering a very short period that cannot reasonably be stretched to adequately represent the entire peace movement since it is based upon the particular individuals that I engaged with and is limited to the length of time I was around them. However, I judged that they did represent their community networks and campaigns to some extent, which is why their statements are included.

This documentary explores acts of opposition to the British nuclear weapons system through peaceful direct action by focusing on two different peace camps in Scotland. It aims to both show their effectivenes as well as to raise some questions regarding the ideology of the peace movement. Specifically, I was interested in how they situate their efforts in the wider social context: since the peace movement is fundamentally one that aims at (much needed) reforms, do they believe that these attempts are enough without more wide-ranging opposition to the system which produces and maintains these weapons?

As is is stated in the ‘Tri-Denting It Handbook’ (2001: 12-14), anti-nuclear campaigning at an international level has taken various forms: professional and citizens’ actions throughout the established channels of the law and Government; petitions, open letters, conferences and lobbying from the scientific community; and diverse forms of ‘street’ protest such as marches, blockades, direct action, peace camps. The acceleration of the arms race, the NATO decision in demand of First Strike and growing public awareness of the consequences of radioactive fallout from atmospheric testing galvanised the first of many street protests in Germany and around the world. The Hague Appeal for Peace  conference in 1999 brought together many of the international movements for peace and disarmament with its appeal to “commit to initiating the final steps for abolishing war, for replacing the law of force with the force of law”.

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E P Thompson addresses anti-nuclear weapons rally, Oxford, England, 1980 Photo source: By Kim Traynor – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

Back in the 80s, the situation was far different with mass mobilisations playing a key role in restraining the nuclear arms race and preventing nuclear war.

In Scotland, the action was historically centered on Holy Loch, on the Clyde, where US Polaris missile submarines were based. Many local councils passed resolutions against Polaris. Scottish CND evolved from these groups (and others) and was launched after a march of about 4,000 in Glasgow in May 1959.

The first submarine sea-patrol took place in 1968, under the Polaris programme. This programme was replaced by the Trident programme in 1996. Faslane is known as the main base for the Royal Navy ‘s  Sybmarine Service, including four British Vanguard submarines, with at least one on patrol at all times to provide a continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent. Faslane (HM Naval Base Clyde) is one of the Royal Navy’s three main operating bases, alongside HMNB Devonport and HMNB Portsmouth. The base has been used to house Britain’s nuclear submarines since the Cold War.

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HM Naval Base
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 A submarine moving past the camp, going into port, June 20, 2017

Faslane Peace Camp is situated on the Eastern shore of Gare Loch, a sea-loch in the mid-west of Scotland. The land occupied by the camp has been under the jurisdiction of various local authorities over the years. Currently, it is controlled by the local council of Argyll and Bute. Residents of the camp have been threatened with eviction and constantly monitored by multiple police agencies.  There are a handful of ‘full-time’ residents who view the camp as a home, accompanied by scores of ‘part-time’ residents and visitors. The camp’s fluctuating population means that the experience of life there will vary significantly depending on the people who are living there at that time.

 

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Faslane Peace Camp, June 20, 2017

As it is stated in  ‘Faslane-Diary Of A Peace Camp’ (p.83), written from a resident back in the 80s,  “Living constantly there (though) seems that it can create a feeling of staying out of sense of obligation. Actions can be draining but it is important to remember that the camp’s very existence outside the base and the activities needed to keep it functioning on an everyday level, chopping wood, washing up, gravelling the paths, and so on-are a form of direct action in themselves.” Faslane’s mere every-day presence is a victory.

Responsibilities are equally divided among the peace campers although often a few people are doing most, be it in vegan food preparation, making decisions, receiving visitors, cutting woods etc. According to the Faslane Diary of a Peace Camp, the residents agree to stay away from hierarchical organising and decision making. There are always some issues that might arise, as the space is small and the campers are different people with different needs and ideas, but at the end of the day things can work out. Proof of this is that the camp has managed to survive for 36 years.

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Trident Ploughshares Disarmament Camp at Coulport, July 12, 2017

The Trident Ploughshares campaign is an important activist anti-nuclear weapon group that emerged in 1998. The Trident Plougshares campaigners are taking direct action against installations and equipment involved in the Trident system and their defence in the courts is broadly based on the primacy of international law.  As reported on the campaign’s website, “To date (February 2018) there have been 2,746 arrests, 654 trials, with many more in the pipeline, and 2380 days have been spent in prison (not counting time in police cells). Fines and compensation orders totalling over £88,157 have been imposed.”  During trials most of the defendants have represented themselves and have been assisted by legal advisers. Many Ploughshares defendants attempt to show that their actions were morally and legally justified, and that their intent was to protect life, not to commit crime.

Disarmament camps have been taking place at Coulport since 1998. The August disarmament camp at Coulport on the West Coast of Scotland was an open event for everyone opposing Trident which lasted from Saturday the 8th until the 16th  of July (2017) at Peaton Glen Wood which is about half a mile from the Coulport base, by the shores of Loch Long. People from Sweden, Spain, Canary Islands, Finland and France travelled to take part in the disarmament camp. During the disarmament camp, some of the actions basically included daily vigils at the main gate of Coulport, vigils outside the Court in Dumbarton, and a group of activists breaching the MOD bylaws that prohibit free access to the Coulport hills.

The following extract is taken from the Faslane – Diary of A Peace Camp: “There have been conflicts between the camps, CND, political organisations, anarchist groups and so on because we all have different ways of approaching the issue. But we ‘re all working for the same thing, and it’s all important.”

In the case of CND’s supporters it can be said they are generally left of centre in politics. For both CND and The Trident Ploughshares campaign, dialogue and negotiation with the Government and other state institutions, such as the police and the judiciary, is seen as a very necessary part of their campaign’s history of action. On the other hand Faslane Peace camp has some fundamental differences with these action groups. Although Faslane peace camp works together with CND and Trident Ploughshares under many circumstances, the peace camp has a reputation of taking a more radical approach, being more autonomous and self-governing. Their logo combines the CND ‘Peace’ logo with the encircled ‘A’ symbol of anarchy.

The significant proliferation of nuclear weapons and more specifically, the deployment of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 triggered and reinforced the presence of ‘anarcho-pacifism’ as a distinct and specific doctrine. Under this analysis, nuclear weapons were combined with critiques of modern governments in organisations such as the Committee of 100; this position led to the understanding that non-proliferation is inseparable from a radical reorganisation of society. This was complemented by the use of direct action, a key part of the anarchist methodology. Direct action itself is intrinsically based on a lack of trust towards the State and its operations.

Furthermore, a centralised political structure, with citizens willing to follow the commands of whoever wins power, enables authoritarians to seize control which can, in this case, result in the nuclear devastation (as is made frighteningly clear in modern times).

Hence, a complete abolition of nuclear weapons does not seem feasible under such a political system, especially in modern times. This exemplifies the reason why many anarchists remain convinced that the peace movement is misled in seeking to establish international peace without, at the same time, directly challenging the State and Capital. However, despite the critiques, it is important to support the peace movement’s struggle in an era that is becoming more prone to international war by the day. While that specific movement alone cannot create lasting change, a variety of movements can combine to produce radical understandings and actions that will have wide-ranging effects. By fostering the spirit of direct action, highlighting the necessity for peace, proposing collaboration rather than competition, and directly giving life to spaces (making them common), the peace movement continues to play a key role in this process.