GMB tells Corbyn to "get real" on Scotland's defence jobs as Labour conference set to debate Trident
Royal Navy's 16,000 ton Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard
MICHAEL SETTLE / / News
JEREMY Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon have been urged to “get real” by the GMB union over Trident renewal and Scotland’s defence jobs as the thorny issue of Britain's nuclear deterrent is set to be debated at the Labour Party conference next week.
Divisions at the top of Labour will be laid bare in the high-profile discussion, which is now widely expected after a number of local constituency parties tabled motions opposing Trident ahead of the party’s annual gathering, which begins in Brighton on Sunday.
It is understood that some of the motions have been accepted as being "contemporary" and are likely to be debated, giving new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn a chance to set out his own strong opposition to the UK's nuclear arsenal.
Labour’s new frontbench team on defence is headed by senior figures all of whom support the creation of a new generation of nuclear submarines based on the Clyde. These are Maria Eagle, the Shadow Defence Secretary, and her colleagues ex-Ministers Kevan Jones and Lord Touhig.
Although the conference agenda is being discussed and finalised today by Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, party sources suggested the draft agenda was unlikely to be changed.
Trident poses a major political dilemma for Mr Corbyn, a vice-chairman of CND, who is personally hostile to Trident renewal but it is thought a majority of his colleagues, including his deputy Tom Watson, support it.
Not only that, the contentious issue is expected to be debated at the Scottish Labour Party conference next month. Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish party leader, is also in favour of renewing the nuclear deterrent but it is believed a large swathe of the Scottish party is opposed. Mr Corbyn has made clear he intends to speak at the Scottish conference Trident debate.
But Gary Smith, GMB Scotland Acting Secretary, said: “In a world facing many threats and dangers, a properly functioning defence capability is essential to deal with often unpredictable and unforeseen events that threaten national security.
“The 40,000 defence workers in Scotland are as vital to our national security as the armed forces. Without the skills of the workforce in the yards on the Clyde and Rosyth the Royal Navy could not defend the nation.
“It makes no sense to abandon our longstanding overall defence strategy unilaterally for solely political reasons. That goes for Trident and the jobs at Faslane and Barrow.”
The union chief argued the peace dividend from the fall of the Berlin Wall had brought unemployment and poverty to towns like Plymouth while dockyard jobs in Portsmouth had been replaced by zero hours retail work.
“The Labour Party and the Scottish Government need to get real on jobs,” declared Mr Smith. “Without defence work there will be no Clyde shipyards and Falmouth would probably face closure. The same goes for Barrow. The real casualties will be the communities if these highly-skilled, well-paid, irreplaceable union jobs are given up.”
He added: “As an island nation it is madness to give up the skills vital to our defences. GMB Scotland will stand up for defence workers, who are essential to our national security."
A decision on the future of the Trident nuclear weapons system is due early next year, with opponents, including CND, arguing that at a time of public spending cuts, the UK Government should not be spending billions of pounds on nuclear weapons and over £100 billion on a replacement for Trident.
A spokesman for CND said of the expected Labour conference debate: “It is time to comply with our obligation under international law to accomplish the total elimination of our nuclear arsenal. By doing so we would send a message to the world that spending for peace and development and meeting people's real needs is our priority, not spending on weapons of mass destruction."
The maingate decision is due by spring ie in the run-up to the Holyrood election. Some at Westminster suspect that Defence Secretary Michael Fallon might delay the Westminster vote to later in 2016 in an attempt to defuse the issue before Scottish voters go to the polls in May.
This week, the Liberal Democrats' annual conference rejected a call to scrap Britain's nuclear weapons.
Meantime, the Labour conference is also set to debate the thorny subject of Britain's relationship with the European Union, with trade unions warning they will not support continued membership if workers' rights are watered down in any renegotiation ahead of a referendum.
Ms Dugdale and her colleague Ian Murray, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, are due to speak at conference on Sunday, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, is expected to give his keynote address on Monday while Mr Corbyn will speak on Tuesday.
Source: The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland.