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Speech in Scottish Parliament Jackson Carlaw

 
14 June 2007

Jackson Carlaw (West of Scotland) (Con): What an indulgence this debate is: it will have all the force of the early to mid-1980s nuclear-free council nonsense, with their nuclear-free bin bags. There was gesture politics then and there is gesture politics now.

Of course Trident and the defence of our realm are a huge concern to the people of Scotland. They are, no doubt, a concern to my mother's bridge circle, but when that circle gets together it does so to play bridge, not to discuss Trident—at least as far as I know. A full agenda of responsibilities is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and we should concentrate on devolved subjects, but if we must have such debates, we must.

One image that has stayed with me from my involvement in youth politics more than 20 years ago is of a spoof film poster—a mocked-up version of a "Gone with the Wind" poster, produced by the anti-Trident lobby. In it, Ronald Reagan substituted for Clark Gable; he swept up in his arms Margaret Thatcher, who substituted for Vivien Leigh. It had the immortal catch line:

"She promised to follow him to the end of the earth and he promised to deliver it".

It was one of many entertaining posters in a campaign that reached a crescendo in the 1980s and then collapsed, not because it naturally ran out of steam, but because events demonstrated that all those who had passionately fought in its support had been wrong. In essence, those who were wrong then are posing the same arguments again now. The Conservative Government stood alone at first, but then, as it was shown to be right to endure the political pain that was endured by standing firm, we were joined by less consistently brave souls. The majority of the public in the UK consistently supported a nuclear defence strategy.

The end of the cold war, which was a massive personal political achievement for President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher, was the decisive moment in the history of post-war Europe—I thank the Greens for giving the Scottish Parliament an opportunity to pay a fulsome and heartfelt tribute to President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher. With President Gorbachev, who recognised the resolve that an increasingly discredited Soviet Union could not match, those politicians made our lives materially more secure and, by extension, liberated a continent not only from a menacing shadow, but literally with respect to the democratic and revolutionary changes thereafter.

When the last real Labour Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, secretly upgraded Polaris, which paved the way for Trident, he could not have foreseen what lay 20 years ahead. The inability of any politician to foresee events not just for their own generation but for the next generation must inform any decision that is taken now. I accept that the situation now is totally different: there is no natural or immediately credible target against which to aim our missiles with certainty. Some conclude from that that there is no threat or that such threat as there is is so general and non-governmental or regime generated that a nuclear response is superfluous—ludicrous, even. I think that that was what Bruce Crawford argued, but the failure of that argument is that such a position serves only for today.

Just as Callaghan, Thatcher and Reagan could not foresee the demise of the cold war threat, Westminster—the responsibility in question lies there—is now considering, and preparing for, a future in which we can only imagine, and cannot know, the prevailing dangers to our country. Jim Tolson may have changed his mind, but if he changes his mind again in 10 years' time, it will be too late if we have not made the appropriate investment.

I support what Jackie Baillie and John Park said. People who work in the community in question should not be made to feel that they are doing anything other than proudly participating in the defence of their country.

We have chuntered on with another example of the student union politics that the Parliament should eschew. The Green party, which lodged the motion, should, like any other party, reflect on why it suffered defeats last month. However, as I said, if we must have such a debate, we must.

The world is every bit as uncertain now as the future is unpredictable, and our judgment should be no different from that of the previous generation. Trident remains essential to our future security. We are not required to love it, but our well-being demands that we have it.