Nuclear Weapons

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 2 November 2023.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-10712, in the name of Bill Kidd, on a nuclear weapons-free Europe. [


.] I ask those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quietly as possible, please.

The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes what it sees as the continuing progress being made towards implementing the aims of the United Nations Agenda for Disarmament, as outlined in the 2018 document, Securing Our Common Future, and in particular towards the establishment of more nuclear weapon-free zones (NWFZs), which were reportedly described by the UN secretary general as “landmark instruments that represent an excellent example of the synergy between regional and global efforts towards a world free of nuclear weapons”; recognises the work of the secretary general and the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs in their efforts with UN member states to strengthen and consolidate NWFZs, including, it understands, by facilitating enhanced cooperation and consultation between existing zones, encouraging nuclear weapon states to adhere to the relevant protocols to the treaties establishing such zones, and supporting the further establishment of such zones, including in the Middle East; understands that the process of establishing NWFZs is a complex, difficult endeavour, but, despite this, considers that examples such as the ongoing progress in exploring the establishment of a NWFZ through the work of the Middle East Treaty Organisation (METO) and others demonstrates that anything is possible; applauds the work of METO and everyone working for a nuclear-weapon-free world, including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND); understands that, through the endeavours of such organisations, including those operating in Glasgow, it is estimated that 39% of the world’s population, 56% of the Earth’s land area and 60% of its countries are currently within NWFZs; notes the expression of regret that the establishment of a NWFZ across the European continent has not yet been possible, and further notes the belief that the time to comprehensively explore the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free Europe is now, in order to see what is possible and how it is possible, and to make it possible.

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

I know that people in the gallery are excited about seeing me speak—that is just the way it is.

We are here today in the shadow of the on-going Israel-Gaza conflict and the continuing war in Ukraine. Our thoughts go out to all those who are affected. We are reminded of man’s inhumanity to man and to where such inhumanity can lead.

This August, we commemorated the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Parliament noted that, in Nagasaki, which experienced a more powerful and even more deadly detonation than the previous one in Hiroshima three days earlier, everything within a mile of ground zero was annihilated and more than 40,000 human beings were killed by the initial detonation.

It is said that we need to learn from history to avoid repeating past errors, but, today as much as ever, the risk of escalation under the dark shadow of nuclear confrontation is ever present. Even though we are under that shadow, we need to look for the light, fight for what is right and hope for a better tomorrow.

After the tragedies 78 years ago, hopes for a nuclear weapons-free world were seen as naive. Few would have believed that, today, almost half of the world’s population, more than half of its land area and almost two thirds of its countries would be included in nuclear weapons-free zones.

That truly remarkable achievement has been possible only through the passion and perseverance of trailblazing individuals, civic organisations and like-minded nations. I am referring to pioneers such as Alva Myrdal, born in Sweden in 1902, who dedicated her life to the welfare of others and rose to become the chair of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s social science section. She was the first woman to hold such a prominent position in the United Nations.

Myrdal went on to be elected to the Riksdag and, in 1962, she was sent as the Swedish delegate to the UN disarmament conference in Geneva. She continued to perform that role until 1973. In 1982, she was awarded the Nobel peace prize for her work on disarmament and, until her passing in 1986, she continued to advocate for global nuclear disarmament.

Today, that torch is carried on through the work of international organisations such as Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, the Global Security Institute, the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and, of course, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons—which, coincidently, this August announced the appointment of Melissa Parke, a former United Nations legal expert and Australian Government minister, to the position of executive director. Melissa is here today, and it is an honour to welcome her to the Scottish Parliament—[



There is more to say, though. We wish Melissa every success in her position, in which she will, I am certain, prove to be as much of a trailblazer as those who have come before her.

We have other trailblazers with us here today. I would like to honour Gari Donn of UN House Scotland and the indomitable Rebecca Johnson and Janet Fenton from Scottish CND, whose tireless work has served to further the cause of nuclear disarmament here, in Scotland, and beyond.

Many said that encouraging the establishment of the Middle East Treaty Organization to further the aim of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the region was naive—impossible, even—yet I remember a meeting taking place here in Edinburgh, which was made possible only through the work of Janet and others, to aid the fledgling idea. That idea is now firmly established and acknowledged in the region as one with real potential to rid the middle east of all weapons of mass destruction as a gateway towards regional security and peace. At a recent meeting, METO founder and executive director Sharon Dolev, alongside director Emad Kiyaei, spoke of the incredible progress that they were making and of their gratitude to those involved in that pivotal meeting in Scotland.

That reminded me of the respect and regard in which Scotland is held across the globe through its historical and contemporary contributions to international development and discourse. As such, Scotland is uniquely placed to play a central and crucial role in furthering the work that has already been done to rid our planet of the threat of nuclear weapons and to promote global security. To that end, the time is right to begin serious discussion on the framework for establishing a nuclear weapons-free Europe—a discussion that has Scotland at its centre.

I ask members to remember that, in Europe, to this day, wild boar in Germany have caesium in their bodies as a result of nuclear weapons tests that were carried out in the atmosphere. In addition, we must all be aware of the damage that would have resulted in Scotland if, in the 1950s, the Westminster Government had carried through its plans to use Caithness as its nuclear weapons test site. That did not happen, not because of the damage to our people and environment that would have resulted from the radioactivity following the nuclear explosions, but because the very wet weather there was damaging to the delicate electrical equipment that was to be used.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

Bill Kidd mentioned that Caithness was not allowed to be a nuclear weapon test zone. Will he acknowledge that many of our constituents were on Christmas Island, that they and their families have suffered since then and that the United Kingdom Government has ignored them?

Photo of Bill Kidd Bill Kidd Scottish National Party

That point is extremely important. The truth is that, wherever in the world nuclear weapons are used, they damage human beings and the environment. The people who have suffered from that deserve our strongest support and to be recognised.

This Saturday, Glasgow welcomes Scotland’s first festival for survival, which has been organised by Scottish CND to explore the link between nuclear weapons and climate change and will include speakers from across the political spectrum and civic society. The festival will also examine the role that we can play in an era of global crisis by showing how campaigns, progressive foreign policy and the expertise that is based in Scotland can take forward the agenda for peace, disarmament and climate justice.

For me, part of that agenda is about starting the process of establishing a nuclear weapons-free Europe. It is my wish that today’s debate, the ideas of others and the response of the Government can come together to inform and shape where we go from here in order to make that wish a reality. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before we move to the open debate, I give a gentle reminder to those in the public gallery that they should not participate in our proceedings. That includes applauding, however tempting that might be.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I congratulate Bill Kidd on bringing his motion to the chamber. It will come as a surprise to no one that I am not a unilateral disarmer. I believe in multilateral disarmament. I say politely to Bill Kidd that my policy outlook is framed by the real world situation. We cannot disinvent nuclear weapons, so, while some states have them, it is right that Britain retains its nuclear deterrent.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

According to the logic of Stephen Kerr’s argument, given that he thinks that a deterrent—as he calls it—is necessary, he is not in favour of multilateral disarmament, never mind unilateral disarmament.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Recent history shows that it is possible for nuclear arsenals to be downscaled, given the nature of the power of nuclear weapons. I therefore do not accept the premise of Richard Leonard’s intervention.

I believe firmly that the first duty of any Government is to protect this country. At its core, that means protecting our country from attack by another country—that is what the nuclear deterrent is all about. It is the ultimate defence insurance policy. Being pro-nuclear deterrent does not by any means make me in any way pro-war. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am pro-nuclear deterrent because I am anti-war. War—as we have seen, tragically and all too evidently, in the past few months in Ukraine—causes enormous destruction and loss of life. I have been thinking a lot about Ukraine in relation to the motion.

Photo of Fulton MacGregor Fulton MacGregor Scottish National Party

Stephen Kerr refers to nuclear weapons as deterrents, but does he accept that it is equally the case that they could be targets in the event of a war?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Let me focus on the deterrent aspect, because I have been thinking a lot about Ukraine. We have to go all the way back to December 1994—to the Budapest memorandum—when the United States, Russia and the United Kingdom committed themselves to a memorandum that stated that they would

“respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.”

We all know what has happened since 2014 and, more dramatically, since last year. I ask members this very simple question, as unpalatable as it is: would Ukraine have been exposed to the aggression and brutality of, and the invasion by, Vladimir Putin’s Russia if it had retained its nuclear weapons? The Budapest memorandum paved the way for Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons.

Politicians from all parties have a duty to avoid conflict and war. I think about our own national motto, “nemo me impune lacessit”—forgive my schoolboy Latin—which means “no-one provokes me with impunity”. The United Kingdom, our country, is not a warmonger. We are not an aggressive country. We do not try to impose our will on others by using hard power; we are a nation of pragmatists. We appreciate that we have to defend what we have and that the best route to peace is through strength. That pragmatism calls on us to be pragmatic in the context of reality—we have to deal with the world as it is, not the one that we would like.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Peace is obviously more than the absence of war; it is about justice and safety. Would the money that is spent on these weapons of mass destruction and indiscriminate killing not be better invested in things that truly make people safe in this country?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I would be grateful, Deputy Presiding Officer, if you would give me some latitude with my speech, because I think that I will be the only speaker in the debate who will take a position different from that in the motion.

I agree with Ruth Maguire, funnily enough; she is, of course, right. However, again, we are moving away from the reality that we have to deal with towards a world that we would perhaps like to deal with—we have to deal with the reality as it is. In the spirit of the pragmatism that I have been describing, that means that we have to be pragmatic about the need to retain, upgrade, modernise and keep relevant our nuclear deterrent.

The simple message that we need to send—it is one that, I am afraid, we will continue to need to send—is one of deterrence: deterring aggressor nations from thinking that we can ever be intimidated or blackmailed by them in the way that Russia has attempted to do with Ukraine.

I thank the Deputy Presiding Officer for allowing me a little bit of latitude, since mine will be the only voice saying something different during the debate. I reiterate that Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his detestation of our country and of the west. We have seen the lengths to which he is prepared to go to undermine the west and to undermine Ukraine by attempting to obliterate it as a sovereign nation. We, in the United Kingdom, must never put ourselves in a position in which we are defenceless. Our insurance—

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

You need to conclude, Mr Kerr.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

—through the nuclear deterrent is based on reality, not some desirable fantasy.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The latitude was granted for the interventions rather than for any other reason.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

It will be no surprise to anyone that I disagree with every word that we have just heard Stephen Kerr say.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

Practically every word.

I thank Bill Kidd for bringing the debate to the chamber. I fully support his motion and commend him for his unwavering commitment to getting rid of the obscenity of nuclear weapons. In fact, I would even call him a trailblazer. I completely endorse my colleague’s wish for a nuclear weapons-free Europe. I welcome to the gallery the United Nations legal expert and executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Melissa Parke. I hope that she enjoys the debate and can see how much support she has in the Scottish Parliament.

Nuclear weapons are wrong at every level—strategically, morally and financially. Even before I became involved in politics, decades ago, I instinctively knew that they were abhorrent. I am delighted that the Scottish Government has set out how, after independence, Scotland could adopt a written constitution that would protect and enhance all our human rights and get rid of those weapons from the shores of our beautiful country. The First Minister’s proposals for new constitutional rights for an independent Scotland include a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons being based in this country. Westminster’s commitment to nuclear weapons leaves other aspects of our defence weakened, and the outdated argument—some of which we have just heard from the previous speaker—that they have kept the peace and are a deterrent is palpable nonsense as the world is witnessing the tragic and heartbreaking wars that are happening at the present time.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I will ask the member a very straightforward question. Does she not accept the premise that the war in Ukraine might have never happened if Ukraine had still had nuclear weapons? The reality is that it was the perceived weakness of the position of Ukraine that led Vladimir Putin to do what he did, recklessly, over a year ago.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back, Ms Mackay.

Photo of Rona Mackay Rona Mackay Scottish National Party

I do not agree with that premise, which was woven into Mr Kerr’s own speech. I do not think that such weapons will ever be a deterrent, and they never have been.

The UK Government’s irresponsible obsession with nuclear weapons has led to immoral and ruinous expense. The current estimate is that the nuclear deterrent costs us around £2.7 billion a year. Just think how that money could be spent on new hospitals, schools and uplifting armed forces’ pay. The Scottish Government supports long-term investment in Faslane as a conventional military base. Our position on nuclear weapons is clear. After independence, the SNP would use Scotland’s new sovereign powers to remove them from Scottish territory as soon as that could safely be undertaken.

Bill Kidd has already mentioned this, but it is worth repeating repeat that, on Saturday, the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament will hold a festival for survival, which promises to be an inspiring and landmark event. It will take place in two venues in Glasgow and will bring together campaigners, civic voices, think tanks and academics—everyone who is interested in moving forward the case for removing such weapons from Scotland and the world. The festival will include a range of workshops and cultural exhibits to bring hundreds of people together to discuss and debate the issue. The focus will be on the twin threats to our planet—nuclear calamity and catastrophic climate change—because the two are interlinked. The CND’s statement on its website says that those twin issues

“fuse together to threaten the very habitat we rely on. Today’s nuclear bombs are many times more destructive than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. All of the nuclear states including India and China are developing new weapons while the non-nuclear powers create new pressure towards disarmament through the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. In Scotland, we have a special responsibility to rise to that challenge. Removal of nuclear warheads from Faslane and Coulport would dismantle the British nuclear weapons system and prove that nuclear states can be disarmed.”

We share the deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons and recognise the consequent need to eliminate these inhumane and abhorrent weapons. The abolition of nuclear weapons would be a global good of the highest order and an essential step to promoting the security and wellbeing of all people.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

The dream of a nuclear-free world is one that sustains those who have been committed to peace and justice for decades, yet we still seem very far away from that ideal. To Mr Kerr, I say that reality will change only if we change it, and we must play our part in doing so. Our job is to build peace, not war. I am happy to make any small contribution that I can as part of that effort, and I am sure that many in the chamber are, too.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Is Carol Mochan saying that it is the position of the Labour Party that we would unilaterally give up our nuclear weapons? We already have an example of a nuclear state that—despite what we heard earlier—was attacked because it gave up its nuclear weapons. That was true in the case of Ukraine. Is she advocating that we should do exactly the same and leave ourselves vulnerable to the sort of blackmail and aggression that Ukraine has now suffered?

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I do not believe that the world is a safer place with nuclear weapons, so we disagree on that point.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Is that Labour’s position?

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

This is a members’ business debate, and I am entitled to put forward my view on the idea that we should have a nuclear weapons-free world.

During a time when horrendous war and inhumanity are on our screens day after day, it has really felt appropriate that we strive to work on the issue that we are discussing today. I thank Bill Kidd for his continuing work on this vital issue, and I am clear in my support for the aims that are addressed and recognised in the motion. We need more activity in the Parliament that is dedicated to peace and more parliamentarians speaking boldly in favour of that.

The motion notes that 60 per cent of the world’s countries are now nuclear weapons-free zones, which is promising. Although the pace is gradual, we are slowly decreasing the threat of nuclear weapons globally. However, it remains the case that a small concentration of countries continue to put the entire globe at risk, and I am ashamed to say that our own is included in that number.

Striving to make Europe a nuclear weapons-free zone is a noble and worthwhile pursuit that this Parliament can contribute to constructively with partners across the continent, many of whom will have a clear interest in Scotland, due to its significance as one of the few areas in Europe to house nuclear weapons. Adding our voice to that orchestra has a definite impact, and it is wise of us to do so. People want to hear from Scotland on this issue, so let us speak to the world about it. Speaking to the world on this issue is something that we perhaps do not do often enough.

Although there are differences of opinion on this issue across the chamber, and even within parties, Scotland and the UK more widely have played an important role in the anti-nuclear weapons movement for decades by being proactive and constructive and having our communities speak out about the issue. There is no reason for us to slow that down.

I understand that there is no quick fix to the mistakes of the past that brought these horrible weapons into reality, but I am confident that, in time, the idea that we once had nuclear warheads capable of mass death and destruction on our doorstep will seem completely ridiculous. That might not be in my lifetime, but I hope that it is in my children’s lifetime. Here today, in this building, we can come together and make a difference. We can have a nuclear weapons-free Europe. I do not want generations to suffer because of the mistakes that we made and because we did not speak out. That is a key responsibility for all elected representatives. Let us work together in the knowledge that we can make Europe a beacon to the rest of the world and have a nuclear weapons-free Europe.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

I am very grateful to Bill Kidd for securing this important debate, and I congratulate him on achieving cross-party support for his motion. The issue has been at the forefront of his campaigning for many years, and I commend his tireless efforts.

It is an honour and a solemn responsibility to speak in this debate, in a country that stands for peace and one that seeks the abolishment of the threats that loom large over our collective futures as we stand on the precipice. Global affairs in the past few weeks have demonstrated that a state of safety and security is not one that we can take for granted. Last week, Russia’s Parliament backed the withdrawal of Moscow’s ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, which is one of the most consequential international agreements for global security. In these turbulent times, the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones—or NWFZs—stands as a beacon of hope for the present and future generations and the international community as a whole.

We have a duty to our constituents to ensure that Scotland plays a leading role in driving forward the ideas of peace, prosperity and a sustainable future. That is why I join others in supporting the United Nations agenda for disarmament and recognise and commend the relentless efforts to establish more nuclear weapons-free zones across the globe.

Currently, there are five established NWFZs, which cover regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean, the south Pacific, south-east Asia, Africa and central Asia. Those zones cover a staggering 56 per cent of earth’s land area, include 60 per cent of its countries and shelter approximately 39 per cent of the global population from the immediate dangers of nuclear weapons. What makes those NWFZs truly remarkable is that they are not merely symbolic gestures; they come with legally binding obligations, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

While we celebrate the milestone of achieving progress towards the UN agenda for disarmament, we must also face the undeniable reality of the absence of NWFZs across the continent of Europe. Scotland, with its clear history and stand on nuclear disarmament, has a unique perspective and a role to play. The Scottish Government’s position on the matter is clear, and I am proud to support the commitment to pursuing the safe and complete withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Scotland. However, our vision of a nuclear-free Scotland has been threatened by changes in the geopolitical landscape in recent years. One of the most alarming repercussions of Brexit is the potential impact of the UK’s nuclear posture. Brexit has weakened our ties with European neighbours, particularly those that champion peace and diplomacy. If the UK Government truly aspires to rebuild and strengthen our relationship with those countries, a greater effort towards to the establishment of NWFZs in Europe would certainly be a bold step in the right direction.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

I cannot believe that we have heard no reference at all to the importance of NATO in all of this. NATO is a nuclear alliance. I understand that the Scottish National Party’s policy is that we remain a member of NATO. No acknowledgement of the important role that NATO has played in the peace of Europe for decades seems remiss on the part of the speaker.

Photo of David Torrance David Torrance Scottish National Party

Many nations in NATO do not have nuclear weapons, but they are part of it.

By establishing those zones, we can take collective ownership of our safety and security, and send a powerful message that security can be based on mutual trust, co-operation and diplomacy.

Most people in Scotland are strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, and it is well established that an independent Scotland will be free of nuclear weapons. However, it is only with independence that Scotland’s interests can be adequately represented on the international stage.

The UK Government has not ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons; in fact, it has decided to increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons. That is not only hugely disappointing; it is a break in the commitment to the international community.

European history has borne witness to countless wars and conflicts. By establishing NWFZs, we affirm our collective commitment to peace, unity and security. Doing so in Europe would be a powerful signal to the world that it is united in its desire for a safer future for all its inhabitants.

As international security concerns are heightened and global politics continue to change, we need to renew and encourage our global co-operation and diplomacy. The establishment of a NWFZ in Europe is one of many tools to help us to achieve that. That would be not just for strategic or political reasons—it is a moral imperative.

Although the path to nuclear disarmament is undeniably challenging, it is a path that Scotland is leading on with determination. That is demonstrated by cross-party support for the motion, with unity. In the words of Rabbie Burns:

“Now’s the day, and now’s the hour.”

The time to explore the establishment of a nuclear weapons-free Europe is now for Scotland, Europe and the world.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this important debate to the chamber, and I thank him, along with most other members who are taking part, for their clear stance that nuclear weapons are a moral disgrace.

I am grateful, in particular, that Bill Kidd’s motion highlights the UN document, “Securing Our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament”. It is five years since it was produced, but it has had little attention, either in this chamber or elsewhere in UK political debate. That is a shame, because it is a rich and deep piece of work that is at least as relevant now as when it was written, and probably more so. It closes with a quotation about disarmament from the great and visionary Dag Hammarskjöld. He said:

“in this field, as we well know, a standstill does not exist; if you do not go forward, you do go backward”.

The past five years have seen us, as a global community, going backwards in some fundamental and tragic ways. We have seen the relentless rise of inequalities; the normalisation of war; the intensification of climate breakdown; the undermining of norms against nuclear weapon testing; and, in just a few short weeks, thousands of children killed in Gaza. We grieve together, as peace and justice both feel very far away.

Bill Kidd’s motion invites us to recognise, through our deep sadness, some of the quiet work of peace that is carried out by the establishment of nuclear weapons-free zones. It asks us to recognise how much of the world is covered by those zones, and how much is not. The gulf between the hemispheres—between south and north, and between the majority and the minority—is laid bare for us all to see. We acknowledge, especially in these days of pain, the dedication of those who are seeking such a zone in the middle east.

Mr Kerr may be interested to know that there is a central Asian nuclear weapons-free zone that includes Kazakhstan, with its extensive border with Russia, belying some of his earlier comments about Ukraine.

Why, therefore, should we not have such a zone in Europe? In 2016, the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt and others analysed that question. They argued for the value of a European zone, beginning, perhaps, with just a few committed countries, building momentum across civil society, courageous in resisting powerful opposition, and challenging the deadly control of the nuclear status quo. That is a vision that many in Scotland share and that an independent Scotland might take as one of its priorities.

We should not underestimate the work of peace, neither its significance nor its cost. “Securing Our Common Future” reminds us that the casualties of modern war, whether it is nuclear or conventional, are, more and more often, civilians. The document reiterates the connections between peace and the sustainable development goals, those minimum grounds for human flourishing.

The absence of war is not just one goal but an essential foundation for all the goals. It speaks of the gendered impacts both of violent conflicts and of unmet sustainable development goals. Women experience those shortfalls not just as absences but as direct blows to their bodies, their homes, their children and their hope.

It reminds us of the obstacles to peace and disarmament. They are not just the accidental causes of conflict: disputed resources, land and beliefs. There are those for whom the expansion of war, the stockpiling of weapons, arms races and disaster capitalism mean profit and power. We must call them to account as clearly as we do the fossil fuel industry.

Finally, there is a question for us all: what do we mean by security? Why do we support a defence sector, including NATO and its military-industrial complex, without question and yet refuse to fund peace to the same level? Are we content to cower beneath a nuclear umbrella, praying that the wind does not turn it inside out, watching the hard rain fall on our neighbours’ uncovered heads? Or might we be more truly safe alongside them, building a sustainable shelter that we can all share? Surely we must all seek to secure our common future.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party

I congratulate my colleague Bill Kidd on securing this important debate on a nuclear weapons-free Europe, and I thank him for his commitment to the issue and his work as the convener of the cross-party group on nuclear disarmament.

As has been mentioned, Bill will be one of the main speakers at Saturday’s festival of survival. The event will bring together many campaigners for peace and focus on the twin threats of climate destruction and nuclear annihilation. I wish it every success and thank the organisers for their endeavour. In doing so, I also pay tribute to the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and all others who oppose nuclear weapons across the world.

I am sure that many of us in the chamber and across Scotland saw the global blockbuster “Oppenheimer” over the summer. The film, which was utterly harrowing, brought greater awareness to younger generations of the sheer destruction and death caused in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, it was able to illustrate only some of the horror—the reality was far more gruesome than can be depicted in film.

What was important, though, is that the film drew people’s attention to the real and present danger of nuclear weapons. Scottish CND estimates that there are 13,000 nuclear weapons in the world; their power is even more destructive, and their use will be more catastrophic than ever. That is why we must be passionate about achieving a nuclear-free Scotland, first and foremost in a Europe where nuclear weapons are a thing of the past.

Scotland’s nuclear weapons base at Faslane is only 40 minutes’ drive from my constituency, and I am sure that many of my constituents will agree that it has done nothing to make us feel safer. Instead, it has made us feel more on edge.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Many of the member’s constituents are probably employees who work at Faslane; indeed, the livelihoods of probably tens of thousands of people depend on it. That is the other side of the coin, and it deserves to be displayed as well as the side that the member is talking about.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back, Ms McNair.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party

I thank the member for his intervention. I am not quite sure what the figure is, but I think that it is only 500.

Again, many of my constituents will agree that the base has done nothing to make us feel safer; instead, it has made us feel more on edge. Obviously, these weapons are wrong, statistically, morally and financially; they cost billions of pounds, and that money would be much better spent on healthcare, education, housing, welfare and building a better future for our children. It puts the debate about the level of social security in a different context.

Critics might argue that a Europe free of nuclear weapons undermines our security, but the reality is quite the opposite. They do nothing to keep us safe in the current geopolitical landscape; in fact, it is more likely that they put us at risk. When we debate having nuclear weapons in Scotland and across Europe, I think that we must all remember the scale of damage that they can cause. We know that their existence is something that we can unite against. Indeed, it was a proud moment when, by an overwhelming majority in 2015, the Parliament united in opposition to Trident renewal.

Not only would an independent Scotland be a way of seeing nuclear weapons removed from our country, it would be a significant boost towards removing these weapons of mass destruction from the rest of the UK. It is clear that rehousing nuclear weapons elsewhere would be a significant challenge—hopefully, it will prove impossible. By advocating for disarmament in our own country, we send a strong message that we must work collectively to achieve a nuclear weapons-free Europe and world.

A nuclear weapons-free Europe is about the protection of humanity and the provision of a safer world for our children. At its core, it represents a dedication to peace, co-operation and a world in which dialogue prevails over destruction. That is a world that we should all want to live in.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I remind members that, when referring to Bill Kidd or any other member, full names should be used.

I am conscious of the number of members who still want to participate in the debate, so I am minded to take a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[

Bill Kidd


Motion agreed to.

That is not an invitation to extend your speech too much, Mr Leonard.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

I thank Bill Kidd for bringing this important debate to Parliament.

We have been campaigning for a nuclear weapons-free Europe for as long as I have been active in the peace movement. People like Edward Thompson, Mary Kaldor and Ken Coates formed European Nuclear Disarmament in the early 1980s, in response to the deployment of American cruise and Pershing missiles across Europe, including at Greenham Common, arguing that instead of being, in the words of the propaganda, a “theatre” of “limited” nuclear warfare, Europe must be a “theatre of peace”.

They joined up with dissidents like Rudolf Bahro in East Germany and Roy Medvedev in the Soviet Union, with the shared credo that

“Protest is the only realistic form of self-defence”, bearing witness to the enduring truth that nobody wins a nuclear war: we all lose. The understanding that if we do not destroy those weapons, they will destroy us—that there is a terrifying finality to it.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

It is more than

40 years since Richard Leonard and I first debated the whole issue of nuclear weapons. I have to say to him—and I hope that he will accept this—that, in the 40 years since, this country has not been involved in a land war or a war of any description in Europe. Does he not agree and acknowledge that the strength and success of NATO—by the way, it was Labour that founded NATO—has been a guarantor of the peace, and that underpinning that has been our nuclear deterrent?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can give you the time back, Mr Leonard.

Photo of Richard Leonard Richard Leonard Labour

No. I am afraid that Stephen Kerr has not changed his position since he was in favour of Trident, back in those days, and I was against it. I do not accept the premise of his arguments either, because, four decades on, the cause of peace and disarmament has never been more critical.

It has never been more critical than it is in Europe today, with Russia waging war on Ukraine but also just last week revoking its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. It has never been more critical than it is today in the middle east, with the gravity of the situation that we now face, with Israel a nuclear state with a substantial nuclear arsenal and with a Government that, along with the US Administration, is boycotting United Nations attempts to establish a nuclear weapons-free zone in the middle east. Yet, it is my deepest conviction that all that people want, including the people of Israel and the people of Palestine, is a chance to live in peace.

My message to all nuclear states, including our own, is that nuclear weapons are not just immoral; they are illegal. There is no such thing as a “targeted” nuclear attack. Its impact is indiscriminate. It cannot be limited to military installations. Entire civilian populations face annihilation.

Just as, 40 years ago, we were warning that a war in Europe is not a limited war, a war in the middle east is not a limited war, either. It risks becoming a general war, a total war, a nuclear war, which is why it is unthinkable. That is exactly why we demand a ceasefire now and UN peacekeepers on the ground, and it is why we need a nuclear weapons-free zone treaty in the middle east if we are to secure a just and lasting peace.

Finally, what of our own situation in all of this? The idea of an independent UK nuclear deterrent is mendacious. The Pentagon supplies us with nuclear warheads. Any use of weapons from these shores would need to be sanctioned by the President of the United States of America, and only then at the request of the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, who is always an American general. We are a client state, but the power of example should not be underestimated. That is why I do not flinch in my support for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

So, I steadfastly oppose the commissioning of a new generation of nuclear weapons. It is why I will continue to campaign for peace, justice and disarmament because, even at this time of despair, I believe that hope will triumph over fear; that we can build a world where we convert skills and science from being in the service of violence, warfare and destruction to being in the service of the human condition, ecology and the cause of peace. I firmly believe that working for that brighter future is not only our bounden duty as members of this Parliament; it is also our solemn obligation as citizens of this world.

Photo of Ruth Maguire Ruth Maguire Scottish National Party

Peace and stability are precarious, and safety and security are about more than the absence of violence and war. The number of conflicts around the globe and the accompanying human suffering are horrific. It is hard to witness, even from our position of comfort and safety. Many of the citizens whom I represent feel entirely helpless watching from afar the violence and destruction unfolding in Yemen, Ukraine and Gaza. The escalation of such hostilities to nuclear warfare is all too real a prospect.

I thank my colleague Bill Kidd for securing this important debate, and I acknowledge his long-standing and unwavering commitment to nuclear disarmament, and to peace and justice.

I also thank my colleague Stephen Kerr. It is not often that we hear a pro-nuclear weapons voice in such debates. I think that it is helpful. I know that it is not always comfortable being the only person who takes a different position—even for a confident young Conservative such as himself—but it is helpful that we talk about and exercise our differences. It is helpful for people to hear them.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to safety and security. That they continue to be considered to be a source of international influence by some is perverse to me. Those who believe that often speak of their being a deterrent, but it is demonstrably not the case that they are a deterrent. Even if it were true, that does not, as Bill Kidd noted in a previous debate, preclude the use of nuclear weapons for evil intent.

Where weapons of mass destruction are used to kill indiscriminately and to wreak environmental carnage, the results are catastrophic and long lasting. Whenever we speak of these matters, we must never forget that the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan in 1945 killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of civilians. Their effects are still being felt today. Close to 250,000 civilians met an unimaginable end in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many thousands more have since died from radiation-related illnesses.

There are currently five nuclear weapons-free zones, and the benefits of the treaties are clear. They have helped to strengthen global nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament norms against use and testing. They are a testament to what nations can do when they work together, and they represent the first step towards the exclusion of all weapons of mass destruction.

The Middle East Treaty Organization reported that nine out of 28 countries in that region have the capability of creating weapons. Worryingly, four of them have already used chemical weapons during war. The Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons states that, as long as any weapons remain, it “defies credibility” that they will not one day be used, including “by accident or miscalculation”.

The establishment of a nuclear weapons-free zone is a measured and incremental approach to disarmament that slowly and methodically rules out areas from nuclear deployment. It is explicitly endorsed by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, article 7 of which formally defines the right of states to create regional nuclear weapons-free zones

“to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.”

I wish to see an independent, nuclear-free Scotland. Until then, we must all continue to oppose the presence of nuclear weapons in Scottish waters and support the global fight for nuclear disarmament.

Safety and security are about more than the absence of violence and war; they are about creating a just and equal society in which everyone can achieve their full potential and where no one is left behind. The continued progress towards the establishment of more nuclear weapons-free zones will help to nurture and support those who most need such zones.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

I commend Bill Kidd on bringing this important debate to the chamber. He is a long-time campaigner for nuclear disarmament and a fine advocate in this Parliament and across the world for a world that is free of nuclear weapons. He is a legend, I think. Those are my words.

I welcome to the debate Melissa Parke, who is the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. I had the privilege of meeting her earlier, and we discussed many areas of mutual agreement and co-operation. We will continue those conversations as we move forward.

I declare an interest—members will not be surprised—as an outspoken advocate for and supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament since my teenage years. I will leave others to work out the timeframe for that. I am unequivocal in my opposition to nuclear weapons.

The Scottish Government’s position is very clear: nuclear weapons, with their indiscriminate and devastating impacts, are morally, strategically and economically wrong. We firmly oppose the threat and use of nuclear weapons and the basing of them in Scotland.

Marie McNair mentioned a new generation of young people learning about nuclear weapons from the film “Oppenheimer”. The words “I am become death” now resonate through all the generations. We are firmly committed to pursuing the safe and complete withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Scotland. Independence would allow Scotland to achieve that aim and unite with allies across the world in securing nuclear disarmament.

As Rona Mackay reminded us, in June the Scottish Government published a paper in our “Building a New Scotland” series on “Creating a modern constitution for an independent Scotland”. That paper proposed that the interim constitution should place a duty on the Scottish Government to pursue nuclear disarmament. I am sure that colleagues across the chamber who share my opposition to those dangerous weapons will agree that independence is the surest route to ridding Scotland of them for good.

I join Bill Kidd and others in welcoming progress under the United Nations agenda for disarmament. I commend all countries that act as champions and supporters of those important actions. The international community, the vast majority of which opposes nuclear weapons, must continue to work together to create the conditions for a world without those weapons.

I am particularly pleased to see the progress of nuclear weapons-free zones that is mentioned in Bill Kidd’s call for a nuclear-free Europe. Those zones, as David Torrance highlighted, provide a vital protection to the people and environments of Latin America and the Caribbean, the south Pacific, south-east Asia, central Asia and Africa. Within the zones, the manufacture, acquisition, testing and possession of nuclear weapons are not allowed. That is us in the global north taking responsibility for our impact on the global south.

Europe does not enjoy the protection of a nuclear weapons-free zone. As the motion notes, establishing nuclear weapons-free zones is complex and difficult. Theodore Roosevelt famously said:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.”

Although I cannot completely agree with that sentiment, it would be nice if some things were easy. I hope that we can all agree that a world that is free of nuclear weapons is worth having and that working towards that is very much worth doing.

As I and many others—including Richard Leonard—have said, the moral case alone should be sufficient incentive for nuclear disarmament. No more reason should be needed, but let us consider the colossal waste of money, for a moment. Estimates for the replacement of Trident range from the UK Government’s own figures of up to £41 billion to a lifetime cost that has been calculated by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament at a staggering £205 billion—money that could be well spent elsewhere. That spending simply cannot be justified. With Ruth Maguire, I urge the UK Government to focus its defence spending on the capabilities that we need in order to fight the threats that we face in the modern world. I also urge the UK Government to recognise and compensate our Christmas Island veterans, many of whom I have proudly represented in the chamber.

I join colleagues in thanking organisations such as the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. Their commitment to the cause is truly helping to make the world a safer place.

I commend Rona Mackay, Carol Mochan, David Torrance, Maggie Chapman, Marie McNair, Richard Leonard, Ruth Maguire and, of course, Bill Kidd for their unstinting commitment to the cause against nuclear weapons and for the peace that we all seek for our country and our world to live in.

We live in a complex and fragile world, but nuclear weapons do not provide any meaningful deterrent to many modern-day threats, and they have not prevented other nuclear-armed states from carrying out terrible acts in the UK and around the world.

I find it quite offensive that Stephen Kerr suggested that Ukraine could have prevented its being invaded if it had retained nuclear weapons—especially considering the past and current threats to nuclear energy plants in that country.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

That is not, in fact, what I said, and I think that the minister has perhaps not been listening to the debate as closely as she should have been. I asked this question of Parliament: if Ukraine had retained its nuclear deterrent, which it gave up freely on the back of the Budapest memorandum, would Russia have so easily—without careful thought—done what it did last year? That is what I asked. To misrepresent my views otherwise is not in keeping with what I expect from a minister of the Scottish Government.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, I can give you the time back.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Oh, it’s not like Stephen Kerr to tell a woman off in this chamber. Quite frankly, I do not take lessons from Stephen Kerr.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

That is a despicable statement. You are a minister.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Minister, can you resume your seat?

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

On a point of order, Deputy Presiding Officer

. Surely it is not in order, when a minister is intervened on and a different point of view is put forward, for the minister to revert to the sort of defence that we heard there, basically accusing me—which I do not think is very respectful—of some form of misogyny. I really object to that and I do not think that it is necessary. Surely that is out of order.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Kerr, that is not a point of order, but it is probably timely to remind all colleagues that they should treat each other with courtesy and respect, which I think we have managed, by and large, in this debate.

Minister, please continue.

Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer.

I have been listening to the tone police all my political life. I will not be listening to them, going forward—even from today.

The point that I made was that the possession of nuclear weapons has not prevented states from having terrible acts perpetrated on them, which lays bare Stephen Kerr’s weak argument that nuclear weapons prevent war. They do not, and they never have. There is no justification for the possession, threat or use of those weapons, so I look forward to the day when we make it possible to free Europe and the rest of the world from those weapons for good. Thank you.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, minister. That concludes the debate. I suspend this meeting of Parliament until 2.30.

13:48 Meeting suspended.

14:30 On resuming—