Tens of thousands gather in Trafalgar Square to listen to Jeremy Corbyn denounce nuclear weapons on Saturday 27th February. Meanwhile, about twenty activists gather at the physical heart of what they are protesting, at the south gate of the Faslane Naval Base in Argyll, home of Trident.
The Faslane Peace Camp, a community living in the shadow of the base, has been a fixture in some form since 1982. My friend and I spot its colourful caravans and jump off the bus from Helensburgh into the sun, greeted by the infamous banner, “David Cameron is a Fanny.” Campers are emerging into the common area in time for the demo. Part of the group has gone down to London so bodies are sparse, but those left happily welcome visitors.
We get a quick tour of the woodland site. There is a derelict ex-school building for misbehaving boys which is now fenced off to stop any political types squatting in it. There is a Hiroshima Tree, planted in tribute to the 1945 atomic bombings in Japan. A heating system stoked by a wood fire heats a boiler which fills the bath. They are constructing a new shed after a previous one burnt down. Most of the campers’ days are spent pitching in to physical labour like sourcing firewood and building, or cooking meals for the group. Every surface is painted with anarchist and pro-peace slogans and images.
As we walk along the roadside by the base to the south gate, the scenery is staggering and unsettling at once. Our flags and signs provoke supportive beeps from some passing cars. Holly, who has lived full-time here for about a month, warns that as soon as I arrive in this vicinity my phone gets tapped. A police car parked in an opposite layby becomes visible, the officers in it photographing us. She has been arrested once. No one can tell me much about any civil disobedience that may or may not be ongoing, but apparently the easiest way to get your first arrest out of the way and have the charges dropped is to decorate the high, ugly, barbed-wire fence which surrounds the compound with banners.
Outside the gate of the base, we gather to take photos and make small talk with police officers. Visitors come and go and people check the Guardian reports from London. Last April, around 4,000 protesters turned up here to the Bairns Not Bombs action day.
Elaine, an activist who has been based at Faslane for a year and will be marrying her partner there in May, says of that protest: “There were about 30 arrests. I was number two. I missed all the fun, sitting in the van for seven hours really needing to pee.”
She also mentions that they hold weekly peaceful vigils here, which get busier in summer as the weather improves. Any activists looking to do anti-nuclear direct action are invited to the camp to get advice on safety and tactics and share ideas.
One visitor, Annabelle, is filming a documentary with a focus on the fringe-of-society peace camp model as protest in itself. She says the police presence unnerved her before she realised the absurdity of their jobs: “It’s a whole unit just for these people who mostly stand out here and oppose a horrible weapon, and they’re called terrorists when really this should be called terrorism. It’s terrorising the whole world.”
Jim Taggart, a veteran campaigner who is on the board for the UK Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, talks with me, among other things, about the paper he is going to present at their next meeting on the role of the monarchy in land reform. What a struggle to have battled against the wall of apathy surrounding nuclear weapons for decades to now see Trident being renewed.
Later, we head back to camp to eat and chat around the fire. The site has surreal beauty, snow topping the Argyll hills and a waterfall running nearby, like a Visit Scotland brochure with a backdrop of weapons of mass destruction.
Public safety, as opposed to impending World War III, is a main concern for the anti-nuclear movement. Whistle-blower William McNeilly, formerly of the MoD, has revealed flaws in the security system at Faslane, and accounts of activists who snuck past dozing officers and boarded a submarine prove him right. Some CND members track dangerous nuclear materials as lorries transport them around public roads Scotland. The damage that a collision with one of these vehicles could cause is potentially catastrophic.
While the government’s proposed Trident renewal scheme is going to cost upwards of £100 billion, welfare slides ever further down the austerity agenda. MPs and the media get caught up arguing about economics, employment, and independence, but the fact remains that the anti-nuclear movement is unwaveringly in the right. Unless you want to see thousands of civilians wiped out, Trident is indefensible.
[Ellen MacAskill – @ejdmacaskill]