SCOTS are getting ready to mark the anniversary of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) on January 22 with events across the country on the day itself and in the lead-up to it, reflecting a global movement for a response to the escalating dangers presented by nuclear weapons, climate change and pandemics.

A motion supporting the TPNW has attracted cross-party support and will be debated in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. This will also highlight the first meeting of those who are signed up to the TPNW which is due to take place in Vienna this March, and Scottish Parliamentarians will be in attendance along with representatives from the majority of UN member countries. The UK Government is choosing to boycott the negotiations.

Scottish Government minister and Green MSP Lorna Slater said: "A UN treaty outlawing nuclear weapons came into force a year ago, yet the UK Government is still wasting billions of pounds upgrading our stockpile of warheads. Billions of pounds that could be spent on a fair and green recovery from the pandemic and tackling Britain's shameful levels of inequality.

The National: Lorna Slater

"The Scottish Greens believe that acceding to this treaty is one of the first things Scotland could do as an independent country, instantly rendering the nuclear weapons kept here illegal, and leading a new move to global nuclear disarmament."

Internationally, the celebrations will mark the progress and impact on nuclear weapons policies around the world, and many countries are aware of the impossible position that Scotland is in, supporting the ban while having nuclear weapons in our country against our government’s wishes.

The next day, on January 21, Scottish MPs at Westminster will also be marking the treaty’s first year by attending the launch of a new expert report on how the TPNW will impact the UK Government, and the author, Dr Rebecca Johnson, will be offering answers to questions arising from the parliamentary events on January 24.

“We live in a world dominated by overconfident patriarchal leaders with risk-taking personalities,” Dr Johnson said.

“Combine these human problematics with other kinds of human error, computer malfunction and the growing cyber capabilities that could launch nuclear war without the intention or authority of nuclear-armed governments, and no-one sensible can nowadays argue that nuclear weapons keep us safe. Risks like these are never meant to happen, but like wars and pandemics, sometimes they do.”

The National: CND activists hold a die-in protest at the North Gate of Her Majesty's Naval Base, Clyde

This treaty is a uniquely comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons, similar to the treaty that banned land mines, and is already fully effective in the states that have joined it, a number which is growing exponentially. It is also the first nuclear weapons treaty that references the disproportionate impact of nuclear weapons on indigenous peoples and on women.

As well as the remarkable progress the Treaty has made towards changing the whole discourse around nuclear weapons, it has special significance for Scotland. With all the dangers it creates, based 25 miles from our biggest city, with warheads carried regularly on our main roads past schools and hospitals, the UK nuclear weapons system is surely a domestic issue for Scotland.

Professor Lynn Jamieson, chair of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, explained: “Every anniversary of the adoption and coming into force of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a significant milestone as its influence grows year by year.

“The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament is working to amplify knowledge of its impact and to support Scotland’s parliamentarians in taking a seat at the table and enacting their work for the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland and the world. We ask the Scottish Government to prepare for the Treaty by taking steps to ensure that, as far as possible, its provisions are incorporated into the Programme for Government and into Scottish domestic legislation.”

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The TPNW only entered into force on January 22, 2021, and so far, 59 states have fully ratified it and are now bound by its provisions. Whenever it is discussed at the UN General Assembly, it is supported by around 130 states, which may be expected to sign and ratify in due course. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) also aims at disarmament, but half a century since it opened for signature, it is still allowing nuclear-armed states to maintain or even strengthen their nuclear weapons possession, because it contains no legal instrument to ensure that they do not. The NPT was due for review this week and many were watching to see what the impact would be of the TPNW’s progress, but at the 11th hour, the review conference was postponed.

Bill Kidd MSP, convener of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on nuclear disarmament, said: “Nuclear weapons are recognised as the most extreme form of violence. They are the most destructive of all weapons in terms of their explosive force, the poisons they release (radiation), and the long-term and severe impact on human health and the environment, including their potential for catastrophic climatic consequences.

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“Despite the commitments made to nuclear disarmament by all governments through UN resolutions, political statements and treaty obligations, action by the nuclear-weapon states and their allies to relinquish nuclear deterrence and to make concrete progress to achieving a nuclear-weapons-free world, is sadly lacking”.

The TPNW came about through the involvement of non-nuclear armed states, including great determination from some small countries who are contributing to international peace in a big way, including Ireland, Austria and Costa Rica. Would that Scotland could join them.

Their main effort was ensuring that civil society could be allowed to speak out at the UN through organisations like the Red Cross and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. They made sure that the people were heeded.

The people that were given a platform included those who have been, and still are, directly affected by nuclear weapons, nuclear testing, uranium mining and radiation poisoning. That also helped to make the links between the dangers presented by the climate emergency and nuclear weapons. Beatrice Fihn is a Swedish lawyer and executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

She said: "The importance of Scotland's support for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has been widely recognised and celebrated around the world and is a major boost to the political momentum in favour of the treaty within those several dozen countries – like the United Kingdom – that are implicated in the continued maintenance, deployment and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

“Despite having entered into force only in January 2021, the TPNW is already changing the global dynamics and narrative around nuclear weapons – and judging from their desperate and angry reactions, the nuclear-armed states themselves are getting rattled.

“Scotland's role in this, alongside the many other medium and small countries that led the charge for the treaty, should not be underestimated. ICAN looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that the TPNW fulfils its promise.

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“The commitment by the many members of the Scottish Parliament for the ICAN Parliamentary Pledge is greatly appreciated by the ICAN and we are looking forward to meeting them in Vienna on the occasion of the First Meeting of States Parties of the TPNW.”

After the Scottish Parliament debate, the Doomsday clock will be set for 2022. Since 1947, the Doomsday clock is set to show the world how close it is to annihilation, and in 2021 it was set at 100 seconds to midnight, on account of the continued existence of nuclear weapons and the threat of extinction through climate change.

The TPNW is based on the principles of existing international humanitarian law in regard to armed conflict but is the first and only UN legal instrument to apply these principles expressly and specifically to nuclear weapons. Its focus is on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of this class of weaponry, as evidenced at Hiroshima and Nagasaki; by the horrific potential of any further use of nuclear weapons; and by the lasting human and environmental damage caused by nuclear testing.

ICAN co-founder Tilman Ruff said:“One of the things I am most proud of with ICAN is bringing to the fore and giving the power to the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as the survivors of nuclear testing – it was they more than anything else that cut through and reminded the diplomats this was not a political or a nation-state game. You could hear a pin drop when they spoke in the room.”

The growth of the TPNW is a remarkable story, given the opposition it has faced from huge vested interests and the nuclear-armed states. The impact the treaty is having on the financing of nuclear weapons has grown and is linked to public awareness of the need for fossil fuel divestment. Across the world, more than 100 financial institutions have divested from the nuclear weapons industry since the treaty entered into force in January this year. The total amount of financing made available to nuclear-weapons-producing companies has dropped by £47 billion since 2019. Recent divestors include the Bank of Ireland and Switzerland’s biggest pension fund Pariba, and many specifically cite the TPNW as the cause.

The National: Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard. Photo credit: PA Wire

To date the UK has continued to insist that it will not sign the treaty nor be an observer at the First Meeting of States Parties to the treaty in March. The UK has also decided to increase its stockpile of nuclear weapons in clear breach of its obligations under the NPT. The TPNW, with its emphasis on prohibition and elimination, could rectify that deficit.

In Scotland we have a majority of our parliamentarians signing the ICAN Parliamentary Pledge and a First Minister who has spoken out in support for the TPNW.

Article 4:4 of the Treaty has a clear relevance for Scotland: “Notwithstanding Article 1 (b) and (g), each State Party that has any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or in any place under its jurisdiction or control that are owned, possessed or controlled by another State shall ensure the prompt removal of such weapons, as soon as possible but not later than a deadline to be determined by the first meeting of States Parties.”

When First Minister Nicola Sturgeon endorsed the Scottish Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s covenant to support the TPNW entering into force, she said: “While the Scottish Government is unable to become a party to the treaty, as First Minister I strongly support the principles of the treaty and the work of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. An independent Scotland would be a keen signatory and I hope the day we can do that is not far off.”

The National: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

An independent Scotland persisting in its aspiration to have nuclear weapons removed from its land and seas would have the legal backing of the TPNW and widespread international support, not least because the UK has no feasible relocation for Faslane/Coulport and would have no option but to disarm.

At present, Scotland cannot accede to the TPNW, but parliamentarians and civilians will be welcomed to its first meeting in Vienna in March as civil society representatives. Given that Scotland’s wishes are cruelly misrepresented by the Westminster government, this is vital.

Janet Fenton is the Scottish liaison for ICAN and the vice-chair of the Scottish CND


A JOINT statement was issued by the leaders of the five nuclear-weapon states on January 3 on “preventing nuclear war and avoiding arms races”.

It said: “The People’s Republic of China, the French Republic, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America consider the avoidance of war between nuclear-weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our fore-most responsibilities.

“We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. As nuclear use would have far-reaching consequences, we also affirm that nuclear weapons – for as long as they continue to exist – should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war. We believe strongly that the further spread of such weapons must be prevented.

“We reaffirm the importance of addressing nuclear threats and emphasize the importance of pre-serving and complying with our bilateral and multilateral non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and commitments. We remain committed to our Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, including our Article VI obligation ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control’.

“We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorized or unintended use of nuclear weapons. We reiterate the validity of our previous statements on de-targeting, reaffirming that none of our nuclear weapons are targeted at each other or at any other state.

“We underline our desire to work with all states to create a security environment more conducive to progress on disarmament with the ultimate goal of a world without nuclear weapons with undi-minished security for all. We intend to continue seeking bilateral and multilateral diplomatic ap-proaches to avoid military confrontations, strengthen stability and predictability, increase mutual understanding and confidence, and prevent an arms race that would benefit none and endanger all. We are resolved to pursue constructive dialogue with mutual respect and acknowledgment of each other’s security interests and concerns.”

Responding, Scottish CND said: "We welcome any genuine commitment to stepping back from the possibility of nuclear war, especially as there is now a growing and glaring gap be-tween the words and actions of the nuclear states.

“The gulf between the words of the UK Government and their actions is illustrated by the upturn in convoys delivering nuclear weapons to Scotland, reflecting the 2021 decision to increase the cap on the stockpile of nuclear weapons, despite the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Tragically, all of the nuclear states continue to squander billions on new means of deliver-ing nuclear devastation while re-stating their commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty – including the Article VI which requires them to pursue negotiations that end with complete nuclear disarmament under strict international control.

“The repetition of this commitment, referenced in the P5 statement, is more like a mantra than a meaningful or intentional statement and is in any case a self-delusional denial of the escalating risks of a continued nuclear arms race.

“The majority of UN member states wish for the nuclear states to join the growing number of countries that hope for universal adherence to the TPNW. We must ask if it will take an independent Scotland to bring the UK Government to its senses, when no UK nuclear weapons will be based on the Clyde estuary and the UK’s nuclear weapons will have no-where to go.”