Thirty miles outside of Glasgow city centre, situated within the jagged ankle of Scotland’s south-western coast, the A814 traces Gare Loch. Despite its natural tranquillity Gare Loch is one of the most politically divisive nooks in the British coastline. This is the home of Britain’s nuclear-powered Trident submarines, operated by the Faslane Naval Base (HMNB Clyde). Each submarine situated at Faslane has approximately 8 times the power of the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 – the blast and radiation of which killed an estimated 140,000 people.
Opposite the Naval Base, both geographically and politically, lies the Faslane Peace Camp. The site has been continuously occupied since 1982, making it one of the most enduring of its kind in the world today. Its diverse and fluctuating occupants, who reside in brightly-painted, sloganized caravans dotted within yards of the naval base, are united in the aim of non-violent protest against nuclear armament and the arms-race culture which it breeds. The camp acts as a platform for discussion regarding Trident’s presence in Scotland and, more broadly, the idea of peace. The Faslane Peace Camp is also an instrumental actor within the ‘Scrap Trident Coalition’ which conducted a series of protests, blockades and workshops (hosted in the peace camp) this April. More recently, the peace camp faced closure due to its decreasing number of residents. The threat of closure was received with internationally publicised outcry and the camp regained a network of support which ensured its survival.
The camp has been occupied for over three decades now. It’s endurance raises questions as to the effectiveness of the camp. As Faslane Peace Camp enters its 33rd year of existence, is it really making an impact? The camp has been present for almost as long as the trident weapons themselves. The protests and blockades which the camp orchestrate are now just an expected, easily-dismissed obstacle within the reality of nuclear armament in Western Scotland. Have the peace campers themselves simply become absorbed into the status quo?
These ideas conjure up the concept of the “activist ghetto”. The activist ghetto is a diagnosis for groups which aim to challenge the status quo, but through developing strong counter-culture identities which can be easily dismissed and marginalised by the mainstream, they simply become engulfed by it. If a group of activists develop into an “activist ghetto” then their principles are perceived as politically irrelevant and its appeal and capacity for antagonistic agency is limited. In its endurance, has Faslane Peace Camp fallen victim to the challenge of institutionalism?
I would argue that in the current political climate, the aims of Faslane Peace Camp are more relevant and wide reaching than ever. One of the key issues in the Scottish independence campaign has been Westminster’s decision to host nuclear weapons in Scotland. This has drawn attention to the Scrap Trident campaign as a whole, which has received support from a number of groups, including the SNP. Nuclear disarmament is no longer an abstract, idealist dream but a localised and very relevant issue regarding Scottish independence.
We are entering an era that has the potential to provoke significant changes in the societal perception of the culture of power politics. On April 1st 2013, the coalition government announced a radical austerity programme including budget cuts and welfare reforms that appear to target the poor and vulnerable. A few months prior, the MoD revealed Westminster’s plans to spend an excess of £35 billion on a renewed Trident programme in Scotland, which already costs £1.5 billion a year to maintain. Nuclear weapons are the diplomatic equivalent of a possessing a super-macho shiny piece of bling or expensive sports car to flaunt on the world stage. A superficial display of grandiosity akin to the peacock flaunting his eye-spotted tail. A redundant prop in the theatre of war. In the context of severe austerity, nuclear weapons start to look like more than just an ugly cold war relic or grotesque waste of billions. They become an icon for a culture of politics which prioritises the aggressive flaunting of privilege and wealth in the face of domestic poverty.
Under the spotlights of Scottish independence and domestic austerity, it could be argued that nuclear weapons will be drawn back into the attention of the public eye. Rather than being lost to the ‘activist ghetto’, Scrap Trident may gain more potency and become more of a serious challenge to the strategic, defensive choices of this country. As this campaign grows, we should remember that Faslane Peace Camp was there from the start and should remain vital centre for the future of anti-nuclear weapons activism.
Faslane Peace Camp is open to visitors throughout the year. It is located 6 miles north of Helensburgh and is accessible from Glasgow city centre by train and bus. For more information visit faslanepeacecamp.wordpress.com.