The arrests of Brian Quail and Angie Zelter in the few days after the UN has adopted a Nuclear Ban Treaty highlights the frustration many feel at Scotland’s position as an unwilling host for Trident..
Bill Kidd MSP was at the negotiations for the Treaty when it concluded. He said,
“There are jobs to be done now and we’re all just the people to do them. We’re going to overcome the intransigence of the nuclear weapons states and their apologists, with their playground behaviour and silly statements about never signing the Treaty.”
Trident Ploughshares (TP) is a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a non-violent, peaceful and fully accountable manner. Disarmament camps have been taking place at Coulport since 1998.
This year, TP agreed that a camp at Coulport would take place immediately following and welcoming the adoption of the United Nations Nuclear Ban Treaty this year on the 7th July, in order to highlight the importance of the Treaty in the journey to the elimination of all nuclear weapons everywhere, to focus on the illegal and undemocratic deployment of Trident in Scotland and to remind everyone that citizen action everywhere is urgently needed.
It was here that Angie Zelter one of TP’s founders, with another TP stalwart, veteran of Scottish CND and retired classics teacher Brian Quail, peacefully blockaded the base, got arrested and have been locked up on remand until the 3rd August.
It is widely recognised within the UN that the success of the Ban Treaty Conference was not just down to the work of the governmental diplomats. Essential to the adoption of the Treaty was the work of nuclear disarmament campaigners, nuclear victims, climate change scientists and disaster response agencies, notably the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. Their input informed and directed the negotiations that led to the drafting and adoption of this important legally-binding treaty .The UK Government refused the United Nations’ request to participate in this process, and made the decision to refuse without either parliamentary discussion or consideration of the views of the devolved administrations in Scotland or Wales. Scottish civil society did what was possible to redress this, and Bill Kidd, MSP attended the Conference and gave the President of the conference a letter of support from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Several Scottish MPs sent video messages of support for the Treaty to a well attended event at he Conference and these inputs were valued by the diplomats and the other NGO participants.
Upwards of seventy people took part in this month’s Coulport camp, creating an international community with people from Sweden, Spain, Canary Islands, and France taking part and sharing their understanding of how disarmament efforts are growing and what the Treaty will mean in many different places. In addition to blockades, activities included vigils at the Coulport bomb store, singing at Faslane nuclear submarine base, raising peace flags on the fence, “Town Criers” announcing the Nuclear Ban Treaty in Helensburgh, and hill-walkers challenging the MOD bye-laws that prohibit access to the Coulport hills. All of this provided opportunities for dialogue and much sharing of the Ban Treaty good news.
Two successful blockades of the entrance to the Coulport base led to the arrest of nine people, including internationals who will be going to their home countries, outside of the jurisdiction of the Scottish system before their trials. This might have been seen as a reason to refuse bail since their might be a question over their willingness to return, and the costs that would attach to extraditing them. However, two of those arrested, Brian and Angie, chose to refuse to sign an undertaking that would prevent them from remaining at the camp or peacefully and lawfully protesting at Coulport nuclear weapons store or Faslane nuclear bomb base until their trial on the charge of Breaching The Peace on the 3rd August. This was the bail condition that was set by the court under which they could be released pending their trial.
These bail conditions are not in the public interest, given the costs attached to locking the two up. Nor is it usual that such conditions should apply to individuals that present absolutely no risk of violent behaviour, The Scottish legal system is allowing itself to be politically biased in upholding the interests of the UK Government and the MOD in the prevention of citizens to protest and to demonstrate. It questions Scottish legal impartiality that they are doing so in a matter where the Scottish Government, in line with the majority of world governments, shares the views of the protesters.
The Ban Treaty will prohibit all nuclear weapons activity as soon as it has been ratified by 50 states – less than half the number which voted for its adoption, and its impact will be felt even in the UK and the other nuclear-armed states which declare that they will not sign up. There will be practical effects on their nuclear arrangements and the states outside the Treaty will be stigmatised in the same way that states choosing to utilise other banned WMD (for instance chemical weapons) are regarded as pariahs throughout the world. Going in the opposite direction, The UK Government plans instead more austerity cuts to pay for a nuclear weapon modernisation programme.
Angie questioned the police role in the arrest of the blockkaders on 10th July, reminding the officers of the Geneva and Hague Conventions and suggesting that they could refuse to arrest them as a matter of conscience and pointing out that:
“Here in Scotland, there is an amazing chance to help this whole process of disarmament, and as a police force in Scotland, you have a much better chance to do that than officers in England and Wales, so if you could at least have a discussion about that, we would really appreciate that.”
It may be difficult for the Scottish Government to sign the Treaty when it is not at this time a member state of the UN. Can our distinct legal system and the legislation afforded by Holyrood be utilised to seek a way to ratify the Treaty’s terms in Scots Law? Perhaps Scottish lawyers and politicians as well as police officers could all examine their consciences with regard their part in banning weapons that could so easily bring such unspeakable suffering and environmental degradation to the world..
The 38 degrees petition calling for Brian and Angie’s release has been signed by upwards of 3000 people.
Such solidarity is not really surprising in a Scotland that so vociferously opposes nuclear weapons .If even a small percentage took to the hill, fences and gates to act directly on their support for the alleged lawbreakers, it would fill the Scottish police holding cells and the courts, and surely this possibility is increasing with every day we come closer to the 20th September and the first signatures on the Treaty.
While supporters consider this, details of how to write to the prisoners is available on TP and SCND websites, and TP stands by, ready to offer trainings in non-violence direct action, supporting activists, and legal observation of protest events.
Janet Fenton (attended the negotiations for the Ban Treaty with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, Vice Chair Scottish CND, member or Trident Ploughshares) July 22 2017