It's been illuminating this week to observe the varying admonitions of New Labour, their political stable-mates and much of the media over the Scottish Government's summit on Trident and its proposed replacement (Glasgow, 22 October 2007). What some lack in the standard practice of demonisation, others make-up for in 'blethering' trivialisation.
Here, for example, is MP Eric Joyce, that dutifully-alert sergeant of New Labour militarism, castigating First Minister Alex Salmond for daring to contact the world's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT) signatories - including, 'the shame of it all', Iran and Zimbabwe - asking for their help in removing Trident:
"Alex Salmond simply cannot know whether he is making damaging assertions or not because he does not know the nature of our relationships with many of these complex and difficult countries...He has written to some very despotic and dangerous individuals, which we have very sensitive and complex relationships with, and treated it like a weekly political football. It is potentially very damaging to our national security."
Ah, "national security". That oldest of chestnuts. Oh, for something, at least, more originally mendacious. Nor can we have our 'little parliament' exchanging thoughts with these 'dark foe' states - particularly while our 'big parliament' pursues its 'noble' work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joyce and his political suits conveniently forget that Iran and Zimbabwe are still party to the NNPT, and were written-to on that inclusive basis. Moreover, unlike the UK, Iran hasn't blatantly ignored the NNPT.
Among the other usual suspects attacking the purpose and cost of the summit was Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, Nicol Stephen:
"Once again the SNP will spend government time and money squabbling with Westminster rather than getting on with the job they were elected to do. Ministers can't tell us how many extra teachers they will need to meet their promises to cut class sizes, yet they are happy to spend time, money and effort on a summit working out how to pick yet another fight with Westminster."
Yes, Nicol. Maybe it's just possible to do all these things, and more, at the same time. The 'irresponsible allocation of time and money' argument is, of course, another familiar complement to the 'national interest' trope.
The summit, attended by the Green Party's Patrick Harvie, but none of the other invited opposition, also heard Ministry of Defence spokesman Neil Smith warn of the 7000 job losses and cost to the local economy should Faslane close.
There are always, to invoke Wilde, those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. And, I'm sure, in perverse logic, that such utterings include denying the £76 billion price of Trident's replacement for the 'value' it supposedly brings to the economy.
Actually, I find it offensive to engage in such cost-benefit analyses. The case for re-training workers and economic diversification is all there. But, the fundamental immorality of Trident and mass threat to human life should be a sufficient imperative for disarmament in itself.
The main outcome of the summit was the setting-up of a special advisory group, backed by the Scottish Government, to consider practical ways of blocking the MoD's Trident replacement plans, very possibly on environmental and planning grounds.
But, again, should our elected leaders be 'wasting time' indulging in these 'idealistic' gatherings?
Ever-the-voice of 'cautious practicality' (maybe his trademark, on-screen trouser braces are symbolic of such), here's our very own - that is, BBC Scotland's - Brian Taylor with a few 'blethering' reminders of what 'really matters' to the electorate and why Salmond's little devolved band have no real cause to be 'bothering' these important international ministers:
"Can this summit decide anything on Trident itself? No, defence policy is reserved. That is why this was a convocation of the modest and the good in a posh Glasgow pub-cum-theatre at the top of Byres Road rather than a full-scale governmental gathering."
A neat and quick put-down from Brian. But, maybe, he thinks, a little too quick, remembering that all-important need for BBC 'balance':
"Does that mean it’s a complete waste of time? That’s where opinion divides. SNP Ministers say it’s part of their National Conversation – and they’re entitled to examine options within devolved powers for thwarting the practical implementation of the Trident upgrade. Critics say that those same Ministers should start delivering on the promises in their manifesto which dealt with substantive devolved issues such as policing, schools and housing. They say this is another example of SNP Ministers indulging in gesture politics while neglecting their own in-tray. Are the Nationalists out to gain political capital? Unquestionably. They are presenting a direct political challenge to Labour, particularly Labour in Scotland. They are after votes."
The "critics say" part is, of course, a convenient way of imparting Taylor's own thoughts on the matter. Again, though, in the spirit of BBC 'fairness', 'objectivity' and token-gesture caveats, Brian allows that:
"...perhaps there is a balance to be struck. Arguably, it would be somewhat strange if the SNP offered no resistance whatsoever to Trident. Their opposition to the nuclear deterrent is of long-standing. Further, as the elected administration at Holyrood, they have a right, if not a duty, to consider wider issues of concern to the Scottish people."
A high sentiment, indeed - alas, tempered by our Brian's more immediate suspicions of voters' priorities:
"I suspect most neutral observers would concede that Trident is of passing interest to Scotland."
That would be the kind of "neutral observer" Taylor sees in himself, no doubt, with the same kind of "passing interest" in the issue. And just to round-off a polished performance in "neutral" BBC comment, we're left with this last little chiding of uppity politicians and those 'parochial' anti-nuclear crusaders:
"Against that, though, there is some substance, is there not, in the Labour complaint that the SNP initiative in contacting the 189 countries who are members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty risks running across the UK’s diplomatic remit. Don’t think we can push that one too far, though. I cannot see the bells ringing at the UN when the news breaks that Bruce Crawford is on his feet in Byres Road giving it laldy to an audience of unions, church leaders, Greenpeace et al. In general, SNP Ministers will be judged as a Scottish government not by their stance on Trident – but by their success or otherwise on those very devolved issues advance [sic] by their critics today."
Right enough, the "risks" of crossing "the UK's diplomatic remit" can't be ignored. I wonder how Brian rates those "risks" in relation to what lurks in the sub silos at Faslane. Or maybe such thoughts don't arise very much in the life of Brian.
Unlike Taylor, the Herald's Iain MacWhirter had, to his credit, the good grace to state some of the more obvious, inconvenient, truths about the UK's violation of the NNPT and the Scottish Government's legitimate interest in the issue:
"...David Cairns, the Scotland Office minister, says that Alex Salmond should be sorting out the free personal care instead of "cavorting across the world stage with his discredited loony-left policies" and giving comfort to our enemies. Well, they are also his loony policies, since Labour is still formally committed to pursuing "multilateral nuclear disarmament" under a defence policy which dates from the late 1980s. If he is saying that the presence of an anti-nuclear Scottish Government representative at the NNPT talks might be an embarrassment, then fair enough. But Britain has every cause to be embarrassed, since we've driven a coach and horses through the NNPT by renewing the Trident missile system. Article VI of the NNPT requires signatory nations to work toward "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament". The government insists that developing a new generation of Trident does not run counter to this commitment, but many disagree, including Matrix Chambers, Cherie Blair's own law firm."
Ah well, these are all little incidentals that shouldn't detain Holyrood, the public or our vigilant media. Best let Westminster get on with applying its "remit". Know your place, Mr Salmond and all you bothersome peaceniks.
As I sign-off here, the metaphor of Brian's braces properly formulates in my mind. They serve a kind of back-up function - belt and braces - suggesting that where Eric's and Nicol's Trident-upholding efforts aren't enough to keep the political trousers up, Brian's dependable BBC braces will help ensure they don't fall around their political ankles, thus fully-exposing the bare truth beneath.
I hope that isn't a too-disturbing image for you, dear readers.