If you are going to hurl your body at the gates of nuclear insanity, do it in Scotland and cause maximum disruption to the Faslane base. The Scottish people are with you (over 70 per cent would like to see Trident scrapped, at the last count). And the local police mutter the threat of an impending arrest – ‘ I have to warn you …’ – like a schoolchild dutifully but mechanically reciting the school motto.
In my experience, at any rate, they even enter into the spirit of things in the cells, opening the hatches of our solitary cells for us to hear the singing of a fellow arrestee – or maybe this is a custom in the Dunbarton nick and they do it for the more tuneful drunks as well? These policemen and women would rather not be spending their time arresting poets and professors for, ironically, 'breaching the peace’, or cutting samba players and others out of ingenious lock-ons – protesters locked together via metal tubes, or with their arms stuck into barrels of concrete, for example.
‘We want to be getting on with real policing,’ the officer in charge at Dunbarton police station, told me. With elections due in May, the police’s political masters, the Scottish executive, can’t risk toughening police tactics and Westminster has to accept the electoral calculation. After the election – well, things could get interesting.
If the polls are right and the SNP and pro-independence parties win the majority, and if public pressure keeps the SNP to its commitment over Trident (see page 24), then there’s a constitutional crisis in the making and the police will be bystanders as the blockades gather momentum. If New Labour manages to be in a majority again, policing could well get tough, and out of the hands of the local constabulary, with whom the steering committee of Faslane 365 are in regular contact.
It’s the importance of developments in Scotland, which has long been a weak link for New Labour, that makes joining a blockade at Faslane so worthwhile. You really could help to make a difference to the success of the campaign. You can be part of the protest in your own way. If your profession can be adapted to blockading, like the 30 academics arrested for holding a seminar to halt the traffic into the base, then practise your trade. Across the country, there are more than 100 local blockading groups, including many organised around different professions, such as health workers, clergy, academics, students, comedians and actors. If your friends are likeminded and enjoy purpose in their pleasure, make it the venue of your birthday party, as has one anti-Trident protestor, Kathleen, already.
The Faslane 365 steering group encourages blockading groups to be as autonomous as possible, deciding their own theme and tactics, organising their own training, accommodation, food and so on, but offering all the support they need. The Manchester group, for instance, put on several local training sessions and built up a 50-strong contingent. They made the 11- hour journey on a 1950s’ double-decker bus, with the advertising panels reading ‘Manchester says No to Trident’, ‘What would you spend £40 billion on?’, ‘Nurses or Nukes?’ and ‘Trams not Trident’.
Considerable local publicity is generated in their own towns and cities by these groups and there is growing national coverage, both sides of the border. The ‘elected representatives’ blockade gave that a boost last month with MEPs, MSPs and MPs all doing a stint in the cells. International publicity is growing with groups joining the blokades from Germany, Canada, France, Japan and Belgium.
The Faslane blockaders are also disrupting the base itself. Protestors regularly hear internal tannoys announcing that one of the two main gates has had to be closed. A cleaning contractor has refused to go in when the protest is on, and it’s likely there are other reverberations too.
The Faslane protest is also acting as a catalyst for protest at other Trident-related sites – Aldermaston, Devonport, Plymouth – as well as the London march on 24 February. But there’s a lot more to do. One in every three days for the next three months is covered by a promised blockade, but there are still plenty of gaps. There are gaps in constituencies of support too: for example, union banners are still noticeable more by their absence.
Anyone going to Faslane will get all the support you need – as a group or as an individual – from training for the blockading on the evening before, through legal support, to a good send off when you’re released from the nick. And there’s a need for people to join the protests whether or not they are willing to be arrested.
Go to www.faslane365.org for all you need to know.
Hilary Wainwright is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective and a fellow of the Transnational Institute.