The Peace and Justice Centre and Campaign Against the Arms Trade organised a hustings in Central Edinburgh on Thursday 21 April, inviting questions on issues of war, peace and global justice. Speakers were RISE Lothians candidate Calum Martin, Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Eastern Cospatric D’Inverno, Scottish Greens Lothians candidate Alys Mumford, Conservative candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith Iain McGill, and outgoing Edinburgh Central MSP and Communities Minister Marco Biagi.
The event was chaired by University of Edinburgh lecturer Lesley Orr and was attended by more than forty citizens on a night when seven hustings or similar events were taking place in Central Edinburgh, a tribute to the level of active citizen engagement in the political process in Scotland today. List and constituency candidates spoke to questions ranging from nuclear disarmament and the arms trade to the refugee crisis.
In his opening remarks Marco Biagi asked how it is possible that in a wealthy country such as the UK people are lining up at food banks, singling out the waste of resources on Trident. He argued that SNP MPs have been defending the cause of international justice and that the SNP wants Scotland to join the international community but hat the UK must get its own house in order if it hopes to do so.
Iain McGill (Conservative) said that he has a background in international Aid and Development, having worked with refugees, in Kosovo. He pointed out that Conservatives established the principle of voting on issues of military intervention with the Parliamentary vote on Syria and stand with the Trade Unions on the West Coast that want to protect the jobs at Faslane.
RISE candidate Calum Martin said that RISE offers a unique choice this election standing for real change that can make a real difference. RISE activists have put constant pressure on issues like Scrapping Trident ending involvement in
Scottish Green candidate Alys Mumford explained that she was first involved in politics as a climate justice activist. Greens are for justice in all things. They want a bold Scotland to move toward greater equality. They want tax to address injustice and the rich to pay more, not for the burden to be on the poor. They believe it si possible for there to be work and homes for all, a ban on fracking and land reform.
Councillor Nick Gardner (Labour) explained that he is a Democratic Socialist, pro Trade Unions, anti nuclear weapons, though not a pacifist, a member of CAAT, he believes in the free movement of people, looking after the planet which is the overriding challenge of our times. Addressing the theme of peace and global justice in a hustings around elections to Scottish Parliament and the limitations of its powers under devolution, he argued that people expect politicians to speak on all issues as everything connects and that they want politicians to use the toos at their disposal to address such issues.
Cospatric d’Inverno (Lib Dem) said the Liberal Democrats want to do politics positively, not engage in a blame game as Labour and the SNP do, though that can be fun to watch. They want to raise £500million annually as a pupil premium for all schools and reverse £500million in Labour cuts to Local Authorities. He has worked in public policy and travelled extensively.
There were a service of questions on nuclear weapons: whether they would sign a parliamentary appeal for a global ban on nuclear weapons and whether they would support Britain leaving NATO as it is nuclear armed, whether the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.
Calum Martin said nuclear weapons are a scourge and have to be scrapped both at home and abroad. We should not be in NATO, which as a war mongering imperialist alliance. RISE lead candidate Jean Urquhart had quit the SNP and joined RISE over this issue. Instead of funding Trident replacement RISE supports scrapping it and investing in 100,000 new climate jobs for Scotland. They support divestment of Scottish Parliament from nuclear weapons as well as arms and fossil fuels.
Copatiric d’Inverno maintained that we should stay in NATO as long as it exists, in order to have a seat at the table. If not we would lose our place on the Security Council. Lib Dems want a minimum credible nuclear deterrent and a world free of nuclear weapons. Their approach is to climb down the ladder. The “deterrent” costs a lot. But we should not divest from nuclear weapons
Nick Gardner would unequivocally sign any declaration on a ban on nuclear weapons. They do not make us safe and are the source of terrible toxic waste. We should instead address drones, cyber security and other issues and reform NATO to address modern challenges. Not renewing Trident is part of Labour policy in Scotland and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn will not push the button. Nick compared those who argue that we can’t abolish nuclear weapons because of jobs to those who argued we could not abolish slavery as it was a source of income. The Scotttish Parliament should divest from nuclear weapons and armaments. There is a question of fiduciary responsibility with regard to the pension scheme. Addressing this legally would require primary legislation.
Alys Mumford reminded the audience that she had recently blockaded Faslane and would sign a call for a ban on nuclear weapons. We can do more, like support the Don’t Bank on the Bomb call for divestment from nuclear weapon, and provide training in the transition away from reliance on them, to re-skill people for jobs addressing climate issues. Greens plan for a transition from old outdated industries to sustainable industries that will address real threats such as climate change. As an MSP Green candidate John Finnie has campaigned for divestment of the Scottish Parliamentary Pension Scheme from nuclear weapons. As a student Alys campaigned for Edinburgh University divestment.
Iain McGill maintained that there is no hypocrisy with Conservatives. They are committed to Trident. We would not be secure without nuclear weapons with countries like North Korea seeking them. He would definitely not divest but would continue Scottish Parliamentary investment in Rolls Royce and in the engines for Trident submarines
Marco Biagi said the SNP desire to be internationalist. They want the NATO Strategic Concept, which sets out NATO’s reliance on nuclear weapons for common security, to be changed. SNP draw a Red Line at the use of nuclear weapons. He personally was a member of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Disarmament and SNP MSP Bill Kidd is its Vice President. Answering Iain McGill’s suggestion that he would be going into a comfortable academic job, Marco Biagi said the subject to of nuclear weapons is not acidic for him. His brother works at Faslane. But only a small portion of the jobs there are nuclear weapons related. He would want Scotland to maintain a small peacekeeping force. He was one of the first in Scotland to have published a paper in 2004 on divestment. He pointed out that in his commitment to ethical investment in his own personal financial affairs was shown by the recycled papers he’d made notes on – his Triodos Bank statements!
Candidates were asked if they would stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia which is conducting a bombing war in Yemen and causing a humanitarian catastrophe with thousands of civilian deaths.
Nick Gardner said we should have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. Alys Mumbord said we should stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia. In general Greens disagree firmly with the arms trade, even though she has family working in the arms industry. We need to challenge the presence of the arms industries in schools, promotion of careers and we should go back and look at the impact of past arms sales and forgive the debt on sales to countries like Indonesia that used the arms to repress democracy movements and commit human rights abuses.
Iain McGill was pleased that the Conservatives secured the first Arms Trade Treaty.
Marco Biagi agreed that the Saudi deal should be torpedoed, but we must be careful that we do not end up stopping funding to systems for example for Irish fishing vessels. We must not promote arms sales to dictators and regimes that have used them for human rights abuses.
Calum Martin argued there are only so many things guns and missiles can be used for. Human lives must count for more than corporate greed. RISE is 100% committed to ending the Saudi arms deal.
Cos d’Inverno pointed out that the arms trade treaty covers many things such as telephone cables for Africa and flak jackets for doctors without Borders. This does not excuse the many times when arms are sold to countries that use them improperly.
Asked if they would insure that womens voices are heard on peace and justice issues and seek a Scottish plan for action on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 all of the candidates admitted not being familiar with that resolution. Anne Scott, a member of Scottish WILPF explained that1325 calls for women to be included at peace negotiations when hostilities cease in a given country.
Alys Mumford commented on the historic importance of women in peace movements, in particular the role of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom during the Second World War and she noted the SWILPF centenary exhibition that had taken place a the the Scottish Storytelling Centre earlier this year.
Iain McGill said he would support the resolution if it was a s simple as it sounds and noted the Conservatives’ record of women in leadership, citing Margaret Thatcher as well as Annabel Goldie and Ruth Davidson.
Nick Gardner commented that miners’ wives would have a strong view on Margaret Thatcher as a woman leader and called attention to Labour’s record of insuring that short lists for all Parliamentary candidates include women, stressing that they had stood by this position despite criticism over years. Women should certainly have a place in peace and nation building.
Lesley Orr commented that it was clear freom the lack of awareness of this important resolution that candidates all needed to do their homework. The resolution is of great importance as women and children are most effected by war.
In response to the question what efforts would your party make to address the unjust defiance of international law by Israel in its ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories Iain McGill said that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself. He was keen for its neighbours to recognise the benefits of trade and live in peace.
Marco Biagi said the SNP supported a viable Palestine with a return to pre 1967 borders. It was one thing to turn a blind eye on violations of international norms but another to actively facilitate that. SNP MSPs have been very active on this issue and an SNP Councillor had organised for a fire truck to be taken to the West Bank.
Calum Martin maintained the need for a two state solution because anything else would require one of the parties to give up its self determination, and Israel will never accept that. He criticized the rhetoric of describing Israel as an Apartheid State by those supporting Boycott Divestment and sanctions as inappropriate. Israel he said is not like that.
Nick Gardner said we need to recognise Israel’s role in the international arms trade. He quoted Desmond Tutu who in describing the situation of Palestine under Israel, said the people of South Africa had it easy in certain respects in comparison. The situation in Israeli society is deeply worrying as all citizens do time in National Service where they do beastly things to Palestinians and so the next generation will do the same.
Alys Mumford pointed out that she had been involved in the Occupation of Edinburgh University around the occupation of Gaza. There is no great illustration of the need to take the side of the oppressed. The Greens support BDS as a way to challenge power of Israeli state including cultural and academic boycotts. Replying to the suggestion that Greens or others were living in a fantasy she said the fantasy is the idea that Israel is not an apartheid state.
Responding to the question “Do you share my concern about military in volvemnet in schools?” Marco Biagi commented that this is an emotive topic. His brother is in the military. He does have concern about targeting particular schools. All career routes should be made available to all kids. The Army is effective at this. He respects the armed forces as employers but it is only one among a range of options. The bigger question should be around the morality of choices as to where the troops are being sent.
Calum Martin commented that the question reveals a sense of class conflict. Officer training takes place at private schools. If we made the likes of Blair and Cameron fight their own wars things would be different.
Cospatric d’Inverno agreed that it was not fair that officers are only recruited in certain schools. But the armed forces do a job for us. The issue is not about the armed forces themselves. Anger should be directed toward the politicians who tell them where to go not the armed forces themselves.
Nick Gardner said he supports the armed forces but is concerned about the mental health problems among those returning from conflict. Possibly we need restrictions on when people should be allowed to join the military. Individuals need to have developed emotionally and in their capacity for moral and ethical judgements before making the decision to risk their lives in the military, though he still believes voting should be allowed at age 16.
Alys Mumford maintained this is a class issue. Decisions to go to war should not be at the whim of politicians. We need to make sure there is adequate jobs training and apprenticeships and a fair welfare system so that people are not having to choose the military when there are no other opportunities. And other prospective employers need to have equal opportunities to visit schools.
Iain McGill said the example of his brother who was a piper in the Brigades and is now studying law shows the value of career opportunities in the military.
Asked if they would support a Scottish Defense Diversification Agency Calum Martin said this is a practical solution to a broad problem. Cospatric d’Inverno said there is no need for it in the defense sector and we should instead focus on this for the oil and gas industries because the oil industry will never recover.
Nick Gardner praised this as a genuine swords into Ploughshares initiative and highlighted Lesley Hinds as Provost who supported transition for Ferranti in the 1970’s. Alys Mumford said there is a strong case for a shift away from investment in military industries. The Scottish Greens Manifesto provides for a Just Transition Fund that will insure that people are not put out of work and are retrained to fill the jobs that become available. Marco Biagi pointed out that it is now the work of Scottish Enterprise to look at the future of the Scottish shipyards to build civilian ferries in the future as has been done elsewhere.
And a final questions was asked on whether speakers would support calls for the UK to take in a greater share of refugees, and in particular would they back the Lord Dubs amendment to the Immigration Bill for the UK to take in 3.000 unaccompanied child refuges now in Europe. Nick Gardner said yes we should take more refugees. Alys Mumford said we should take more children. 10,000 families have offered to take in children. We need to do more than take them in. We need to offer education and training and challenge the reaction to the refugee crisis of Islamophobia.
Iain McGill commented that there are already thousands of children in Scotland awaiting fostering and not enough families to take them. He said we should find foster homes for these children first.
These notes prepared by Brian Larkin. Any inaccuracies are entirely his responsibility.