Bill Kidd MSP, as co-chair of the Nuclear Disarmament Cross Party Group, hosted an event on 23 September at the Scottish Parliament to mark both the UN International Day of Peace and the UN International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons. Organised by the Scottish Branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (S WILPF) with support from Scottish CND, ICAN UK and other members of the Scrap Trident Coalition, the meeting addressed the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons, including the particular relevance for women and girls, and examined the ways in which gender structures stand in the way of disarmament. Fiona Hyslop MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs contributed introductory remarks.
We were honoured to welcome Austrian Ambassador Alexander Kmentt, who was instrumental in initiating the Humanitarian Pledge at the Vienna Conference in December 2014, now supported by 117 countries. He explained that the Humanitarian Initiative on nuclear weapons is a serious challenge to nuclear deterrence orthodoxy, which it shows up to be absurd and unacceptable. By building the case for the illegitimacy of nuclear weapons, he said, we can strengthen the taboo against them. Either nuclear weapons are good for everyone or bad for everyone – nuclear armed states (such as the UK) can’t have it both ways, and must listen to voices from the majority of countries in the world calling for the complete prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons.
Claire Duncanson from Edinburgh University explained that women being sidelined from decision making is only the most obvious way in which gender affects this issue. Nuclear weapons have political and symbolic meaning in our culture – for example, she described the portrayal of the UK as a ‘responsible’ nuclear armed state as playing into dangerous myths around the ‘valiant soldier’.
Mia Gandenberger from Reaching Critical Will explained that gender is not just about women, not just about biology, but goes much deeper into our understanding of society, our values. Proponents of nuclear weapons accuse disarmers of being ‘weak’ and ‘feminine’ in an attempt to discredit them.
Rebecca Sharkey, ICAN UK Co-ordinator, argued that the climate surrounding the perceived status and security of nuclear weapons is changing. She praised Scottish campaigners and politicians for working to raise awareness of the humanitarian consequences of UK nuclear weapons, such as the risks of accident at a base or on a convoy, and by highlighting what happens when those weapons are detonated, as that day’s Marshall Islands debate in the Scottish Parliament was doing. She encouraged support for the divestment campaign against nuclear weapons producers ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’, and emphasised that a ban treaty is necessary, urgent and meaningful even if the UK and other nuclear armed states don’t join.
Earlier in the day Bill Kidd MSP led a debate in the Scottish Parliament on ‘The NPT, the Marshall Islands and the UK Government’s Failure to Meet its Obligations’. The Marshall Islands were used as a nuclear weapon testing ground in the in the 1940s and 1950s, leading to significant health problems for its population. The Marshall Islands government has now taken legal action against all nine nuclear-armed countries, including the UK, in international and national courts, highlighting the alleged breach of Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and customary international law.
In addition to leading the debate on the Marshall Islands and chairing the evening meeting, Bill Kidd is warmly thanked for arranging for campaigners to meet the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon MSP, who was pleased to join more than 750 parliamentarians worldwide in signing the Global Parliamentary Appeal for a Nuclear Weapons Ban.