We don’t usually like using this blog to pass remark without reference to recent actions and activities but feel that Able Seaman McNeilly’s disclosures were exceptional and worthy of comment.
Responsible rebel William McNeilly has now been transferred to the arguably-more-secure confines of the submarine base at Devonport. It still seems likely that he’ll face consequences under military law for challenging the complacency of the Ministry of Defence, which apparently files the health and wellbeing of the entire Submarine Service and the population of the West of Scotland under ‘disposable assets’. The Navy’s activated its public opinion masseurs and wheeled out a few old officers to dismiss McNeilly’s revelations as the rash and unqualified hearsay of an excitable young man. Whilst his account is colourful, even florid in parts, and contrasts severely with the exceptionally level and dry tone of official disclosures, this shouldn’t count against its content. Instead, it’s indicative of the inevitable introspection associated with side-stepping the culture in which he was immersed, a culture of duty and obedience which Milgram and others have shown to be capable of overriding all humane instincts.
We’ve seen further evidence of this culture in the response to our Facebook posts on McNeilly’s detention. A fair shower of Senior Service personnel queued up to attack the whistle-blower and his sympathisers. Apart from puerile slurs, these posts were thematically similar, decrying McNeilly’s actions as a betrayal of the Service and suggesting that he should have knuckled down and tholed the operational conditions on his boat. None of these posts were from submariners. Indeed, one or two brave souls broke ranks to claim similar experience in their time aboard British submarines.
For the benefit of those who are confused, let’s make it clear that there is a huge difference in taking risks with a surface vessel and doing so with a submarine. The implications of an accident for the crew, other shipping, and the general public are worlds apart. If there is a fire, explosion, power, or equipment failure on a surface boat, the crew and nearby shipping may be endangered but it will be possible to summon support and abandon ship if necessary. This is not the case with a submarine on patrol. A submarine which cannot surface cannot evacuate, and the dangers of fire and explosion are far greater when minute-to-minute survival is dependent on a limited air supply and the integrity of the hull. Bearing both a nuclear reactor and multiple nuclear missiles, a Vanguard-class submarine in any kind of difficulty is an enormous liability which could result in a man-made disaster without precedent. The burden of responsibility upon the crew was amply demonstrated during the Cold War, when the crew of Soviet nuclear submarine K-19 sacrificed their lives to prevent a nuclear meltdown in the North Atlantic.
With regard to the specific incidents detailed by McNeilly, disarmament campaigners were immediately able to endorse his account as credible as we’ve heard all this before. Particularly in the period when Trident was introduced, staff within Operation Relentless were forthcoming with concerns regarding its operational safety, and we’ve been privy to unattributable, undocumented reports of incidents and bad practice of a very similar nature to those of McNeilly. What’s unprecedented is for someone with such recent patrol experience to be so forthright and use their name and access to validate what would otherwise be mere anecdotal claims.
The MoD’s been particularly quick to rubbish some of McNeilly’s most fearsome assertions — that alarm consoles were ignored and equipment abused in the missile compartments aboard the submarine on which he served. Unfortunately their own Freedom of Information Act disclosures regarding nuclear weapons road transports describe exactly the same practice; alarms triggered by temperature sensors in the business end of trucks carrying assembled Trident warheads on UK motorways were disregarded, along with the safety of the public across mainland Britain. Additionally, knowing that metal tools are prohibited in the Explosive Handling Jetty at RNAD Coulport which loads warheads onto submarines makes descriptions of missile compartments being used as weight rooms the more troubling.
With regard to security concerns, at least two incidents in the last year or so have seen undisguised Peace Campers exploring Faslane at their leisure — in one case entering the Trident area, in another reaching the foredeck of the Royal Navy’s newest submarine at its berth. The nuclear convoy was also peacefully attacked, and held up for an hour near the shores of Loch Lomond. These actions were designed to disrupt and impede the deployment of nuclear weapons from Faslane and Coulport, but also provide sobering evidence of the vulnerability of Britain’s Bomb. It’s chilling to reflect on how events like this would have panned out if the bases or the transports had been targeted by terrorists careless of their own lives and others’.
Where we part company with William McNeilly is when he describes Britain’s nuclear weapons as an historically-necessary evil. In fact, far from a deterrent against Soviet nuclear attack, the UK’s nuclear arsenal has been a crutch supporting its failing place in the world. Rather than a weapon of last resort, held back to avert the unthinkable, each generation of the Bomb has been in constant use, as a gun is in use when it is pointed at someone’s head. Against the mass of public opinion, which abhors nuclear strike even in retaliation against an enemy’s use of weapons of mass destruction, the British establishment has entrenched its interest with the constant threat of genocide in the longest-running campaign in UK military history. Along the way, they have sunk enormous public resources of finance, skills, and personnel, at great risk of both accidental disaster and the provocation of nuclear war. Meanwhile, the need to be seen to have the will to use this weapon has poisoned any chance of conciliatory diplomacy and a relationship with the rest of the world which moves beyond the exploitation of the colonial era.
McNeilly’s not too interested in geopolitics. What he’s worried about is part of the West of Scotland being obliterated, or his crewmates dying in a radiochemically-toxic accident, for the want of some care and responsibility. His concerns are well worthy of reflection as we approach Parliamentary endorsement of the Trident Successor programme next year. Whether the overseers of Operation Relentless have demonstrated the due care and attention to merit another £100,000,000,000 being thrown at them certainly seems open to question.
Able Seaman William McNeilly is currently a prisoner of conscience in Royal Navy police custody at a military site in Scotland (probably Faslane, his ‘home’ port as a sailor on HMS Victorious). He’s a political prisoner, jailed by a nuclear-addicted government for trying to stop the West of Scotland disappearing in a cloud of radioactive dust and protect the wellbeing of his crewmates and comrades. You’re encouraged to come through to tell the MoD what you think about this, or call them (some numbers are on our Facebook).
Meanwhile, here’s a copy of McNeilly’s report, ‘The Secret Nuclear Threat’ for your convenience. William McNeilly Secret Nuclear Threat 120515
Peace Campers joined fellow internationalists outside the UK Border Agency Reporting Centre in Govan on Thursday, in protest against the malignant growth of the immigration detention estate and the outrage of a recent death in custody.
Would-be Scottish tourist Pinakin Patel died on Monday 20th April inside Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre, having suffered a fatal heart attack. He had been detained alongside his wife Bhavisha on arrival in the UK from India two months ago, with the intention of visiting family friends and sightseeing in Scotland on a ten-day holiday.
UK Border Agency (UKBA) staff took exception to redundant documents the couple had packed in support of their valid passports and visitors’ visas. This excessive compliance was apparently suspicious enough to warrant two months of imprisonment without trial.
Despite displaying classic cardiac emergency symptoms, Pinakin waited fifteen minutes before being attended by medics at the Serco-managed immigration prison. Subsequently, newly-widowed Bhavisha was only released following a solidarity hunger strike by her fellow detainees.
The case demonstrates the monstrous summary power of the UKBA over those the State doesn’t choose to recognise. This power is incarnate at the Reporting Centre on Glasgow’s Brand Street, wherein civil servants determine every element of people’s lives, with sanctions including homelessness and destitution or imprisonment with no statutory limitation. The UK is perpetually in breach of international law in maintaining indefinite detention.
Faced with such holistic authority, and successive governments racing toward fascism in their demonisation of migrants and attacks on vulnerable asylum seekers, it can seem like a monolithic struggle. Yet just around the corner is the Unity Centre, for some years a bastion of the local movement for freedom of movement. Their ever-expanding repertoire includes detainee and destitution support, and it was our privilege to be there on Thursday as they welcomed someone back to Glasgow. Together, we can win.
Seven hours of practical disarmament
Concerned citizens from around the UK linked arms against arms Monday 13th April, closing Faslane to road traffic for seven hours.
Ongoing nuclear proliferation at the site was disrupted for the duration as police engineers battled to remove the obstruction. Thirty-four blockaders were arrested but not charged, ironically for ‘breaching the peace’. Two more got lifted for improving the famous Faslane fence with the slogan ‘Scots say no to Trident’.
The blockade began at 0700, with arrestables immediately in situ at all gates to the facility like some wonderful clockwork machine of righteousness. Busloads from Glasgow took the main gate, a crack Ploughshares team occupied the oil depot, and the Peace Camp was put to good use in hosting those charged with holding the southern end of things. Local knowledge proved valuable in helping to evade police patrols and take up positions of maximal effectiveness and minimal disruption to the local community. In the event even the adjacent Clydebank Nursery remained accessible throughout the blockade, with traffic on the main road flowing freely.
The sturdy equipment brought to bear proved useful as cops set to clearing the South Gate road, with the first set of lock-ons surviving over two hours of power tools. Campaigners confounded the removal of another line with the liberal deployment of red paint — the traditional weapon of choice for anti-arms-trade action.
Protesters dancing and rolling in red emulsion to the beat of a samba band, whilst a BDSM mermaid looked on from the banks of the Gareloch… Grandmothers in onesies and nappies, their costumes uncomfortably padded with chains… Such scenes will haunt the dreams and nightmares of those with the privilege to have witnessed them.
A sound system and mobile cafe supplied tunes and provisions to round off the carnival atmosphere which prevailed at what would otherwise have been the sharp end of things.
Meanwhile, public relations niceties meant that the North Gate crew remained unmolested throughout. This contingent included Green and Scottish Nationalist MSPs, as well as Peace Camp and Trident Three veterans. Peace Camp founders were doubtless disappointed to be once more at Faslane after so many years, but we hope they took heart from the scale and effectiveness of the blockade. A turnout of 400, and a seven-hour lockdown, made this one of the biggest and best mass actions against Britain’s nuclear weapons for many years.
Many thanks and congratulations to all those who took part. From the Peace Camp perspective, special thanks to the people who kept things going back at base while we were in the road or the back of a van, and the rock-solid, up-for-it solidarity crew of anti-frackers who took on two gates to ensure a comprehensive closure. We hope to see everyone here again sometime soon — when they’re not expecting it…
There’s a good crew at the Peace Camp just now, if we can be so pleased with ourselves. However, to be fully effective the camp needs greater numbers and wider support. For that reason, we’d like to organise a ‘bank’ of part-time Peace Campers, to help make sure all the boxes are ticked and afford greater ambition in campaigning at this critical time.
What we hope is to put together a rota, maintaining a minimum number of people at camp over and above full-time camp residents. This would achieve two main objectives:
— to free up Peace Campers for direct action, demonstrations, meetings, conferences, research, and monitoring — as well as breaks and nights out!
— to help share the skills which have been built up over 33 years of the camp, spreading knowledge of direct action, blockading, anti-eviction tactics, protest site maintenance, nonviolence, facilitation, and more.
Anyone who is even remotely considering this should know that the most basic function of the Peace Camp is to be welcoming, and hopefully informative, to visitors. If you can make a cup of tea and hand over a leaflet, then you are exactly what we need. Equally, whilst it’s great if people can be on-call to rush through at short notice, we’re just as happy to pencil them in for when they get a free week-end in June.
It’s also worth noting that the camp is well-appointed by protest site standards, or even caravan site standards. There’s a bathroom with hot and cold water, flush and compost toilets, gas and wood-fired cooking facilities, solar power, and telephone and internet. It’s also well-established; there’s no current eviction threat, and the police usually respect our boundaries.
What we don’t want is a two-tier system of full- and part-time Peace Campers. Anyone who’s up for camping recurrently over time would be invited to participate in meetings and contribute to the democracy of the camp.
So, if you like the sound of this, get in touch and we’ll get organised! We may follow up with local meetings dependent on interest. Dogs and children are welcome.
PS: if you’re worried about the security of your personal details, a (nick)name and phone number would be amply sufficient for our purposes.
Alarms were once more raised in anger last night at Faslane as paddling Peace Campers swept past security in a daring moonlit amphibious assault. Two boats made it under the first jetty and under the radar, allowing one camper to make a landing at berth 7 near the sub pen. Staff were again caught napping, with none seemingly concerned by our man’s soaking wet clothes, boots, and dreadlocks. Having marched along the road unimpeded by several manned checkpoints, the intrepid trespasser was finally huckled by a singularly conscientious Ministry guard on entering the Trident area.
This marks the first time unauthorised feet have strayed past this perimeter for a long time, and sets a new benchmark for current activities. Of course, the more people we have, the more things we can do…
With the bandit alarm bleeping, the trailing kayak was unable to find a route past alert police and… more details may be confirmed following the outcome of potential consequences.
Having managed to fumble the incursion into their custody, the forces of oppression followed up in fine fashion by failing to successfully collude on the charging and prosecution of a number of statutory offences. Being unable to distinguish between the land and sea, and unfamiliar with the arcane bye-laws ‘protecting’ the Gareloch facilities, the fiscal’s officer managed to get the case against dismissed despite the accused proferring a ‘guilty’ plea in the name of expediency.
Meanwhile, the Peace Camp’s efforts to bring dry clothing to its people led to farce as a car seeking to make the drop-off at South Gate was waved through the checkpoint and into the facility. An immediate alarm led to further disruption and confusion for the proliferationists, whose heightened numbers and state of alertness seems to have precipitated a loss of coordination. So if you’ve already voted by post to banish the bomb, now is an ideal time to cause trouble and strife for the nuclear warfare operation.
Either way on Thursday, Saturday will see North Gate hosting ‘Yes or No – Trident Must Go’ from 12pm. Anti-nuclear people old and new are invited to come and reinforce the message, network, and plan future actions and activities to make sure the pressure for disarmament is unabated.
The new exhibition by Peace Camper Lavinia Raccanello is still open at New Glasgow Society in Argyle Street, near Kelvingrove. Three new works inspired by the artist’s time at the Camp over the spring and summer, plus a collection of archive material from the protest site, are on display.
Most of the nicer artwork to have appeared at the Camp over the duration has been attributable to Lavinia, including such banners as have been carted by Peace Campers on recent demonstrations of solidarity with Palestine in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
She can also take credit for the singular look of the Camp’s touring van, which has been acclaimed by all those lucky enough to have seen it out and about. There will hopefully be more chances to view it in action soon.
Mere painting’s not the limit of Lavinia’s contribution though – she’s been present and correct and pitching-in with the rest of us since March, playing a part in essentially all of the interesting things to happen in that time. From each according to their means? Aye, and then some.
So where can you meet this person? And where can you see their cool work? The work remains in situ at New Glasgow Society, 1307 Argyle Street, Glasgow until Sunday night. There will follow a closing event, “Not Protest, but Active Resistance?”, comprising a discussion of direct action with particular reference to the anti-nuclear movement. That starts at 6pm on the 7th September, in the same venue, and attendees will include the artist herself and some fellow Peace Campers past and present. All are welcome – nay, encouraged! – to come and join in.
Photographs by Lavinia Raccanello.