On an exceptionally bright and sunny day in late September hundreds of kindred spirits from all airts and pairts walked the mile from the Peace Camp to the North Gate of the Ministry of Defence nuclear base at Faslane. We came from all over the UK and further afield - America, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands - to protest against the threat of nuclear weapons and to promote respect for life.
We each had our reasons for being there. I carried with me the perspective of the Catholic Church.
Although many of us understand our church’s stance on other moral and ethical issues, her position on nuclear weapons and disarmament seems less clear. Some even believe that the Church has no views on this (or worse, that it should hold no views.)
But the Church has for more than 50 years been consistent in its condemnation of nuclear weapons. In 1963, Pope John XXIII, in his document Pacem in Terris, wrote ‘Justice, right reason and consideration for human dignity and life urgently demand that the arms race should cease.’ And in 1982, the Scottish Bishops’ Pastoral Letter, stated ‘If it is immoral to use these weapons, it is also immoral to threaten their use.’
That consistency was clear on 7 July 2017, when a long-sought, multilaterally negotiated treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was adopted at the UN in New York. Just one state voted against it, 122 states voted in favour. It opened for signature on 20 September and will remain open for all states to sign and ratify.
Over 50 states signed on the first day. One of the first to sign was the Holy See.
When this Treaty becomes law, its framework will facilitate the cancellation of the Trident replacement, and the dismantling and elimination of existing UK nuclear weapons. Bishop William Nolan on behalf of the Scottish Bishops’ Conference helped draft a recent statement, subsequently signed by the leaders of all the major Scottish churches, calling on the UK government to sign the Treaty.
Among us on that day in September there had been members of the UK government to listen to the horrifying statistics proffered by Kathy Galloway of the Iona Community. Good that they had heard Scottish Makar, Jackie Kay, speak of her adoptive parents protesting against Polaris in the early 1960s and being imprisoned (her father in a police cell, her mother in a Catholic church) for their efforts.
We heard a visitor from the US, who spoke of his despondency and anxiety when trying to engage fellow Americans in real debate on nuclear issues, saying that most of his countrymen had little knowledge or understanding of the implications of nuclear weapons and their potential for destruction. ‘For the most part they just do not understand and do not want to make the effort to understand.’
His despair reminded me of the words of the Anglo-American poet T.S Eliot, ‘…human kind cannot bear very much reality’. But this is a reality we must all face, and face it urgently.