In today’s turbulent world, it is a story that is more relevant than ever. At the height of the Cold War, a series of political and technical crises came close to leaving Britain without a nuclear weapon of its own. In a time of unprecedented international tension and with the world locked in a terrifying nuclear arms race, one small loch in Scotland became a crucial bargaining chip to keep Britain in the nuclear game.
Using the personal letters of prime ministers and presidents, eye-witness accounts and once-secret documents, this film explores how the British prime minister Harold Macmillan seized every opportunity to further Britain’s nuclear ambitions, was prepared to trade a Scottish base for a new American weapon, and even jeopardised the crucial Anglo-American relationship to keep Britain an independent nuclear power.
The launch of Russia’s Sputnik satellite in 1957 made Britain’s nuclear bomber fleet obsolete.
Tory prime minister Harold Macmillan was desperate to have a nuclear weapon that could be “delivered” by missile and in this documentary is shown to have been suckered by the US.
The sum total of six years of negotiations resulted in a US base in the Holy Loch on the Clyde, near Glasgow, while the British state effectively got nothing.
Concentrating on previously secret documents, the role of the Labour Party in creating and maintaining Britain’s nuclear arsenal is only mentioned in passing in the programme.
It was the fabled 1945 Labour government that built the atom bomb. War time rationing was maintained up until 1954 but that didn’t stop Labour diverting massive resources to the project.
When Labour was elected in 1964 led by Harold Wilson, he simply ignored his party’s manifesto pledge to stop the next set of nuclear submarines, Polaris.
The documentary has a high ranking naval officer praising the speed at which the new fleet of submarines were built and put into service.
There is no mention of cabinet discussions or of parliamentary opposition but Macmillan was concerned about popular protest against a nuclear base 25 miles from Glasgow, Britain’s third largest city.
Although footage of early 1960’s CND protests and voices of some of those who protested at the US base in Holy Loch make it into the programme it’s not nearly enough.
But it is an interesting and timely documentary, if only to give a flavour of Cold War paranoia and illustrate the secret machinations of our rulers and their contempt for democracy.
Nuclear weapons do not bring democracy nor do they defend democracy – by their very irrational nature they subvert democracy.
At a time when we’re told we cannot afford a welfare state, replacing the existing Trident nuclear submarine fleet is predicted to top £200 billion. Like in past times, it is progressing without any democratic scrutiny.
Both the Labour right and the Tories agree on the need to be willing to annihilate 20 million people per Trident submarine.
The failure of Scotland to gain independence in 2014 means that sixty years on nuclear submarines are still 25 miles from Glasgow and still make the city a target—and still threaten global destruction.