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A New First Minister in Scotland - What Does This Mean For Peace?

Words by Janet Fenton in Peace News

On 15 February, Nicola Sturgeon announced that she was resigning as the leader of the Scottish National Party – and therefore as the leader of Scotland's government (in coalition with the Scottish Greens). Humza Yousaf was elected leader of the SNP on 27 March and then, on 28 March, he was elected to the position of first minister (FM) by members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs). The new FM has a track record of strong support for nuclear disarmament – and for the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in particular.

When Nicola Sturgeon resigned from her position as first minister (FM) of Scotland, many people from in Scotland – and from outside – were aware of her unwavering support for Scotland's commitment and action for nuclear disarmament, her rock-solid commitment to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (which is supported by an overwhelming majority of UN member states), her actions in sending messages to the TPNW negotiating conference in 2017, and exchanging very public letters about the importance of the TPNW with ICAN’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning hibakusha spokesperson Setsuko Thurlow.

She will be a hard act to follow, but she has put Scotland on a path to acceding to the TPNW as the first act of a newly-independent nation, and this would mean the end of the UK’s nuclear weapons policy. She put the elements into place for Scotland to develop a feminist approach to transnational relations, so where will our new FM stand when it comes to upholding human rights and the values of peace and justice?

Humza Yousaf was an outspoken critic of the truly awful announcement of the 2021 Strategic Defence Review in 2021 – when Boris Johnston increased the cap on the number of the UK’s nuclear warheads, and increased the ambiguity surrounding any aspect of nuclear weapons policy or what it is costing us.

At the time, Humza Yousaf was the Scottish government secretary for justice, and said: ‘Nuclear weapons are morally, strategically and economically wrong. Our opposition to Trident remains unequivocal. Scotland is home to one of the largest concentrations of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world, despite consistent and clear opposition from across civic Scotland and a clear majority of our elected politicians.

‘Nuclear weapons are morally, strategically and economically wrong. Our opposition to Trident remains unequivocal.’ – Humza Yousaf

‘The UK government has wasted billions on weapons that must never be used – it is lamentable that just two months after the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons came into effect, the UK government has concluded that even more nuclear weapons are required.’

This is consistent with his having signed the ICAN Parliamentarians’ Pledge to work for getting all countries to sign the TPNW after it came into force in 2017, and his views on the Trident renewal ‘main gate’ decision in 2015, when he wrote: ‘I am proud to represent a party whose stance against nuclear weapons has been unwavering. What kind of government would prioritise an arcane, obsolete and hugely expensive weapons system, while cutting services to the most vulnerable in our society, over investing in education and the NHS?’

The new first minister has already created a controversial role for MSP Jamie Hepburn, as the new minister for independence.

Hepburn is no stranger to controversy as he led the opposition to the SNP’s change to a pro-NATO policy in 2012. At that time, Hepburn said: ‘Even if it were possible to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland but remain in Nato, where is the morality in seeking to rid Scotland of nukes but shelter under NATO's nuclear umbrella? Do we consider such weapons immoral only if they are based in Scotland, or are they wrong wherever they may be?’

Jamie Hepburn has still to reveal if he maintains that view.

The question remains over whether the SNP can continue to function effectively and press for disarmament in both the UK and Scottish parliaments with their entirely differing cultures and agenda.

It is interesting to note that, in Scotland, while many of us feel that the debate on progressive politics has slid backwards since the days before the independence referendum – and that much of the energy and appetite for something better and fairer is diminished, on a recent visit to the Scottish parliament, an Irish senator commented that Scotland is a place where serious debate and discussion on questions of our common security and the necessary actions for the planet are taking place.

We hope that Humza Yousaf can ensure that this happens.

To read the original blog, click here.

To learn more about the work of the UN House Scotland Nuclear Disarmament, click here.

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