It was standing room only, even in the overflow rooms, as we witnessed history in the making. On 7 July 2017 I watched as the United Nations General Assembly voted in favour of the first total ban on nuclear weapons.
I was in New York as part of a Scottish delegation to the UN, made up of politicians and civil society leaders, to lobby in favour of the treaty. While the UK’s UN delegation was busy lobbying against the Treaty, I delivered a message of support from Scotland’s First Minister.
The UK government tried to prevent a Scottish delegation attending at all and in the end they didn’t even take part in the vote. Their refusal to engage meaningfully in any efforts to eradicate nuclear weapons exposes a lack of basic humanity and undermines the basic function of government: to ensure the safety of the people within their borders.
Three times a year, every year, nuclear weapons are transported across the UK, putting people at risk of accident or terrorist incident. Even the MOD’s own safety watchdog said in 2006 that a terrorist attack on the convoy could cause “considerable loss of life and severe disruption… to the UK’s ability to function…”.
If these weapons were ever actually used they would cause unimaginable loss of life. The International Red Cross has estimated that if 100 nuclear weapons were targeted in the whole area of south-east Asia, a projected 20 million people would die in the first week. For context, the UK has 215 nuclear warheads.
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It’s not just the immediate risk of accident or attack that makes a ban necessary, it’s the humanitarian impact. In Japan, more than seventy years since the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there are still two hospitals that exist purely for people who are still suffering from the impact. As recently as 2015, they treated 11,000 patients.
When the treaty was passed the President of the treaty conference, Elayne Whyte Gómez, ended her remarks by addressing the remarkable Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of Hiroshima:
“You said: Those who survived became convinced that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons. Ms Thurlow: Today, finally, we can tell the world that we have a treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons. Thank you very much for not letting us rest.”
I was lucky enough to meet Setsuko Thurlow last year, an inspiring woman who continues to travel the world to warn people of the dangers of nuclear weapons. It has taken a long time for the world to come together and accept these dangers and ban nuclear weapons. Yet this only marks a new stage in our fight against these obscene weapons.
I am proud that the SNP, alongside our friends in Plaid Cymru and the Green Party, are the only unified opposition to the UK’s nuclear obsession at Westminster. We will not rest until the UK scraps its weapons of mass destruction and contributes to a nuclear-free world.
Bill Kidd is SNP MSP for Glasgow Anniesland and a Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND). Last year he was named in PNND’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.