Scotland lives directly in the shadow of the bomb. Faslane, the home of the UK's current nuclear deterrent, Trident, is on the beautiful west coast of Scotland - only 26 miles from Glasgow, our country's largest city. Five miles from the town of Helensburgh. Just over two miles from the village of Garelochhead, with its 3700 inhabitants.
Imagine the outcry if it were located near Guildford, a similar distance from London. Or in some district five miles from central London - like Tottenham or Camden Town. What if it were two miles from the delightful Shropshire market town of Church Stretton? Would the English public be happy about that?
Here we have no choice. Most of Scotland's political parties oppose nuclear weapons (apart from the traditional parties, Labour and Conservative) yet the government in Westminster voted in 2016 to renew the UK's nuclear weapons programme and replace Trident with Dreadnought. The UK, along with our special allies, the Americans, has refused to sign the Treaty on the Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. No wonder Barack Obama chipped in to oppose Scottish independence during the 2014 referendum. Scotland is an important military base for the USA.
We who live directly in the shadow of the bomb feel fear and anger. We know the fragility of the natural world and we know what's important in life. Along with hundreds of protesters we say, Bairns Not Bombs.
McNeilly’s whistle shrieked
Dark dangerous secrets
From beneath a black blanket
He scared citizens
Made them pause to think
On his devastating claim
Thirty security flaws
On Trident submarines
The Royal Navy
Reacted with fury
Pooh-poohed his dossier
Discharged this young mariner
Still insists Trident
Is without doubt
Waiting to happen
On our doorstep
And now we know
The twists and turns
Of corrupt U.K. government
We shiver and spare a thought
For brave McNeilly
Who blew the whistle
And was silenced.
The Circle Games
As blunders galore explode from nuclear sites
We could well vanish like the white doves
disappeared by magicians’ sleight of hand.
A nuclear flash, a mushroom puff of smoke,
fire, brimstone and pouf! – our nation is destroyed.
A swirl of purple satin, jet-black cloak
and startled doves enjoy a fluttering rebirth.
The black-eyed magic man earns his applause.
Not so for us when stashed by Faslane nuclear base
two hundred and fifteen deadly fireworks
masquerade as our defence. Our protection.
Armageddon in Bondesque hollow hills
A display that could be lit by lax security
or terrorists, not enemy attack.
By piling nuclear warheads on a Highland fault line
will death blast from our beautiful landscape?
For victims, no beauty can be found in such a death,
vaporised if caught in the core blast,
others torched, irradiated, cancer-ridden.
Boffins played their deadly circle games.
Compasses in hand, they swirled the killing zones.
As Joni crooned her song The Circle Game - of
joy at seasons’ turn, nature’s cycle of life,
they spun annihilation, devastation,
us the chosen ones – as accidents here
in Scotland are judged ‘tolerable deaths’.
GEORGE T. WATT
It wuid be graund tae walk again ower Craggan hill,
yon ben o ma bairnhood that haes niver left ma ee.
I hae sclimmed mony a heich ben,
mony ae kenspeckled mountain prized by yon Munro baggers,
fail braggarts, twitchers o mountains faa fail tae see
the bweuty o oor kintraside. Bens are like weemen,
tae be considered, respekted, luved even,
but nae tae be mounted an syne forgotten o.
Craggan I luved wi a bairn's ee, ma mither earth,
pap tae ma yung shanks as I explored her gentle braes,
her rustlin burnies, her braken covert howes
an rockie ootcraps wi clingin, wund hewn rowan.
I kent whaur the hoolet bid, whaur the bizzard nested,
an the birthyird o mony a yowe.
I kent whaur the roe hiddled, the birks the spinkies looed
an lauchit at the midges as I peltit thaim wi braken leafs.
I sat on favoured stanes an watched the deep watters
an scanned ower atward 'Argyll's bowlin green'
but thir heich hills meant nocht tae me like Craggan.
It wuid be graund again tae traipse ower Craggan hill
but yon airt is noo awned by a furren pooer,
hame tae an arsenal o deith,
its milk sap turnt tae pyson,
but ma childish een can still sclim
thay innocent braes.
I remember when I first met you:
1988, Glasgow, an undergraduate lab class,
radioactive mud taken from the drains
in the aftermath of Chernobyl two years before.
We were suitably cautioned,
and we handled you with care
lest you infiltrate ribs, settle in marrow,
to eject gene-shredding electrons
and announce your presence with leukemia
and leave a signature of barium in bones
lying undisturbed for centuries
in a premature grave,
but you entered my life before that:
in the rain that fell that day in April 1986,
and in the grass that fed the sheep
and cooked them from the inside just enough
to take them by the million from the hills
in case they ended up on our tables,
but even before that you were there,
a minute residue of Hiroshima, a trace, a stratum,
dividing all of human history into two eras:
the Pre-caesium-137 Age and the Post,
your absence in old bottles of claret
a proof of vintage, as bought and paid for,
because we'd have to go back aeons,
long before grapes grew
in the chalky soils of St Emilion,
before the beguiling balance of risk and reward
teased life into the diversity we see around us
that erupted in the Cambrian Explosion,
before single cells first embraced as gametes,
to find you in the detritus and rubble
from which the Earth was formed, dwindling away
after the concatenation of half lives
that had elapsed since you were first born
in the collision of neutron stars
that we unravel today to heat our homes,
and destroy the armies of our enemies,
and confer on you a second birth
that buries us in your resurrection.
(A poem written in Glasgow during the solar eclipse of 20th March 2015)
We ran together, you and I,
as wolves and werewolves through the thickening dusk,
racing for two and a half delirious minutes,
twisting through vanishing twilit forests of hidden desire,
transformed to reveal our secret selves,
drunk with ecstasy and apocalypse,
drunk with the darkness of the eclipse, rioting,
giddy, swooning with the swift sudden reperfusion
of all the glorious unspent rage of ages past,
restored by the wider world's paralysis,
set free, gone wild.
The birds meekly surrender their songs to silence.
The deranged Sun rides the Moon along a course
plotted upon the surface of the Earth by helpless astronomers.
A few brief seconds are turned into an epoch, an age of wonder,
in which our howls are tribute, not to some Moon of myth,
but one suddenly present and full with night during the brightest day,
stealthily stashing the Sun’s stolen light on its dark side.
Her lead disc offers a single coin to reckon the whole world's worth:
Quoth the Moon, 'why should I return your Sun to you?
The world it illuminates only excites your cupidity.
By its light your suspicious spy satellites peer over shoulders,
reading communiques or love letters from one hundred miles high.
Why should I readmit you to their orbit,
let alone allow you to trespass upon mine?
Your society is a crime committed in broad daylight:
isn't the cover of darkness more fitting for your conspiracies?'
Inexorable and punctilious physical law
punctually peels away the darkness She adores
from the highest mountain peaks to shingle shores
and the returning day is met, not with joy,
but by our own resignation and indifference once more,
as we return to our desks and our dull quotidian chores
but we will run again as wolves and werewolves,
across the blazing caesium fields of Chernobyl
where we buried alive the angry fires we made
for a while at least,
across the glittering bismuth marsh of Pripyat,
drooling with the bitter potash filling our mouths and nostrils
leached from the ashes of this burned and bleached land
as all the world’s gold melts and sublimates to nothing
under an inevitable hot thermonuclear glare
and houses with walls made of feathers take flight,
startled by the bomb’s loud blast,
and the fireball brings the eclipse home to stay at last,
pulling the Sun out of the Earth,
its cloudy fist first clenched around it,
obscuring it like the Moon had done,
before opening its hand to blow the ashes from its palm,
releasing us to roam and bay forever at the Moon,
in the parched grey twilight woods of nuclear winter.
ROSE ANN FRASER RITCHIE
She knows adventures
Bairns not bombs
Image by Iona Soper
Here be dragons
Loaded with binoculars, heather and whisky
they scour the highlands, hearts beating.
Such excitement - Monsters!
Glens, corries and heather moors tempt
with tales of Clearance, but it's the lochs
that draw. Tourists scan for movement
below waves, yearn to be scared.
But the guide books are very rough
and don't advise travel to the Clyde,
that wonderful river of our tartan sing-along.
Here in glacial waters, creatures hunker deep.
Chain link fences march miles to defend
these dark Each Uisges, that flash terror
threaten to shift our shapes.
Such shoals, time-bombs tick all our days.
Summer bright, winter dark, in spite of
opposition, in spite of Parliament,
How many ways?
For snow the Inuit have millions
drifts, banks, avalanches.
For sure Scots have a wheen
for rain – smirr, drizzle, drookit,
beltin, lashin, daggy.
But for this rain, which didn't drop gentle from heaven
which burnt, corroded, melted,
flesh, banes, een, marrow, pinkies, oxters.
Then, now and futures destroyed
encased in thick dark metal
as it sails the silent seas
its existence an outrage
a deep immorality
fathomless in ignorance
and the thought of replacing
this monster with another
much more gruesome than before
as water levels rise
and hungry children cry out
and as refugees flee
seems to stink to high heaven
that can only rebuke us
and say it may cost the earth.
First published by Scottish CND, 2008