Scotland

Faslane protesters carry on camping after 30 years

Visitors to the camp, 2012
Image caption Leonna (r) and Angus (l) welcome visitors to the camp, 2012

"It is a difficult lifestyle choice but the cause keeps you here," says Leona.

"Just the tiny thing of this place being here on the road reminds people that what is in their neighbourhood is completely abhorrent is enough for me."

Leona's cause is the removal of nuclear missiles from submarines based at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.

She is one of just six permanent residents at the peace camp, which has been by the side of a road outside the west of Scotland base for 30 years.

However, she feels there is going to be a "resurgence" in the anti-nuclear movement.

"It has waned a lot in the past 10 to 15 years but I feel that young people are going to come on board with this, especially with the link to Scottish independence.

"Scotland has the potential to set the ball rolling for the world's nuclear disarmament. Hopefully we will see a lot more anti-nuclear faces around here."

The peace camp began as a protest against the Thatcher government's decision to purchase the Trident nuclear missile system but 30 years later the camp is still there - and so are the nuclear warheads.

It was set-up as a kind of Scottish version of Greenham Common and over the years it has evolved, putting down roots and installing the occasional comfort such as a couple of flushing toilets.

In the early days the support of the local district council saw protesters make a semi-permanent settlement by the side of the A814 near the naval base.

But the mood changed in the 90s when attempts were made to evict them.

Image caption Around the campfire: Christmas Eve 1982

There has been a tradition of anti-nuclear protest in Scotland since the early 1960s when the US Navy established a base for their submarines at Dunoon on the Holy Loch.

At the time the nuclear weapons system was Polaris but in the early 1980s, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher announced the UK government would be replacing that ageing missile system with the more powerful Trident.

Anti-nuclear protesters believed the government was going against what had been agreed in the non-proliferation treaty. So they set up the Faslane Peace Camp in the summer of 1982.

Brian Mackenzie, chairman of the Royal Naval Association in Scotland, who was in service on nuclear submarines, says anti-nuclear weapons was "a popular bandwagon to jump on at the time".

He says he believed nuclear weapons acted as a deterrent from attack by other countries.

Image caption Les Robertson is arrested during the action to stop a nuclear warhead convoy in Balloch, 1994

But Louise Robertson, one of the founders, says the threat of "mutually assured destruction", with bombs being dropped by Russia, was very real at the time.

Jane Tallents, who lived at the peace camp between 1984 and 1990, says: "Things seemed so much more urgent in the 80s. The Cold War was at its height. People really feared we were going to end up in a nuclear war."

Jane went into hospital to have her son Sam on the same day the diggers moved into the Coulport armaments depot, a part of the Clyde naval base about eight miles from Faslane, to update the facilities for Trident.

Sam Jones, now 26, lived at the peace camp with his parents during his childhood.

Sam says: his parents tried to keep him away from the action when he was young but he did see them getting arrested on numerous occasions as they staged protests at the base.

He says: "That was obviously quite terrifying when I was a child but as I got older and learned more about why they were taking these drastic steps and why we didn't have much money because they were spending all their time campaigning against nuclear weapons."

By the age of 15, Sam was himself taking part in direct action against nuclear weapons.

Ms Tallents says she has been arrested more than 40 times over the years on various protests at the naval base.

One of the protesters, who wants to be known as Dave, who lived at the peace camp from 1995 to 1999, said he had been arrested at least 60 times.

Image caption Taking on Trident: Sea Action boats alongside HMS Vanguard as it sails through the Rhu Narrows, October 1992

He says: "The number of times you have been arrested was how you gained status. Going to prison was a cool thing."

Eric Thompson was commodore of the naval base in the mid-90s.

He says: "Our original security concerns were Russian special forces, for which we had a barbed wire fence.

"Then we started worrying about the IRA, so we had a double-barbed wire fence but it was actually the peace camp and political embarrassment which kept us on our toes."

He recalls one incident in which three peace campers managed to get into the base dressed as Santa Claus.

Mr Thompson says: "They got over three of our internal fences using ladders they had found and managed to get down to one or our submarines. They were actually in the sights of an armed Royal Marine guarding the jetty and he could have taken all three of them out but he decided shooting Santa Claus was not going to be a good idea."

Most of the residents at the peace camp had been involved in other protests but one of them, Craig McFarland, came from a very different background - he had been a soldier in the Scots Guards.

He says: "It was ideal really. I loved it. I was involved in a lot of actions but one I had taken on myself was swimming into the base. It was really easy actually. I swam over that bit of water and before you knew it there was a big nuclear submarine in front of me."

Image caption Anti-nuclear campaigner Sam Jones on top of the vehicle with Jane Tallents on the road, May 2004

While McFarland left the military to join the peace camp, Dave made the opposite journey - joining the Territorial Army (TA).

He says: "Some people find it bizarre that I moved from the peace camp to join the TA. It does look, on the face of it, a bit of a jump. But I was never a pacifist even when I was a camper. You learn a lot of good things in the TA - self-discipline, fitness - and you get paid. The standard protest mentality is that all the military is bad. You are betraying the ideals of being a protester by joining the military. They were appalled by it."

Dave says a state of war developed between the council and the peace camp after the local government reorganisation in 1996.

Faslane became part of Argyll and Bute Council and their new councillors wanted the camp evicted.

Conflict with the council attracted a whole new breed of peace campers, he says.

He calls them "eviction junkies", who were looking for a battle. They built tree houses and tunnels and "lock-ons", everything was done to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to evict the campers.

Dave says he left the camp when he realised the council did not have the resources to evict them.

The decree to evict the peace camp still stands to this day.

Image caption Wood chopping for the stove is a daily activity, 2012

George Freeman, an Independent councillor on Argyll and Bute Council, says: "We don't see the point in going to substantial costs and effort in trying to evict them when they could set up on the next grass verge and we would be no further forward.

"I don't think the public would be sympathetic to the council in spending potentially £150,000 to £200,000 for no real effect at the end of the day. The handful of people who live in the camp have no impact on the community or the workings of the base."

Mr Thomson, who is now a resident of nearby Helensburgh, says most people accepted the right to protest but many people in the town, which relies heavily on the base for employment, are in favour of basing the nuclear submarines there.

The Trident nuclear submarine system will need to be renewed in the next decade or so but a decision on whether to go ahead with committing billions of pounds to a new system has been put back by the UK government until after the next election in 2015.

Scotland's first minister Alex Salmond has pledged that an independent Scotland would be nuclear free.

BBC Radio Scotland - Gie's Peace is on Monday 28 May at 1405

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