SCOTLAND, its parliament, its government and people will soon have the indisputable backing of the global community in its opposition to the nuclear weapons on the Clyde.

This will arise from the entry into force of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which will fully bind all the states that join it in comprehensive prohibitions and positive obligations for nuclear disarmament. The TPNW irrefutably complements and completes existing international humanitarian law.

Since the adoption of the TPNW by 122 of the member states of the UN in July 2017 there has been steady progress towards its fulfilment. First, the 84 signatures from UN member states show the necessary commitment to the treaty’s aims, and then the ratifications are deposited at the UN. Ratifications take a little longer, requiring national governments to formally agree to the terms of the treaty.

The full number of ratifications to bring the TPNW into force is 50, and at this time we only need three more of the signatories to complete that process and become “state parties”. So the 50th ratification could happen very soon, immediately committing all state parties irreversibly to completing any arrangements for full entry into force within 90 days.

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This is an important milestone in the development of a norm against nuclear weapons, which will influence states who are not yet party to the treaty. All of the disarmament treaties have an effect on global understanding and interpretations of international humanitarian law. They create stigma and change the global perception of what is acceptable in times of war.

Prohibition treaties, especially prohibiting the use of weapons of mass destruction, have all impacted on states, including states that do not join, sign or ratify them. This happens through changing the norm or internationally accepted view of a weapon and also through economic or legislative difficulties for states that go against the generally held view.

Although the US has not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, nor the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the US government is affected by media condemnation and seeks to be seen as complying with their terms. The US still has not signed or ratified the Landmine Treaty, but no longer manufactures or uses landmines because 80% of UN member states are signatories and the treaty has created a stigma that makes them completely unacceptable to the international community.

Apart from the stigma, the divestment of international finance has impact. Any nuclear weapons contractor is dependent on investment from global financial institutions. These institutions are wary of risk and are very aware of the different legal frameworks in different parts of the world. If they have dealings in countries that are member states of a prohibition treaty, there are potential obstacles to standardising their actions around the world because they have to accommodate different legal regimes. For this reason, many are already divesting and the entry into force of the TPNW will accelerate this trend.

Prohibitions in the TPNW extend beyond possession to outlawing assistance, manufacturing, transferring, possessing, stockpiling, using or threatening to use nuclear weapons, or allowing nuclear weapons to be stationed on the territory of any state party. It also prohibits states from assisting, encouraging or inducing anyone to engage in any of these activities.

In addition to prohibitions the treaty applies positive obligations which include verification of weapons-free status and universalisation, meaning that state parties are obliged to actively encourage non-parties to join. There is an obligation to help any affected states parties deal with victim assistance and environmental remediation and to co-operate with other state parties in fulfilling these commitments. They also commit to participation in meetings for states parties to consider the treaty’s implementation, which will commence within one year of its entry into force.

At the first meeting of states parties the rights of observers will be determined and the rules of procedure for the meetings. Participants will also decide on setting a timeline for the destruction of nuclear weapons for nuclear-armed states who join.

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While states not party are not legally bound by the treaty, and all of the nuclear armed states have so far boycotted the process entirely, they will be impacted and the UK is seen by many to be the one with its nuclear coat on the shoogliest nail. Therefore it should take the opportunity to commit to negotiating an observer space at the table, and Scotland should be exerting pressure on them to get on with it at the earliest opportunity, which may be very soon.

This is why an independent, or near-independent Scotland will be under huge pressure from Westminster to collude with the UK Government in its effort to keep going by whatever means, despite their nuclear weapons upgrade being over budget, behind schedule, dependent on Trump’s administration, and impacted by economic fall out and political neglect resulting from Covid and Brexit to the extent that “continuous at-sea deterrence” may well already be failing.

In the run-up to the last referendum on Scottish independence, the evidence produced by John Ainslie and Scottish CND showed that the UK had nowhere else for its nuclear bases and that removing the nuclear weapons from Scotland would mean an end to the UK’s nuclear armed posture. That was not a nimby or narrow view. It was an aspiration that could fulfil, in the words of the Scottish Peace Covenant, our desire for a Scotland that could contribute to international peace and justice, rather than being a launch pad for waging war. Now, amidst suggestions that we could sell a lease on Faslane Guantanamo-style, let’s be clear: Scottish independence can give us a short route to achieve what Nicola called “no ifs, no buts, no UK nuclear weapons on the Clyde – or anywhere else” and the TPNW will ensure that we have unambiguous protection under international law if we indicate a clear intention of standing with the sane majority of the world’s states who join it. Belt and braces.