Spokespeople for Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) Andrew Smith and Mark Bitel say the Scottish Parliament can lead by example in rejecting arms trade investment
WAR AND CONFLICT on the other side of the world can often seem distant and remote. Foreign affairs is a ‘reserved issue’ with Westminster calling the shots and shaping the direction, but there are decisions our parliament can take tomorrow that would have an immediate impact and send a message about the kind of country we want Scotland to be on the world stage.
One of these areas is the pensions and investments made by the Scottish Parliament itself. Analysis from Campaign Against Arms Trade and Friends of Earth has revealed that the Scottish Parliament scheme is helping to fund arms, tobacco and environmentally destructive companies.
The fund which oversees a multimillion pound pension pot for 127 MSPs, is managed by a board of trustees, most of whom are MSPs from across the political spectrum. In 2015 , the fund invested PS587,000 in three leading arms traders: Rolls Royce, Ultra Electronics and Meggit ; PS2.1m into coal, oil and gas companies; and PS474,000 into tobacco.
Trident is a moral abomination, yet one of the companies that the parliament invests in, Rolls Royce, enjoys a PS1.1bn contract to produce new reactor cores for the next generation of Trident missiles.
The Scottish Government rightfully opposes the PS167bn renewal of Trident and has actively campaigned against it. Trident is a moral abomination, yet one of the companies that the parliament invests in, Rolls Royce, enjoys a PS1.1bn contract to produce new reactor cores for the next generation of Trident missiles.
Similarly, last summer the Scottish Government rightfully called for an end to UK arms sales to Israel . Yet, over the last few years two of the companies that the parliament invests in, Ultra Electronics and Meggitt, have applied for a number of export licences to send military equipment to Israel.
Mark Bitel (far left) with John Finnie MSP and Alison Johnstone MSP
In 2013, a creative and powerful student-led campaign forced Edinburgh University to end its investment in Ultra Electronics due to its role in making navigation controls for Predator and Reaper drones.
It’s not just an issue for parliament, either. Last year the Sunday Herald revealed that over 430 public bodies in Scotland are investing over PS1.4bn in fossil fuels, arms companies and tobacco.
The biggest pension fund, Strathclyde, run by Glasgow City Council, was revealed to be investing PS545m in 71 fossil fuel companies, three tobacco companies and three arms manufacturers.
Campaigners are working with independent MSP John Finnie and Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone to build a cross party campaign for the parliament to follow an ethical investment policy that puts people first.
It doesn’t need to be this way. In the 1970s and 1980s a number of local authorities across the UK cut their ties to apartheid South Africa by ending contracts and boycotting South African goods, with Scottish councils leading the way.
In 1981 Strathclyde was the first to go one step further, by announcing an end to pension fund investments from companies with South African subsidiaries and banning South African sports teams from its playing fields.
What if the Scottish Parliament built on this radical legacy by ending its support for companies that are making a killing from war and climate change? Campaigners across Scotland are working with independent MSP John Finnie and Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone to build a cross party campaign for the parliament to follow an ethical investment policy that puts people first.
It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s one that could make a big difference. Not only would it send a strong statement about the attitudes of Scottish politicians, it would also set a bar and a precedent for public bodies and authorities across the UK to match.
It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s one that could make a big difference. Ultimately, public money should be invested for the public good.
More than that, it would provide a powerful contrast and counterweight to the government in Westminster, which is in the early stages of trying to bring in legislation that would ban local councils from disinvestment in Israel or individual companies .
As Alison Johnstone has argued : “Our parliament aspires to wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity – these words are carved into Holyrood’s ceremonial mace. Investing in unburnable fossil fuels and destructive arms and tobacco is incredibly unwise and damages our parliament’s integrity.”
Ultimately, public money should be invested for the public good. That is why we, and many others, are calling on the parliament to put its money where its mouth is and end its investments in companies that profit from war, conflict and environmental destruction.
Picture courtesy of fotdmike