Janet Fenton: The Scots in Oslo making their mark in the Nobel Peace Prize-winning fight against nuclear arms


Scottish CND activist Janet Fenton reports from Oslo, where campaigners are celebrating ICAN’s award of the Nobel Peace Prize

ON Monday evening, 300 million television viewers will tune in live to a concert broadcast from this week’s Nobel Peace Prize celebrations. 

It is bright and cold here in Oslo, the weather and the landscape viewed from the train that links the airport so efficiently to the city, with its hills and birch and pine, is not so different to Scotland. 

A group of Scots with political and popular support from home, symbolised by carrying a torch specially gifted by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, are participating. The award is a significant acknowledgement of work by the Scottish peace movement and, in turn, increases Scotland’s contribution to peace in the world.

READ MORE: Scottish peace activists head for Nobel Peace Prize procession with backing of first minister

This year’s prize has been awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) for its work towards the United Nations Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It is a campaign made up of partner organisations, augmented by supporters, articulated by survivors of the weapons and the testing, and amplified by doctors and diplomats. 

There are thousands of us across the world, and we understand that the existence and maintenance of nuclear weapons are not compatible with the sustainable development goals for life on this earth. 

Four of the hundreds of ICAN partner organisations are in Scotland, and many people in those organisations – and more beyond those organisations have campaigned for nuclear weapons abolition on Scottish streets, in our parliament, outside the bases at Faslane and Coulport, inside schools and trade unions.

Hundreds of ICAN campaigners contributed to what has been described as the biggest torch-lit procession that the Nobel prize has attracted over the years, singing “we shall overcome” in the light of our torches as we gathered at the end, chanting “I can” as we walked the icy streets. 

But what does the award, and the treaty it celebrates mean? There are only nine states that possess nuclear weapons, unfortunately the UK is one of them, and the decision to acquire nuclear weapons was made by each of these states secretively and without democratic mandate. 

Campaigners from Scotland in Oslo

Their governments choose to snub the Nobel Peace Prize process, for what that is worth, just as they snubbed the work directed by the UN to establish the treaty which, in the few months since its adoption, is already impacting on how the weapons are viewed and managed. 

That position is not acceptable to Scotland, where all the UK’s nukes are based, and the treaty is helping us to articulate that position – not only by directly messaging the government at Westminster, but in the international understanding and support for our view of nuclear weapons as well past their sell by date.

The treaty is simple, and its language is easy to understand. No possessions, use deployment, threat, no assistance to states that use nuclear weapons, no investment or procurement. And there are positive obligations as well, meaning that, for example, damaged people should be looked after and poisoned environments should be cleaned up.

As this campaign has grown, and each time we overcame a hurdle, it seemed to take us a few steps beyond that goal. Gaining the treaty has led to the Nobel award, and more signatures, and new ratifications, so that now there are 56 states signed up.

The treaty will not come into force until it is not only signed, but ratified as well by 50 UN members – this will take time as governments will need to create the legislation to put it into each country’s own legal system. Already, risk averse finance companies are considering what impact the treaty will have on their commitment to nuclear weapons investment.

READ MORE: Campaigners celebrate Nobel Peace Prize for International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

For Scotland, some of the treaty’s requirements – for example, educating the population, including its medical students, about the impact of nuclear weapons on human health – could be put into law even if signing it is outside the Scottish Government’s devolved competence.

The participation in the treaty’s negotiations by the only state that voted against it, the Netherlands, was forced by grassroots action despite the Netherlands government’s commitment to Nato. 

Their explanation for the vote against was very respectful of the treaty and its supporters, but said it could not be signed because it was not “compatible with their Nato obligations”. Now, dialogue around Nato’s nuclear policies is changing, as countries without nuclear weapons consider if they can still be part of Nato if it withholds alliance on nuclear weapons.

The treaty was negotiated through a focus on the terrible damage that these weapons can inflict, evidenced by medical and scientific experts and the direct testimony of the survivors of both weapons and the tests conducted across the world. 

The very existence of nuclear weapons was shown over and over to stand in the way of any effective responses to accelerating climate change and de-escalation of intergovernmental conflict. 

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This came about through the actions of civil society organisations and their engagement with governments and diplomats. So the campaigners are not only in Oslo to celebrate – or to gain media coverage for what has been achieved, important as that is – they are there working together, sharing plans and initiatives to go forward, remembering that, in the words of one of ICAN’s founders to the campaigners, that our campaign is not to prohibit nuclear weapons, but to abolish them.

The international rally at Faslane Scottish CND (SCND) is planning for 18 September next year will be well supported by ICAN campaigners to ensure that Scotland’s position in the world on this issue is made very clear to the UK Government.

We can, as individuals, in our local groups, trade unions, political and social groupings, schools and local authorities and at our parliament, choose to be compliant with the Treaty To Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. 

We can read and understand and adopt this beautiful, articulate document, and add its provisions to manifestos and constitutions, and this can be done through simple steps.

We have a new norm about nuclear weapons that is worth being tenacious and graphic about because people who think being able to annihilate the planet makes for security are not the normal ones.

At present, Scottish ICAN’s partners are SCND, The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, UN House Scotland and Medact Scotland.

“Deeply concerned about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from any use of nuclear weapons … the consequent need to completely eliminate such weapons … remains the only way to guarantee that nuclear weapons are never used again under any circumstances.” – from the preamble to the UN Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 2017

Picture courtesy of Scottish CND

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