Obituary: John Ainslie, Scottish CND leader and peace activist


Long time peace activist and Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) administrator John Ainslie has died. SCND vice chair Isobel Lindsay, who worked alongside Ainslie for over 20 years, offers her thoughts on his long career as an activist and thinker who brought the disarmament movement into a new Scottish political era

ALTHOUGH his name might not be well known outside of political and campaigning circles, John Ainslie’s death on Friday is a great loss to Scotland. 

John was administrator for Scottish CND for the past 24 years and he was one of the real experts in the UK on nuclear issues and, in particular, on Trident. He was the go-to person on technical and strategic questions and I have heard him quietly demolish the assertions of some supposed experts. He studied international military and political developments around nuclear weapons. He was always up-to-date on Pentagon and US Congress debates on the Trident programme and he put this knowledge to good use.

John’s first career was as an army officer in the security services in Northern Ireland. He then took a very different path and became a Church of Scotland minister. His deep concern about nuclear weapons and the destructive power of modern warfare led him to be first an activist and then to take up the post of administrator for Scottish CND in 1992 just as Trident was moving into Faslane. John worked quietly, modestly, but with great effect and determination over the years to develop a broad political anti-nuclear consensus in Scotland. With the Afghan and Iraq wars much of the effort then went into the wider anti-war movement.

John Ainslie

John became increasingly convinced that the best hope of achieving nuclear disarmament, not just in Scotland but also in the UK, was with independence. With the prospect of an independence referendum, he promoted a controversial move to publicly back a Yes vote and become officially part of the Yes campaign and this was supported by a majority at an AGM in 2012, He produced two influential research reports in the context of the campaign. The first, ‘Trident – Nowhere to Go’, illustrated with technical details that there were no existing military sites in the rest of the UK which could provide the equivalent of the Faslane/Coulport complex. Any attempt to recreate these facilities would, if possible at all, take well over a decade and vast expenditure. The implication of this was that it would be exceptionally difficult for the UK to continue with its nuclear programme after Scottish independence. 

The second report, ‘Disarming Trident’, explained exactly how an independent Scotland could become a non-nuclear state. The suggestion by some that this would have to be delayed for years was dismissed by John, who showed how in a few weeks the removal of the warheads from the missiles could make Trident non-operational as a nuclear weapons system and this would be followed by a longer phased programme of returning the warheads and submarines.

John’s contribution ranged from the intellectual to the very practical work of campaigning; no task was too small or too big. If it had to be done, it was done. He spent a lot of time this summer running CND stalls at various music festivals to reach out to a younger age group. He faced tragedy in his personal life with the death of Duncan, his twenty-year old son. He survived against the odds after cancer of the gullet. He survived a brain cancer operation last year and we had come to hope that he was indestructible but the recurrence of that cancer defeated him. 

When we become a state that prohibits nuclear weapons, we will remember him.

Pictures courtesy of  Ban All Nukes generation, Facebook

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