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This year is set to be a momentous one for Scotland. All eyes will be on us as we welcome the world to our Year of Homecoming, with more than 400 events taking place the length and breadth of the country.
We will stage the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the largest sporting and cultural celebration ever held in Scotland.
And we will host the Ryder Cup – an event which will be enjoyed by a quarter of a million spectators at Gleneagles and will be beamed to more than 180 countries around the planet.
And, of course, on 18 September, we will decide whether to become an independent country. It is the opportunity of a lifetime.
The debate on Scotland’s future has so far been passionate and robust, and whatever their views, Scots are – each in their own time – pausing to reflect about what kind of country they want to live in.
With even the most ardent unionists now accepting that Scotland has the human and natural resources to be a successful independent country, the only debate now is about who is best to make decisions about Scotland’s future.
Recent interventions from No campaign politicians in Westminster have betrayed a sense of deep unease beginning to engulf the No campaign, as poll after poll finds the gap between Yes and No closing.
On Sterling, we’ve seen a Tory-led Westminster establishment attempt to bully and intimidate – but their efforts to claim ownership of Sterling have backfired spectacularly in terms of reaction from the people of Scotland, who know that the pound is as much theirs as it is George Osborne’s.
The reality is that a formal currency union with a shared Sterling area is overwhelmingly in the rest of the UK’s economic interests following a Yes vote, and the stance of any UK Government will be very different the day after a Yes vote to the campaign rhetoric we are hearing now.
To do otherwise would involve a prospective Westminster Chancellor of any party standing on a platform which was not only vastly at odds with majority public opinion across Scotland and the rest of the UK but would seriously damage the economy of the rest of the UK, as it would cost their own businesses hundreds of millions of pounds a year, blow a massive hole in their balance of payments and leave them having to pick up the entirety of UK debt.
The No side are losing the arguments on the ground as they see the polls narrowing, and support for a Yes vote growing.
And our opponents also betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what independence for Scotland actually means.
It is about a desire to be responsible, to stand on our own two feet, to make and be accountable for our own decisions – but also to be a good neighbour, making a positive contribution to the world we live in.
There is no reason why an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK cannot continue to share what works well for us all – the currency, the Common Travel Area, the social union of the monarchy and much more. But equally, there is no reason why the people of Scotland must continue to have key decisions about their lives made for them by Governments that they did not vote for.
The Scottish Parliament has a proud record of delivering for the people of Scotland – the landmark ban on smoking, a council tax freeze saving the average family £1,200, the abolition of prescription charges, scrapping of tuition fees as well as the continuing of a National Health Service free at the point of use.
The fundamental problem for opponents to independence is they have to explain why Scotland’s Parliament can be trusted to deliver key advances in these areas but is somehow incapable of taking decisions on whether we have an economy focussed on delivering jobs and investment for Scotland, whether we continue to host costly and wanted nuclear weapons on our shores, whether we have a draconian bedroom tax foisted upon our most vulnerable citizens and whether or not we send our brave soldiers to illegal wars.
It’s when faced with these political realities that I believe the people of Scotland will overwhelmingly vote yes in September.
Alex Salmond is First Minister of Scotland and Leader of the SNP
Words: Paul Waugh and Daniel Bond
Photos: Paul Heartfield
“I sometimes should be a little bit more kind to people who do annoy me.” Anna Soubry is pausing for a moment of self-reflection, confessing that she does indeed suffer fools badly.
One of the 2010 intake’s most outspoken MPs, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans has certainly had plenty of targets in her gunsights since entering the Commons – and Government.
From her smackdown of Nigel Farage on Question Time (and her subsequent apology for being rude about him) to clashes with the Speaker and Big Tobacco, Anna Mary Soubry takes few prisoners.
In an often drab and homogenised Whitehall, her admirers say she adds a splash of colour and human warmth, as well as straight talking. Her critics say she can be too abrasive and unguarded.
Today, Soubry is agitated, irascible, irritable. Her bad mood isn’t because she’s annoyed with herself for coming back to work too early after a nasty bout of pneumonia. Nor, as an ex-smoker who occasionally lapses, is she twitching for a cigarette.
No, the minister is irked by something else: a fresh outbreak of claims that the Conservatives have a ‘women problem’. “I’m quite agitated at the moment, because there’s a lot of nonsense being talked about my party having a problem with women and my Prime Minister having a problem with women,” she says. “And it’s the most amazing amount of rubbish I’ve heard in a very long time.”
“I’ve been selected twice for Parliament, on both occasions beating men. And I did not beat them because I’m a woman. I know my association, and they chose the person they believed me to be the best candidate. I’ve never felt like my sex has held me back in politics at all. I’m quite agitated about this, I’m fed up about this agenda because it's crap.”
“You can’t win can you? If he promotes a woman everyone says ‘oh he’s promoted her because she’s a women’ and if he doesn’t everyone says he’s got a problem with women. We can’t win and that’s because too many people are taking on this agenda, and it’s an unfair agenda.
"The boss said he wanted to have, by the end of his term in office, 30% of ministers a women. He put down a figure. I don’t subscribe to figures, I’m a bit old fashioned, I think you get there on merit. But he said that. And I am agitated because I know that when David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party one of the first things he did was he said ‘I want more women candidates’ and he did positive things to make sure we had more women standing in seats that were either safe or that we could win. I know he did that, so I get agitated when people say he has a problem with women, because he hasn’t.”
Soubry goes on to explain that there is a generational shift when it comes to female ambitions in public life.
“People say ‘why aren’t more women involved in politics?’ It’s incredibly complicated. I had in my previous job [at Health], I was in a position of appointing people to a board, and I’ll be honest with you, I was conscious of male/female. And the reason I didn’t appoint women to that particular board was because they weren’t good enough.
“Now there are obviously lots of good women out there. A lot of women are ambitious, a lot of women want to get on and everything else. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to go into some of the more public jobs. And you know, truthfully, you look at the head of the Environment Agency, and you see the grilling that he’s got, would anybody actually want to get that job?
“And I think women – and I don’t like to stereotype – but I think women tend not to be big, egotistical people. And of a certain generation, we always thought well I couldn’t possibly do that, or they wouldn’t appoint me to that. So we tend to step back a little bit."
But that’s changed with later generations? "Absolutely. And this generation, the 30/40s, definitely.
“It’s just not a deal. I think for my children’s generation – I have two daughters – and I think they find some of these discussions quite bizarre. They think what are people talking about? They just get on with it. It’s different for their generation than it was for my generation because some of us did those 'firsts'."
As a young law student Soubry was the first Tory woman elected to the executive committee of the NUS, when she was appointed to the Bar she was the only woman at her first set of chambers, and when she became a journalist she joined a TV newsroom – as the only woman. It’s clear she likes the sound of breaking glass ceilings.
Now, she’s the first female British defence minister to serve in the Commons (Baroness Symons and Taylor were peers). Does she sometimes stop to think she’s making history? “I’ve had a few firsts as a woman. But I actually am conscious of this one,” she says.
She’s in good company. The defence ministers of Sweden, Norway, Holland, Germany and Italy are all now women, with four of them tweeting a ‘selfie’ from the Munich security conference earlier this year.
The minister’s office is dominated by some striking artworks, not least a huge photograph of the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Souda Bay, Crete. “I've only been to one war cemetery – and that’s it. Don’t you think that’s astonishing? It’s beautiful, it is immaculate. The green grass, the white headstones and at the end of each row, red roses. That cominbation of colours is why it’s unforgettable.”
Other paintings are of women working in intelligence in WWII, one of Bosnia conflict, one of the Falklands, one of Nelson ("how could you not have a picture of Nelson?"). There’s even one of the minister in a tank - “that’s me in a Warrior – not looking like Margaret Thatcher.”
It’s just five months into Soubry’s tenure at the MoD, but she’s already grappling with one of the biggest and thorniest challenges that has faced the department in decades, as senior officials warn of a looming recruitment ‘black hole’ which could dog the Armed Forces for years. The cuts to the MoD’s budget, the Army 2020 restructuring, last year’s bungled IT project and the end of the Afghanistan conflict – which Soubry describes as one of the military’s most effective “recruiting sergeants” – have created an almost perfect storm holding back potential recruits.
Despite aggressive advertising campaigns, targeting both Regulars and Reservists, the number of people signing up actually shrank over 2013, and several training courses scheduled for the coming year have had to be cancelled as places could not be filled. MoD reports estimate as many as one in 20 positions in the Armed Forces have been left unfilled.
There are some signs of improvement, with recruitment up slightly in the final quarter of last year. But Soubry says she is remaining “deliberately pessimistic” and refuses to suggest a corner has been turned. The huge changes underway, she says, require not quick fixes but a long-term cultural shift in attitudes towards military service, and the Reserves in particular. “I’ll be the first to put my hands up, my view of the Reserves was middle aged men going off and playing soldiers at the weekend,” she says. “I didn’t appreciate exactly what it is. Just recently of course we’ve been taking the Army and the Marines into flood work. And a large proportion of that is Reserves. And these are properly trained, to a professional standard, They’re an incredibly important part of the future.”
“It’s as much culture change as anything else. I suppose in a way it’s a different way now of doing the Armed Forces, because of the changes, and not just because we’re withdrawing from Afghanistan but because the world is a changing place. We saw that with the Syria vote, there is an argument that the public’s view of the role of our Armed Forces is changing quite a lot. That comes from our experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our Armed Forces need to change."
Another barrier to MoD recruitment is the improving economy and jobs market, particularly at a time when the Armed Forces are having to exercise restraint on pay. Soubry admits there is a concern that the military will suffer as potential recruits, and current service personnel, are given “more alternatives” by the booming jobs market. The task for the MoD, she explains, is to impress on people that the benefits and experience of serving in the military can make them more employable when they leave.
“There is a concern that as the economy improves obviously there are more jobs for people, so there are more alternatives to signing up, as a Regular or a Reservist,” she says. “We know that when you’ve got a young – tends to be man – but when we’ve got a young person, take that 17 year old thinking ‘what am I going to do?’. We should be saying well you’re employable now, because we’re going to employ you, we want you to come and join us. But by the time you leave – and it will come, this is not a job necessarily for life – you’re going to actually be even more employable at the end of it than you are today. And we will give you not just skills but also an experience, which will stand you in good stead.
“One of the other things I am concerned about is the retention of people with certain skill sets. Some of our highly-skilled naval people, skilled in nuclear work. These are clued-up guys, and girls. They know what they’re talking about and they know there is a market out there that would very much like to have them. So we’ve got to get the balances right so we retain people. And we are extremely conscious of that.”
But the changes underway are not only causing challenges for the MoD in terms of recruitment, they also throw up new problems when it comes to caring for those after they’ve served. The mental health charity CombatStress has warned that Reservists are as much as 50% more likely than their full-time counterparts to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems. The charity fears that the UK will face a huge challenge if thousands of Reservists in need of help are simply returning from service and disappearing back into their day jobs.
It’s a problem Soubry is particularly concerned about. Just last weekend, she says, she signed off on a “wonderful” new pilot scheme which will embed NHS staff in work with the military, and military staff in the NHS, essentially offering them the chance at a ‘job swap’ to gain experience in dealing with these sorts of issues. More details can be expected soon, but Soubry says the scheme offers an unprecedented chance to make contacts and share understanding, which could have “phenomenal” benefits for both areas.
“It won’t cost anybody any money. But we’re going to get NHS workers involved in our military-type work, and we’re going to get our people involved in the NHS. You make connections, and you can design all the fantastic schemes in the world, and pathways and so on, but there’s nothing better than when you have somebody you work with and you return to your job, your full time job before the swap, as it were, and you’ve made that contact with that patient or that person, and you think ‘I’m going to ring Fred or Freida’. So it’s all about building real relationships. And I think that will be of huge benefit. You make contact, you understand. And that’s looking at Regulars and Reserves, putting them all into the mix.”
Despite her concerns, Soubry is keen to stress that the majority of service personnel do not suffer from mental health problems, and fears the debate risks “stereotyping” soldiers. “The figures show that actually somebody who is a member of the Armed Forces does not have a higher risk of suicide or any other mental health problems than any other member of the public,” she explains. “It’s really important, because we’re in grave danger of stereotyping all our veterans as being slightly flaky. Actually the overwhelming majority of them are sound as a pound and eminently employable when they leave. They get jobs and they’re fine.”
But there is also growing concern about the relatively large numbers of former service personnel who find themselves in jail or in the courtroom. Last month the Government launched a review, to be led by Tory MP and former Black Watch officer Rory Stewart, into the rehabilitation of former soldiers caught up in the criminal justice system. As a former barrister Soubry is well aware of the problem, having represented several soldiers in court who’d “been out with their mates, drunk far too much and engaged in unlawful violence”.
“Yes, naughty boys,” she adds with a laugh. “But in my experience judges were always reluctant to send anybody in those circumstances, service personnel, they were always reluctant to send them to prison, and specifically in relation to any mental health problems. In my experience most judges absolutely got it. They really did.”
Labour have suggested that they may look at the introduction of US-style Veterans’ Courts, in operation in several jurisdictions across the States, which try minor cases involving ex-military personnel, particularly those suffering from service-related illnesses and stress. Is that something this Government would consider? “No. You know, if somebody could persuade me…but at the moment I’m not persuaded at all, because I trust our system. I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means. But I don’t think our veterans would want something that said ‘you are so different from other members of society – as a veteran, remember – you are so different that you have your own system, your own courts’. Personally, I’m not in to that, because I don’t think they would want to be into that either.”
Instead the minister backs the work of veterans charities, and in particular one in her constituency, which is in discussions with the police about setting up an innovative new scheme to avoid the courts and offer support to former service personnel engaged in “low level trouble”.
“Just like at the moment, if you are done for speeding and it’s your first time you’re offered an alternative to three points and a £100 fine, which is to go on a speeding course. So if you’ve got somebody who’s an ex-soldier, who’s got a drink problem, and been a bit of an idiot, instead of saying ‘right we’re going to charge you with being drunk and disorderly’, you say ‘let’s look at, if you’re agreeable to it, let’s get into sorting yourself out young man, because you’ve got a drink problem.’”
On defence spending, Soubry says that ministers would prefer not to make cuts but points out that “we’re having to sort out our economy”. She adds: “You can only spend what you’ve got. You can only cut up the cake – and if you’ve only inherited a bun, or a little tiny cupcake…” She cuts off, before adding: “I don’t do cupcakes. I’ve never made a cupcake in my bloody life.”
Her gift for the vernacular certainly helped last year when she launched a counterblast at Nigel Farage on Question Time. “I think that incident on Question Time, it did wobble him. It was Boston and I’m an East Midlands girl, it’s my part of the world. The fact is that part of the country has always relied on migrant labour. I was fired up. He was like a deflated balloon because nobody had actually really had the argument with him, which said: ‘Sorry, What is your problem? These people are good people, they come here to work’. I feel it with a passion."
She explains how she dealt with one constituent who came to see her. “If you make the debate, you can win this argument about immigration. I’ve sat with a constituent of mine. He said ‘I’m really worried about all these immigrants’. I said ‘Really, where? This is Broxtowe. The biggest ethnic group we have, which is 0.2% of our population, is the Chinese.’. ‘Really?’ said he ‘I didn’t know that.’ I said ‘So where are all these immigrants from?’ He says ‘they’re here’. I said ‘they’re not here, let’s go through the figures’, so I do all of that.
"Then he said ‘but they might be coming’ and I explained about Government policy. And then he said ‘we’ve got some Asians you know, some of them live down the road’. I said ‘I bet you fifty quid that they were born in this country’. ‘Ooh,’ said he, ‘I’ve never thought of it like that.’ I said ‘I bet you their values are traditional British values, like bringing up their children to know the difference between wrong and right, working hard, believers in marriage, looking after their elderly’. He said ‘you know what, I’ve never thought of it like that’. This is the debate I want. Have this debate, make these arguments. So when I went to Boston I knew that I wanted to make these points that we’ve already had migrant labour."
And Soubry thinks that a similarly robust approach should be taken on the EU too.
“It’s like the European Union: have a proper debate. One of the problems with the EU debate is it’s all been one sided, it’s all been against the EU, it’s all been negative. What we haven’t done is actually build up that other part of the argument and put that forward. And when you begin to have the debate, most people in this country are really sensible, moderate people, and they get it.”
"Have the debate and I think we win the argument. Too often what’s happened is like the gentleman who came to see me, we have not gone ‘well what is it you are worried about?’ Have an honest debate, an informed debate that says to people let’s talk about regulation, let’s talk about what we’ve done, the way we’ve cut the European budget, the way we haven’t allowed them to take the powers, we’ve used the veto and so on.
"And I think sometimes we’ve shied away from it because we’ve been almost afraid to have that debate. Sometimes you have a debate and you lose it, but you have to have that debate. We’ve sort of forgotten that’s what politics is about: having a debate, a discussion, an argument, a falling out. Sometimes you win it sometimes you lose it, but you’ve got to have it.”
As for Farage, she says that “increasingly people are seeing him as a one-trick pony”. “When you say one minute ‘Cameron’s gotta tell ‘em we’re full, put up the sign, Britain’s Full’ and then literally a few weeks later ‘oh let’s bring in all the Syrian refugees’, it doesn’t make sense. One minute he says David Cameron is absolutely right on welfare reform, and then in the recent by-election he says to people ‘we’ll protect your benefits’. They don’t know whether they’re Arthur or Martha.”
Another person Soubry has clashed with of late is Mr Speaker himself, John Bercow. Clashing with her three times in 90 minutes, he described her conduct in the chamber as 'totally unacceptable'. Only this week, she notably took up a seat on the front row in PMQs. Asked how she feels about the Speaker’s claims that PMQs is now dominated by ‘testosterone-fuelled yobbery’ and ‘twittishness’, she is robust.
“That’s rubbish. I get annoyed about that. As a particularly loud member of a particular section – I always sit in the same place, right on that back row, we used to be just outside of his wing mirror vision, but he knows where we are. This idea that it’s only men, is not true, it’s just not true. The idea that somehow this is a public school thing – not true. I mean, how many stereotypes are we going to try and get in here? I went to Hartland Comprehensive in Worksop so let’s get that one straight as well."
She's getting into her stride, but then stops herself, at least briefly. “Am I allowed to be rude about the Speaker? I don’t think you are, you know. I think as a minister you have to be very careful about the Speaker. You know the man who can reform PMQs? He’s the Speaker. He’s the chair of the House…”
“I think there is a point to the noise. It is a testing - there’s too much noise, I agree with that, but that is the job of the chair. Yes you could say ‘well Members should restrain themselves’, but the trouble is if my side of the House decided not to make a noise the other side would have a complete field day and then the lobby would write the story in the papers to say we were all quiet and all the rest of it.”
“I’ve sat at home, and I’ve seen the 10 o’clock news, and I’ve seen a clip from PMQs. When you see a 15 second clip or hear a 15 second clip on the radio it doesn’t sound great. But when you’re there and you set it in context it’s often entirely different. I completely get that from the public’s point of view they here a 30-second sound bite and it doesn’t sound very good. I accept that. But the chair is the chair, the Speaker is the person who can control it.”
Soubry is also indignant at the suggestion that it is only Conservatives who are the rowdy voices. “The other thing I feel very strongly about is this claim that the noise is from my lot [alone]. What people don’t know is that Labour are very clever. They have two individuals who sit on the gangway, Karl Turner, Sadiq Khan - they’ve got the short ones." Short ones? "I’m being absolutely serious, because I’ve been on the receiving end of this. In PMQs you will see a group of us on the back row pointing quite deliberately to two or three of them who sit there, and we’ll say ‘Mr Speaker you can’t see them, we can’. I have to say the noise comes from both sides, and the idea that we are louder and more orchestrated than the other side is palpable rubbish. It’s not true.
“This sledging from Karl and his crew, he’s a whip, is very clever. I quite like Karl Turner actually. But he’s halfway up the stairs, then when you’re at the despatch box they are very close to you and the noise is right there, I had it. And I dealt with it. They are properly organised.”
Her own party, however, needs to make sure that it is not disorganised or disunited, she says. With some Tory backbenchers braced for defeat in the European elections, she counsels loyalty. “Loyalty is imperative. Parties that are seen to be divided do not win elections. I really do wish that more people in my party would understand that. I realise we are a broad church, we are so broad at times that we include the unofficial Opposition. But we are in this because we want to make a difference, we want to bring about changes. That’s why we are members of this party. We need to be united.”
But Soubry is quick to dispel claims that she is a ‘Cameroon’. “I don’t understand this. It’s totally baffling. I have obviously huge support and admiration for David Cameron. I would not be a Member of Parliament without David Cameron. David Cameron got me elected – end of. That is a fact. I got elected because I had the word Conservative next to my name and he made my party electable. He did that. But my little gang of friends is not close to the Prime Minister at all. This idea that there are people who are Cameroons is just easy journalism.”
One key unifier for many Tories is of course welfare policy. Soubry knows more than most about the lives of those on benefit, not least because in her previous life as a lawyer “80%” of her clients were trapped in drug and welfare dependency.
“I’ve never watched Benefits Street but I have to tell you that I’m more than familiar with a number of those characters in the sense that I very rarely represented anybody who was in work and of them the majority of them had never been in work,” she explains.
“It’s probably one of the things that drove me most back into politics. I care about deprivation and there are three generations that we have, in some parts of the country, of people who have only ever known a life on benefits. It saddened me and made me quite cross. Because I thought all these years on since I was a student, what progress have we actually made?”
She’s a huge fan of Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms, believing they will tackle the root causes of the problem.
“When somebody is addicted to drugs, especially when it is heroin or crack cocaine, it completely takes over their lives. And if only it were as simple as saying to somebody ‘why don’t you get a freaking grip?’ You can’t just get a grip.
“I used to talk to my clients. I’ve never taken Class A drugs and I found it fascinating that almost every single one of them would describe the first time that they took it, that they get this profound feeling of feeling very warm and loved. If you’ve never felt loved in your life – and many of them came from totally horrible and dysfunctional backgrounds – that feeling is one that you then seek to achieve. You take it initially to get that particular feeling and then after not very long you take it because if you don’t you feel like crap. It is horrible, horrible, vile stuff.”
Another addiction she’s been keen to tackle is smoking. Having championed cigarette plain packaging while a Health Minister, does she feel vindicated by the recent decision to resurrect the policy? “Yes absolutely.” Anticipating the next question, she adds: “And the ban on smoking in cars in front of children? Brilliant.”
Some at Westminster believe that politics itself is addictive, but Soubry says she’s a recovering politico. “I am very conscious that when I was a student, I lived, ate, drank, slept politics and it made me a terrible hack. It was bad and I saw the error of my ways when I was young. It’s what’s happening in the real world that matters.”
Having had two previous careers, as a barrister and as a TV journalist on This Morning, she often talks about ‘the real world’ beyond SW1. “I think that we do need people who are the greater thinkers, almost in an ivory tower, and think big. We need the brainboxes in politics, but we also need the people who’ve been out in the real world and worked and can draw on different experiences.”
One experience that she’s looking forward to is the 2015 general election. Her enthusiasm is perhaps surprising given her tiny 300 majority in her Broxtowe seat in Nottinghamshire. But it’s memories of another fellow Notts Tory that keep her going.
“It will be a very exciting night. It reminds me a bit of how it was in ’92. I reported on the ‘92 election from Rushcliffe in Ken Clarke’s seat. One result came through from an absolute bellweather seat in Kent or somewhere and it showed that the swing against the Tories was miniscule. I turned to Ken, because by then he [and here she does a pretty good Ken Clarke impression] had come out from having his Chinese takeaway, he was at the count and they were weighing his vote as they always do. And I said to Ken ‘look, look, we’ve won! No, no sorry you’ve won.’ Remember I was a journalist. And he went ‘bloody hell!’
“But that was then and now the great lesson from the 2010 election is that you can’t say a swing of this amount will be uniform. It’s just not like that. In my patch if people vote UKIP, I ain’t coming back here because they will let the Labour guy in.”
As she counts down to 2015, Soubry says that at least she has a bit more time these days to try to retain her seat. “I plough my furrow, I work hard in my constituency. I work seven days a week, it’s exhausting, which is why I’ve had pneumonia no doubt.” She says her hours are easier at the MoD, compared to the Department of Health, and she can see her teenage daughters, her partner Neil and her voters. “This job is nothing like as demanding as my old job, this is completely civilised. I get to see more of everything, more of my constituents, more of the girls for sure, more of my Neil as well, so it’s tons better. But it’s still a seven day a week job and I think that unless you’ve really done it in a marginal seat you just cannot appreciate what it’s like.”
From law to journalism to politics, Anna Soubry really has ‘done it’, often defying the odds to get stuck in on the front line. And while trying to be less hard on those who annoy her, she may make an exception for Nigel Farage. After all, he doesn’t like her when she’s angry.
SOUBRY ON…DEFENCE SPENDING
“You cannot sit in any department and not say that you’re not spending enough. No government department is going to say ‘do you know what guys, please take away a load of our money’”
“I was genuinely shocked when I came into this job to discover what a recruiting sergeant it’s been. I thought surely people would think ‘I don’t want to go and run the risk of having limbs blown off, or indeed losing my life’. But actually there’s that desire to serve, to be part of the action”
SOUBRY ON…ROWDY PMQS
“You know the man who can reform PMQs? He’s the Speaker. He’s the chair of the House…”
SOUBRY ON…BEING DESCRIBED AS A ‘CAMEROON’
“I got elected because I had the word Conservative next to my name and David Cameron made my party electable. He did that. But my gang of friends isn’t connected to the Prime Minister at all.”
“Loyalty is imperative. Parties that are seen to be divided do not win elections. I really do wish that more people in my party would understand that.”
“I’m not at all zealous on it. I absolutely understand fags and I still have one sometimes, five and a half years on”
From: John Woodcock
Sent: 17 February 2014 11:16
It is good to get chance to do this. Disagreement over the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent is so often mischaracterised as a debate between war mongers who get turned on by the thought of a mushroom cloud, versus nice responsible people who don’t want the world to be blown up.
In fact, we know that we actually simply disagree about the most effective way to prevent the grotesque horror of nuclear war.
I am very proud that the last Labour government was the first to commit to the goal of a nuclear free world and I want Britain to do whatever it can to aid progress on non-proliferation and disarmament.
But while nuclear weapons exist that could threaten the UK in the future, their use is made less likely while Britain retains the guaranteed capacity to retaliate using our continuously operational deterrent submarines.
The Vanguard-class submarines that carry the UK’s Trident missiles are ageing. It takes nearly 20 years to design and build replacements, which is why the renewal programme was begun by the last Labour government. There is no denying the successor vessels are expensive, but any of the alternatives put forward to the current system save relatively little – if anything at all. Yet all the proposed alternatives would all entail a massive reduction in Britain’s ability to deter a nuclear attack.
There may be less imminent threat now, but we can’t just stop construction now and come back to it in future decades if the environment becomes more threatening. Submarines are so complex to build that halting the programme would mean the skills base needed to produce them in future would be lost forever.
So this is a good opportunity to define exactly how much common ground there is between the Liberal Democrats and the two main parties on this issue. Didn’t the Lib Dem Trident alternatives review conclude that the policy you have been pushing for years – a “mini-deterrent” with smaller nuclear missiles carried by smaller submarines – would actually cost even more and be less effective?
So I guess the big question is this: what actually is your policy now? Are you really trying to convince the public it is worth trying to save relatively small amounts of money by switching to a part-time deterrent? Are you in favour of unilateral disarmament? Or is this all just an attempt to maintain a point of difference with your opponents despite the fact that your old policy has been smoked out and the Lib Dems are now officially pro-Trident?
From: Sir Nick Harvey
Sent: 21 February 2014 00:30
I agree that debate about Britain’s nuclear deterrent too easily becomes polarised and sterile for the reasons you describe. I am sure we can avoid that.
All right-thinking people want to see a world without nuclear weapons – only those with fundamentalist views regard a balance of terror as an acceptable long term position. The question of course is how we get there.
During the Cold War we had a known nuclear adversary – the Soviet Union – which had us in its target set, and we in turn had Soviet targets in ours. Because we believed that they could, and possibly might, strike at a moment’s notice, we patrolled the high seas continuously on full alert ready to strike back at any time.
There was a logic in that. But bizarrely, despite the Cold War ending and Britain and Russia de-targeting each other in 1994, we have maintained Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence ever since: a supreme effort by the Royal Navy, and its supply chain – a fundamental chunk of which you represent in Barrow – but for debatable practical benefit.
In 2010 the National Security Strategy down-graded the nuclear threat to a second tier. Today we face no credible nuclear threat which can be deterred by our maintaining constant patrol. No nation currently constitutes an adversary with both intent and capacity – some have capacity but no intent; and there may arguably be others with the intent, but currently no capacity.
So absolutely no military purpose is now served by keeping our nuclear deterrent on constant patrol. Our other military capabilities aren’t on constant patrol, even against more likely eventualities. Quick Reaction Alert planes are on constant standby for unauthorised aircraft entering our airspace, but they’re not in the air the whole time. Simply possessing RAF capability has a deterrent effect in itself – not just when flying.
Our nuclear fleet should move onto a contingency footing like the rest of our military capability. Retain the capability until multilateral disarmament renders it completely redundant – and have a well-rehearsed drill for remobilising it should a credible threat ever re-emerge.
Good news for Barrow: that means building new submarines. The Government’s Trident Alternatives Review did actually conclude that using tactical submarines in the nuclear role is viable, but not by the time Vanguards go out of service, so some ‘Successors’ are needed.
I can go along with that, so long as they are designed to fulfil alternative purposes not just the nuclear role. Then, if a future Government decides we can step further down the nuclear ladder, we won’t have to write off the capital investment – and we will have created a viable submarine industry for the long term.
From: John Woodcock
Sent: 25 February 2014 14:49
Hello again Sir Nick,
So we are agreed on the ultimate end. Good.
But I am afraid the unilateral gestures you propose actually make us less likely to secure multi-lateral disarmament precisely because they would fail to secure similar concessions from other nations while leaving the UK horribly exposed to the risk of nuclear attack in future decades.
So, all in all, quite a costly way to attempt to save face after you’ve conceded the main argument.
Let me take you at your word that your party is not unilateralist. And of course I agree that the imminent threat of nuclear war is, at this moment, nothing like what it was during the Cold War.
But it is unrealistic to think we could stop patrolling round the clock for the time being then return to continuous at-sea deterrence later.
The Royal United Services Institute has warned that the naval skills required for CAS-D would be difficult and costly to relearn once the practice is stopped. Your idea of a ‘contingency footing’ is a load of old gubbins that would be so expensive to deliver you might as well keep CAS-D itself.
Even more so when you take into account your desire to reduce the number of Royal Navy submarines. Submarine building is not like turning a tap on and off: these extraordinary vessels take over a decade to construct and the supply chain of thousands of jobs across the country will probably break up forever if it has a fallow period as almost happened in the 1990s.
Even your own report acknowledges that the majority of the deterrent’s costs are fixed and would be incurred whether submariners are out on patrol or biding their time on shore.
Finally, I should spell out why the admirals charged with guarding against future threats have said CAS-D is so important. Keeping our nuclear capability permanently undetectable in the ocean guarantees that it cannot be wiped out by an enemy. And it is precisely that knowledge which would make an adversary far less likely to start a nuclear conflict in the first place.
Other nuclear nations guarantee strike-back capability because they are much larger and have more than one form of nuclear weapon, and even some who don’t currently have CAS-D are trying to acquire it.
Compared to this, a part-time cupboard deterrent option risks being no deterrent at all. In a world where we cannot possibly predict with any degree of certainty what will threaten the UK in 30 or 40 years’ time, you cannot possibly want that.
Yours, with growing fondness,
From: Sir Nick Harvey
Sent: 25 February 2014 17:45
Methinks you do protest too much! Putting a deterrent capability back on patrol in the event of deteriorating security is less complicated than you make out.
We could draw on US experience with its nuclear-armed Tomahawk missile fleet between 1992 and 2010, which could redeploy operational missiles stored ashore within 30 days. This included twice-yearly ‘regeneration’ exercises to test the process.
We could also draw on US experience in converting Trident submarines to conventional roles, adapting their missile tubes to fire conventionally-armed missiles. So I say again: amend the Successor design to enable alternative uses for conventional purposes, and in the longer term, develop a single class of multi-purpose submarines.
No, this would not provoke immediate response from other nuclear states but it would make a significant contribution to nuclear disarmament. If our declared policy were routine non-deployment of nuclear weapons, as part of reduced readiness or ‘de-alerted’ nuclear posture – with the warheads retained only as a contingency capability – it would set an important precedent by establishing new norms of nuclear deterrence for one of the original nuclear powers.
It would de-couple nuclear weapons from the day-to-day calculus of national security and demonstrate that the UK is prepared to learn to live without nuclear weapons operationally deployed on a permanent basis, as a precursor to living without nuclear weapons at all.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was a two-way deal between the original five nuclear states, and the rest of the world. The five would faithfully use their best endeavours to negotiate disarmament, and in return the rest would refrain from entering the race. The Treaty negotiators back in 1968 could scarcely have imagined that the following 45 years would see so little progress as has been made on disarmament.
If, in 2016, Britain commits to another generation of Cold War scale nuclear weapons reaching out to around 2070, we would breach at least the spirit – and maybe the letter – of the Treaty.
Firing one Trident submarine’s payload would cool global temperature by at least 1.5°c, and this ‘nuclear winter’ would sharply reduce rainfall, adversely affecting crop growing seasons and putting one billion of the world’s already most-malnourished population at serious risk of starvation and death.
There is a deep and abiding tension between our national commitments to universal human rights, a doctrine of responsibility to protect, combating preventable disease, mitigating the impending effects of climate change, the Millennium Development Goals, and poverty reduction on the one hand – and the likely destruction that would accompany even a modest use of our nuclear weapons on the other.
From: John Woodcock
Sent: 26 February 2014 11:41
Oh Nick, I am afraid there are too many blind alleys in your last reply fully to address in my final 100 words.
The truth is, the Liberal Democrats’ credibility on nuclear weapons ran out when your magic mini-deterrent policy went the way of your tuition fees pledge.
The more far fetched wheezes you come up with to fill the void of the fallacy you used to advocate, the more you look like a bunch of unilateral disarmers who can’t quite bring themselves to admit it.
Submarine renewal to support the maintenance of continuous deterrence is well underway and has cross-party support because it is the right thing to do in an uncertain world. Every unrealistic counter-proposal your party makes is a missed opportunity to make a genuine contribution to the debate on global non-proliferation.
Let’s continue this discussion in Barrow, though? I think they have just about forgiven you for suggesting they should all be sacked and sent to the Bahamas...
Yours, in anticipation of getting the kettle on,
From: Sir Nick Harvey
Sent: 26 February 2014 12:29
I’ll look forward to renewing my acquaintance with Barrow – my parents met there when my mother was teaching and my father worked in the local education department...and turned down her demand for a pay rise!
Our proposal is not far-fetched. Sailing the high seas 24/7 brandishing weapons of mass destruction is an aggressive thing for a responsible world power to do. Doing so when we have no nuclear adversary adds an element of the bizarre.
We must put another project onto the production line at Barrow after Astute or risk losing our capacity to build submarines. But to build more SSBNs capable only of the nuclear role would be a reckless waste of money, so they must be multi-purpose.
The rest of our military capacity operates on a contingency footing – so should the nuclear deterrent.
Sorry your local paper took offence at my suggestion of giving some workers £2m a head and a ticket to the Bahamas, but if someone gave me that I would be far from offended!
Saturday 1 February
It’s great to be writing the Commons Diary this week although I’m just now realising how hectic the next few days are going to be. After a few hours sleep, I’m leaving for my visit to Liberia with Save the Children this morning. I’m so grateful to Save the Children for organising the visit and I’m looking forward to seeing the fantastic projects they run across the country. February will see the launch of the next stage of the No Child Born to Die campaign which pledges to eradicate newborn fatality.
It’s not often that I get much free time, so in many ways I’m thankful for the 10 hour flight to Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. I manage to finalise my plans for International Women’s Day on 8th March and to reply to a few emails from my constituents. At 9.30pm (Liberia time!) we touch down and I make my way to the hotel for some much needed rest.
Sunday 2 February
Although Liberia is enjoying a period of relative stability, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Years of civil conflict have left holes that need to be repaired in Liberia’s infrastructure and young people are missing out on the basic right to an education. I’m shocked to learn from Save the Children that newborn deaths account for one third of child mortality in the country.
Monday 3 February
The schedule for my second day in Liberia is so busy that it can almost be compared to an average week in Westminster. We set off early to visit the Build it for Babies clinic in White Plains which is funded by UK donors and supported by Save the Children.
We drop by a DfID sponsored home for expectant and new mothers. The home provides a safe place for women to go in the days before and after giving birth, with access to medical equipment and midwives. It’s heart warming to speak to the mothers who say they owe their babies’ lives to the skilled midwives. Without the home, these women would have given birth without any medical support. In poorer countries like Liberia, this support is essential.
That afternoon we travel to Kakata, to visit a drop-in centre for 60 out-of-school girls, many of whom have been rescued from a life of prostitution. The centre, which provides basic literacy, numeracy and family planning lessons, clearly has a huge impact on the girls. I’m delighted to meet an inspiring young woman named Albertha who works as an apprentice at a local tailor shop to support her baby.
Tuesday 4 February
Today I meet with Liberia’s Health Minister, Dr Walter Gwenigale, to discuss the country’s challenges in tackling newborn mortality, particularly the lack of infrastructure and trained health workers. I also take the opportunity to raise the issue of Female Genital Mutilation.
The journey home gives me time to reflect on my trip. It was great to see Save the Children’s fantastic work with mothers and newborns and it is clear that the measures they have already taken to improve access to medical facilities has saved countless lives. Even more encouraging is the education they are providing to young people to prevent the cycle from continuing.
Wednesday 5 February
I arrive at Heathrow (remembering of course that we don’t need a third runway!) at midday just in time to attend the Social Integration Commission meeting. The Commission, which was established to explore key questions about the UK’s increasing diversity, includes myself, Matthew Taylor, Dr Anthony Seldon, Professor Miles Hewstone and Trevor Phillips.
This evening I’m attending the Federation of Small Businesses’ National Chairman’s dinner. As Small Business Ambassador for London, I work closely with many FSB members to ensure that entrepreneurs across the country are receiving the support they need.
Thursday 6 February
Despite jetlag encouraging me to go back to bed, I go to the office at 8am to catch up on my emails (adding to the 15,956 cases that I have responded to so far). No time for lunch as I have to dash over to the BBC to film the Daily Politics. I’m discussing the issue of women in politics with Labour MP Emily Thornberry. Although the political parties have taken great strides in improving the representation of women in Parliament, more needs to be done. That’s why the APPG for Women in Parliament, which I’m proud to chair, is launching an inquiry on the subject.
Back in Westminster and I have a meeting with Brentford Football Club who are planning to build a new stadium in my constituency. The stadium has been a cause of debate in Chiswick due to the extent of housing being built to pay for it. The Mayor of London is due to make the final decision any day now.
On the way to dinner, I’m almost knocked down by a cyclist whizzing past me as the chain has come loose on his bicycle. I wince as he crashes to the ground and incurs an eye-watering injury. His broken ankle looks painful and I sit with him on the side of the road until the ambulance arrives.
Friday 7 February
It’s almost the end of a long week and I’m looking forward to getting back to the constituency. I’m giving a speech at the Hounslow Youth Crime Conference. It’s inspiring to see so many young people engaging with the need to combat crime in the community.
Next is my weekly advice surgery – my 148th since 2010 and one of the best parts about being an MP where I can help the people who need support most.
After a few more appointments, I meet with friends from my local Gurdwara for dinner. A quick glance at the diary tells me I’m free – but only until 7am the next day when a big block labelled ‘Gym’ ominously beckons...
Mary Macleod is Conservative MP for Brentford & Isleworth
In seven months’ time Wales will play host to NATO’s 26th summit. As political gatherings go, they don’t come much bigger than this. Involving over 70 delegations, many represented by their heads of state – it surpasses the G20, Davos and Commonwealth summits in attendance, scale and organisation.
As NATO marks its 65th anniversary few would disagree this has been the most successful, most durable alliance in history. But what of the future? Europe has fundamentally changed since the alliance’s birth in 1949; the Cold War over and with no appetite (post Afghanistan) for large scale interventions, some argue, at 65, this is a convenient age for the alliance to retire.
This attitude is as reckless as it is wrong. Firstly, European security is not a given and we take it for granted at our peril. Secondly, it ignores the last 20 years (post Cold War) of continuous operations such as in the Balkans, maritime commitments off East Africa, the Libyan air campaign and of course Afghanistan, where the 9/11 attacks prompted NATO’s first ever use of Article 5. Operations are not just conducted by NATO members but in partnership with countries across the globe. Finally, it dismisses the arguably increased threats we now face that only collectively can we destroy or prevent through upstream engagement.
This is not to avoid the difficult questions NATO faces. It needs to adapt as it has done in the past. From its inception to the 1980s focus was on collective defence. The 90s saw more pro-active engagement with the deployment of stabilisation troops in Europe. And latterly this has been extended to out of area operations in Libya and Afghanistan.
Today the threats we face are global; failure of governance, scarcity of food and energy supplies and increased numbers of disenfranchised people, leading to a rise in sectarianism – with no obvious international structure to handle this new order we face. We are not immune to these forces, indeed as the world, through trade, becomes ever inter-reliant, global security becomes increasingly relevant.
For NATO to remain the critical and recognised hub of today’s global security network it must firstly consider essential core alliance capabilities, many of course have been tempered by fiscal realities; command and control of multi-national operations, ISR, precision strike, special operations, maritime capability and security from cyber attack. Secondly partnerships and defence capacity building; NATO is no longer just about 28 signatories but a much larger active network of partnerships (hence 70 delegations in attendance) that cooperate, exercise and conduct operations together. It’s through this extended matrix of capabilities that today’s new threats can be neutralised and upstream engagement pursued. And finally, there’s the legacy of the Afghanistan campaign.
Afghanistan – NATO’s role post 2014
Contrary to some media speculation, NATO can be proud of what’s been achieved in a very complex and demanding environment. Simply put, of the three fundamental building blocks to stability: security, economic development and governance, NATO is only responsible for the first. When the campaign started no Afghan Security Forces existed. Today they number over 350,000 and can largely train themselves, protect the population and take on the Taliban. This is not to dismiss the challenges that lie ahead. But given its remit, should ISAF, as an organisation, be responsible for the limited international economic investment or political resolution with the Taliban? These are certainly questions for the international community but ISAF was established to create an umbrella of security for which these activities could take place. To remove the Al Qaeda threat and, by Afghan standards, establish, train and professionalise an indigenous security capability following decades of conflict has been quite an accomplishment.
NATO in the future
For those round the table, the Summit will help determine how the alliance adapts to meet the fresh uncertainties and challenges we face. As the host nation it is also an opportunity to explain to a younger generation, who have no memory of WWII and no experience of the Cold War, the importance and value of NATO and why, in a very dangerous world, it should not be taken for granted.
Tobias Ellwood is MP for Bournemouth East and Parliamentary Adviser to the Prime Minister for the 2014 NATO Summit