Nuclear weaponry is a family business, for Jenna Watt. It’s an unlikely one, admittedly, that irradiates its members as well as enriching them. But they’re mostly contented employees of Faslane naval base (officially known as HMNB Clyde), the Scottish home of Operation Trident.
Watt’s solo performance starts with her description of a visit to the Faslane base itself, where she’s awed by the pride that workers, her uncle included, take in ensuring that its nuclear warhead-carrying submarines are immaculately maintained -- even while they hope they’re never used.
So when she breaks ranks to explore anti-nuclear arguments, she’s asking a lot of the protestors she meets. She wants an argument that's stronger than anything anyone's got. Strong enough to withstand a direct hit from a nuclear missile. Strong enough to break family bonds. Strong enough to overcome a lifetime of prejudice.
What she finds is a vulnerable outpost in a field -- the Faslane Peace Camp. Its inhabitants may have been there for over 30 years, but they don't have permanent buildings, electricity - even council rubbish collections. And their number has dwindled to only four people, one of whom explains he’s there for ‘personal reasons’.
Watt radiates intelligence and frustration, checking and recognising her own prejudices against hippies and protestors. On closer inspection, she realises that her uncle has experienced radiation exposure at Faslane, which is implicated in an increased risk of cancer. Recent figures show that safety breaches are on the rise, with the MoD admitting to over a hundred so-called ‘safety incidents’ in 2013-4, leaking radiation into the environment. And even the meagre handful of peace protestors were able to infiltrate the the base’s boundaries on multiple occasions, demonstrating how vulnerable it could be to outside attack.
Watt’s aim isn’t to reveal new information, and she makes it clear that the facts she sets out are all well known to generations of anti-nuclear campaigners. But each fresh discovery is new to her, as a twenty-something woman who’s grown up in an age where there’s very little debate about the rights and wrongs of nuclear weaponry. Scrapping Operation Trident was raised by the ‘Yes’ campaign in the Scottish Referendum, but it’s only ever a background hum in mainstream political dialogues. Her performance heightens a need for raised awareness of the nuclear weapons on Scottish soil - and of the dangers to both Faslane’s workers, and those who live far beyond its boundaries. (AS)
Faslane was on at Summerhall from 6-28th August.
The Faslane Peace Camp website https://faslanepeacecamp.wordpress.com/
Faslane workers exposed to radiation http://tinyurl.com/jqqn8zj
Faslane’s role in the Scottish Independence referendum http://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2014/05/28/questions-about-faslane/
Early on in Jenna Watt’s dramatic investigation Faslane, she illustrates a gaping cultural chasm dividing the audience. Born before 1982? You know that the peace sign - the circular symbol rather than the hand signal - represents the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Any younger than that, and like Watt, you probably think it's just a peace sign. You may even know it best from Gerri Halliwell's Spice Girls dress.
As Watt told us, CND was something she didn’t know she didn’t know about. To her, nuclear war was sci-fi. She had never known the psychological impact of the Cold War threat. Her sensibilities told her nuclear weapons were wrong. But like it or not, to live free of a tangible fear of nuclear conflict was at least in part due to Britain’s nuclear deterrent, Trident.
Two years ago, Watt began looking for compelling evidence on either side of the debate over whether to renew Trident. But who should she allow to influence her thoughts and beliefs? At the start of her show, others held all the strong views - beginning with Einstein and Russell’s famous 1955 manifesto against nuclear conflict.
Watt described her visit to Faslane to see the Trident nuclear subs with her own eyes. Her relatives who work at the base facilitated her access – but made it no easier to make up her mind. ‘It’s my job’ they said. They explained that they worked, not to send out weapons to war, but to make the nuclear submarines safe for their friends and colleagues who sailed aboard. They appeared not to fear the risks of working with nuclear material, despite recent reports by whistleblower William McNeilly into security lapses.
So Watt visited the Faslane Peace Camp in the hope that those living there would recruit her to where she wanted to be - safe and justified on the side of the liberal left. But they turned out to be a disappointment. Only a woman who became an accidental life-long anti-nuclear protestor managed to show the colours Watt was seeking, revealing that there is a spectrum of campaigning, but no easy answers in a nuclear world. (RM)
Faslane ran at Summerhall until August 28th - https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/faslane
Text of the Russell-Einstein manifesto: http://www.umich.edu/~pugwash/Manifesto.html
Images of Faslane Peace Camp with placard 'David Cameron is a pure fanny’: http://tinyurl.com/hesclpm
BBC coverage of whistleblower William McNeilly’s report into safety lapses at Faslane: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-33161226
Fear of nuclear war increases the risk of common mental disorders among young adults: a five-year follow-up study: http://tinyurl.com/jqoutqh
Former chief of British Nuclear Fuels' memoir revives nuclear safety fears: http://tinyurl.com/hr3mch9