Is this the end of the Faslane Peace Camp after 35 years?
AFTER MORE THAN THREE DECADES OF PROTESTING AGAINST NUCLEAR WEAPONS, ACTIVISTS AT THE FASLANE PEACE CAMP MIGHT BE FORCED TO FINALLY CALL IT A DAY, REPORTS BRIDGET MORRIS
IT’S the world’s longest-running anti-nuclear protest camp – springing up near the Faslane naval base in 1982, less than a mile from the submarines which carry Trident ballistic missiles – but now its future is in peril. Thirty-five years on, the sprawling woodland site is so run down that half of the dilapidated caravans are to be razed to the ground within weeks.
And a new generation of activists who arrived at Faslane Peace Camp last summer have issued a desperate appeal for support so that the campaign of non-violent direct action against the UK’s nuclear deterrent can continue.
The tradition of civil disobedience over more than three decades has seen protesters blockade roads near the naval base and even scale barbed wire fences and board submarines. Last month five anti-nuclear activists locked arms at the facility’s high security main gate, causing a two-mile tailback near Helensburgh during the early morning rush hour.
While the protesters are youthful and energetic, the commune they’ve made their home is old and tired and it will be an uphill struggle to raise the funds to rebuild it. Protesters have decided to demolish the uninhabitable parts of the camp, but if they can’t find the money to rebuild, it might be game over for the famous peace site.
The snaking woodland paths between the makeshift residences are well maintained but lead to caravans that are visibly crumbling. Many of the habitable residences have wood-burning stoves, however the camp’s bathroom is currently without hot water after the boiler cracked.
And to make matters worse the communal sitting room and adjoining kitchen must be flattened because they’re falling apart.
Chloe McKirdle, from Glasgow, has been visiting the camp for four years and moved in last summer. The 21-year-old, who looks like she could have come straight from the T in the Park music festival, said: “We’ve got a great group of people here just now. We’re totally redoing everything. It needs to be liveable.”
Matt Watling, 42, from Kent, who has been at the site for seven months said: “Of the 10 caravans, there are a five that need to be demolished. Some are so bad they can’t be used.
“And some of the temporary structures were only intended to last six months but have actually been up for around 16 years.
“We have built the new kitchen but we’ve got no hot water, which is not ideal. We’re using an outdoor bath. You fill it up with river water and light a fire underneath it. We’re trying to raise money for new boiler.”
The group relies on donations from supporters but activist Gary McDonald, 27, from Uddingston, who moved to the peace camp last summer, admits it’s not easy to raise money.
He said: “It’s difficult. We do street stalls. Some people are quite generous. We recently held an open day and some interesting people turned up. CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) help us. They’re providing a skip so that we can get rid of stuff, like old mattresses, so we don’t want to ask for too much more.” The protesters were recently offered a 36-foot static caravan following an online appeal but they are so cash-strapped that they can’t afford to transport it to the peace camp. Watling said: “It would cost about 500 quid to move it. We had a meeting to discuss how to raise that sort of money but we’re probably going to have to say no to it.” At one time the site was home to dozens of activists and welcomed hundreds of visitors who backed their central mission to rid the world of nuclear weapons. “Whenever anyone asks how many people are here nowadays we say 300,” Watling said, with a smile. “Some people say 400.” When pressed on the true figure he admits the number is closer to 10 – and Watling is now one of the longest serving. Before arriving at the peace camp, he “worked on the railways” for many years, and was part of the huge team that constructed the Channel Tunnel. Watling will now turn his hand to rebuilding the peace camp, along with fellow activists whose spirits are high, despite the task at hand. We’re in the middle of rebuilding
the infrastructure. We’re really starting to work together as a good team. Stuff is getting done. It’s all going to look very nice,” he said.
McKirdle, a former army cadet who converted to the cause as a teenager, represents the next generation of anti-nuclear activists.
She describes herself as an anarchist with no affiliation to any political party and is pro-independence. She said: “I guess the SNP is good for us because Scottish independence is probably the only opportunity we’ve got to get rid of these weapons. But we have anarchism values. And everyone works on consensus. It’s a community.”
She was set to join the Army before the colourful anti-nuclear signs by the side of the road caught her eye and changed her mind.
She said: “When I was a kid we used to drive past here a lot because my cousin was in the Royal Marines and was based at Faslane. I always remember seeing the peace signs. About four years ago I decided to see what it’s all about.
“My mum is very proud of me. I mean there are some members of my family who aren’t, because they’re quite military. The military was my original plan. I was in the cadets from the age of 13.
“But the best decision I ever made was not going to the Army because I wouldn’t be here now.”
We’re really starting to work together as a good team. Stuff is getting done