On Friday 19th August in Geneva, Bill Kidd MSP and co-chair of Parliamentarians for Nuclear non-Proliferation and Disarmament (PNND), and Janet Fenton, Scottish CND Secretary and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) representative, were both in Geneva to see a UN working group achieve what Mexico described as the “most significant contribution to nuclear disarmament in two decades.” The Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) voted to make a recommendation to the UN General Assembly in October, that it convene a conference in 2017 to negotiate a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

This came as the very dramatic end to discussions that had taken place in February, May and August. Joint statements were delivered by Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and by South-east Asia and Pacific, as well as the statements from several European states. There was also active participation from civil society through NGOs and experts, including the Hiroshima survivor SetsukoThurlow, who took time to visit Scotland after giving evidence to the OEWG in May this year.

The nine nuclear-armed states had boycotted the talks despite a clear request for input expressed through the UN General Assembly, and a small group of the states who attended continued to argue that nuclear weapons provide an essential element in their national security. Fortunately these governments were unable to compromise the important recommendation which went forward.

Over one hundred states wanted to recommend that UN General Assembly convene a conference to negotiate a ban, but they wanted to ensure that all the states would feel able to participate in making that decision, and the chair was keen to ensure consensus if possible. Private discussions took place intensly over a day and a half between groups and compromises were made before the whole working group came together to approve the Chair’s final report half an hour before the final session was scheduled to conclude.

In an eleventh-hour copletely unexpected intervention, the Australian delegate intervened to disagree and force a vote. This seemed ironic, given that the states who did not participate and who did not agree that a ban was the right way forward were those who had objected to the meeting making decisions through voting.

The decision meant that the conference had to be extended in time and moved to a different room. Guatamala requested then that the text be clarified to recommend negotiation. Some pro-ban delegates were unable to vote because their governments were not contactable for approval to the changed text, and some were already booked on flights home.

Despite the problems and the absences, the amended text was accepted and the final, strengthened, report was adopted by a clear majority.

Amongst many delegates thanking the chair after the report was adopted, Bill Kidd MSP said

I am a Member of the Scottish Parliament and a Co-President of PNND, actively engaged in the OEWG. The report of the OEWG reflects well the reality that non-nuclear nations, as well as parliaments and civil society in all countries, can take action without having to wait for the nuclear-armed governments to come to their senses. We can do this.

In Scotland, our parliament and citizens have overwhelmingly rejected the possession of nuclear weapons. We take an active role in international efforts and processes for nuclear disarmament, including at the NPT Review Conferences, and we therefore look forward to participating in the multilateral negotiations in 2017.

As a Scot, living under the imposed nuclear weapons of the UK, I am pleased to note that UK Prime Minister Theresa May was amongst the leaders convicted by the People’s Tribunal on Nuclear Weapons that on July 8 this year convicted the leaders of the nuclear-armed States of crimes against humanity, crimes against peace and crimes against future generations for their responsibility over illegal nuclear weapons policies.”

Janet Fenton added

It is now clear that Scotland’s efforts to dissuade the UK from its attachment to Trident is in line with the majority world view. Of those participating in the OEWG, at least 107 states support negotiations, and only 22 do not. Scotland will participate and contribute to the concerted challenge to nuclear weapons within and beyond these negotiations.”