by Pau Llosa
Rob Edwards is a journalist specialising in environmental issues. He is the founder of investigative journalism platform The Ferret and has worked for titles including the New Scientist, The Guardian and The Scotsman.
When he arrives and parks his bike, we enter a cafe and order two black coffees. We talk for two hours, return the cups to the bar, and ride our bikes in contrary directions. Here is the result of our conversation.
What sparked your interest in environmental issues?
When I was a kid I lived outside London, that is where I went to school. There was a… We used to have a badger. He came to the garden. We watched him out the window. Then, there were proposals for a new motorway. M25, which is the motorway that goes all the way around London. And it went straight through the woods. And the badger stopped coming. I was a kid. And I thought that was upsetting.
What do you think about journalism?
So I was in environmental activism, then I became a journalist. And I have this thing, not all the journalist agree with this, but I think one school of thought in journalism is you need to be ignorant. Impartial about what you write about. You know, you have no view. You just have a blank mind, then go talk to people and write something that is impartial. I do not believe that. I think that is nonsense. I think you need… We all care about things, right? And I think the best writing comes from those that write about what they care about. So for whatever reason I found myself caring about environment. And then I thought the best way of expressing it was to write about that. And I have been writing about it for nearly 40 years.
Could you talk to us a little about Nuclear weapons in the UK (or Trident)?
The UK is […] one of the world’s nuclear powers. So along with America, France, China, Russia, Israel and others, (the UK) has nuclear weapons. And this is the consequence of World War 2. At the end of WW2, Americans developed nuclear weapons, and we tagged along. And then the Americans used them in Nagasaki against the Japanese. So, we developed nuclear weapons. And we still have them.
The mindset of the UK Government is that in order to defend the UK from threats, we need these weapons. Which if you fire it, will kill millions.
Eight times more powerful than Hiroshima.
More than eight times. You can get 9, 10, 20 times, or even bigger. We do not really know how big they are. The whole point of this weapon is to threaten to kill millions of people. It’s horrendous. I mean, completely horrendous. And we have it.
How are they?
It is based in four submarines. Each carry these Trident missiles with nuclear warheads. One of them has to be in patrol, this is the policy. Somewhere in the seas, all the time, 24 hours, seven days a week. So they rotate these four submarines. They go off for months at a time and patrol the seas. No one knows exactly what they do. We do know they’ve had accidents.
Where are these submarines based?
Next to Glasgow. And it’s easily one of the most controversial issues, certainly in Scotland, and to a large extent, in the UK, because it’s very expensive. Some people argue that it’s dangerous. It needs to be transported up and down the country by road, and there have been lots of stories… I have done lots of stories about the potential dangers of that, and people question if they are of any use.
When the United Nations has signed an agreement with more than 100 countries to get rid of the nuclear weapons, it seems that the UK Parliament decided to replace Trident with other whole new seven submarines. Why?
One of the unfortunate truths about nuclear power… about nuclear weapons, I think […] in world power politics […] at the UN or negotiations between countries… nuclear weapons are perceived as giving you power. You don’t have to use them. You just have to have them. But it means that the Security Council, the top body of the UN, is all those countries that have nuclear weapons. Whereas other countries like Spain, like Germany, like Japan, like South Africa: They don’t. They’re all not quite as powerful. Are all in the second tier. And that is a problem, a big problem…
This renewal means that the majority view in Holyrood is effectively in opposition to the majority view of Westminster.
Absolutely. It’s absolutely true. The British Parliament, which of course, is not elected in proportional representation, has a majority of Conservatives. The majority of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats are in favour. There is a consensus amongst politicians in the UK that Trident is a good idea. But yes, there is a consensus amongst politicians from all parties – Labour, the SNP and so forth – in the Scottish Parliament that [renewal] is a bad idea. So that is one of the issues that divides the country.
Things could have been different after the Scottish referendum in 2014?
Had Scotland voted for independence, it would have been a very difficult issue to deal with. It would have been English weapons on Scottish soil.
So, this is a ‘hot potato’ issue?
Yes. A very hot potato. A scorchingly hot potato. A burning potato.
A Trident missile.
Yes. And in that sense this is an absolutely key issue. Which is why I spend a lot of time investigating. Writing about it. Making Freedom of Information requests to find out more. But there is still a lot we do not know. And still a lot they keep secret.
Let’s talk about Trump’s businesses in Scotland.
Trump has been associated with Scotland for many years now. His mother came from Scotland, and he feels sentimental about Scotland sometimes. One decade ago he had this proposal to build a golf course. What he called the greatest golf course in the world, because everything he does is the greatest in the world. And it was in a very beautiful side on the north-east coast of Scotland on an Aberdeen shore which is a nature conservation area, protected by law. But he ignored that, applied for planning permission.
Every environmental group in Scotland objected, the council objected. But in the end, they went to the public inquiry and were overturned by the Scottish Government who said you can go. That is because both Labour First Minister Jack McConnell and the SNP First Minister Alex Salmond were bewitched by Mr Trump. You know – Money! American money! Which they both came to regret, I think. Then there was a disastrous falling out between Trump and Alex Salmond because of a wind farm that you can see from his golf course. He didn’t want to see this wind farm from his golf course. So there has been a very long controversy in Scotland and many, many journalist wrote and have written many, many stories about Trump and his golf course, and about the difficulties running to it.
Can you explain us your relationship with Trump?
I have written a thousand stories about him – about his relationship with the police, about his destructions to the environment, about how he treats his neighbours. At one point he was considering evicting his neighbours. Kicking them out of their houses! That didn’t happen. I was writing a story about that so I emailed his office and said would you like to comment on this story about what you are doing. And I got a call from Trump Tower in New York. […] I asked him to comment on the story and he said yes, “The Sunday Herald… you write shit…” And he keep repeating it. I just wrote it down, being polite, trying to get him to comment. And you can find the story on my website which quotes Trump […] accusing The Sunday Herald of writing shit. He was very rude. And I had the experience, and I think many journalist have had, and his neighbours in Scotland have had, that he just attempts to grabby. To bully you. To force you to do the things he wants you to do.
To finish. One thing that worries you and one thing that gives you hope.
Politically the UK in the world is in one of the most worrying positions I can remember. With the UK having voted for Brexit and the USA having elected Trump, one can only be worry about the future, and worry about the future my children will have. That is easily the most depressing time, politically I can remember. So that is bad.
What makes me hope? Mmm… despite that it is possible to be optimistic. Some new political movements in Europe, that’s a good sign. There has been a resurgence of the Green Party in Scotland in my time. And now they have seven MSPs. That is also a good sign. And I think that although the UK has not got rid of Trident, there are now more people opposed to that, I think, than there were 20 years ago. The other things I care about: the environment, the climate… and so forth. You know, I can remember 20 or 30 years ago, if you talked about the pollution causing climate change people said… blah blah… nonsense. But now […] most scientists, most governments, most people agree. Not everyone. So it is possible to win the argument. And in some ways, our understanding of environment and nuclear is better now that it was. While on the one hand you have got dreadful political sources, there are arguments that have been won. So you know.