Frighteningly, it is 30 years to the week since I started my time as a student at Aberdeen University. In those fond far off days before Twitter, Jeremy Corbyn was already an MP (which for some strange reason provides a degree of reassurance about the passage of time). But more of Jeremy later.
After the excitement of Freshers’ Week (entirely devoid of pigs heads), twinned with the anxiety of a new life without familiar friends, a troubling thought occurred to me as we got down to the business of lectures, tutorials and essays.
Was I up to it? After long school years of absorbing information from teachers and regurgitating it for exam results, all of a sudden you were expected to do your own research, manage your own time. And, most strangely of all, to actually talk during studies. In front of other people (including girls!)
There was a feeling that, in ways both tangible and intangible, students who had arrived at university via private school and A-levels had the advantage over the rest of us.
The jargon-laden text books didn’t help either, reading page after page of dense text but really comprehending little.
However, the new soon becomes the familiar, friends are made, and life is good again.
A small but significant breakthrough on the academic front, which has always stuck in my mind, happened when reading a mighty tome for an International Relations tutorial on nuclear deterrence. In “International Politics — A Framework for Analysis” (yes, I still have my Uni text books) K J Holsti produced a simple formula in a section headlined ‘Credibility’: “Deterrent effect = Estimated capability X Estimated intent”.
In other words, and as Holsti elaborated, the equation:
“does highlight the key point that if either perceived capability or intent is zero, deterrent effect is also zero.”
The issue was and is a complex one, but the point was expressed with wonderful clarity and simplicity — and it aided my process of understanding and therefore confidence no end.
Which brings me back to Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t believe there is a single person at home or abroad who genuinely believes that a United Kingdom Prime Minister would ever authorise the firing of nuclear weapons at anyone, unilaterally or otherwise. The scenario is unthinkable, and impossible even to imagine in credible terms.
Trident — and its proposed £100 billion replacement — is a status symbol, not a usable weapon. Since there is no belief in an intent ever to use it, its deterrent effect is non-existent.
The UK’s possession of nuclear weapons has always been about the illusion of international power, both during and after the Cold War. And the non-state nature of the primary threats faced by the UK in the 21st century renders Trident even more obviously pointless and unusable.
The irony of recent days is that it is Jeremy Corbyn who has been condemned — for holding to the only credible position by saying that he would not as Prime Minister sanction a nuclear attack which would kill hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians (and which would thus be illegal under international law, apart from anything else).
That, of course, begs the question of why Labour still support Trident renewal, but that’s another matter.
It is the politicians who claim that they would be prepared to fire Trident — inflicting mass death and massive environmental damage — who are totally incredible, at least on this issue.
Credibility is all, and for my money Corbyn has it here (though not on other things), and his critics simply don’t.
Credibility matters in politics and in business. If you sound incredible in one area — particularly about something of great importance — people may very well be less inclined to believe you on other matters, where you could actually be right.
And just because you have stuck to a line for donkey’s years — which no-one in their heart of hearts really believes — that’s no reason not to think afresh and level with people.
It can be a liberating experience. Most folk will thank you for it — and, even more importantly, trust you.