Three party leaders attend anti-nuclear demonstration

MORE than 100 demonstrators were arrested yesterday as about 700 people descended on Faslane naval base to protest against the ''hypocrisy'' of nuclear arms.

Tommy Sheridan, the SSP leader, Bruce Kent, former CND chairman, and a 15-year-old member of the Scottish Young Greens were among those who faced being arrested and charged with breach of the peace.

The colourful crowd, some in fancy dress, who chained themselves together to block Faslane entrances, were faced with a thick line of more than 200 police officers in an operation thought to have cost the taxpayer more than (pounds) 60,000.

However, the blockade failed to disrupt traffic going to and from the home of Britain's Trident nuclear submarines as many workers either arrived at the base early or were deterred through internal warnings.

Three buses carrying 180 workers encountered about 100 protesters, including one who was arrested after he threw himself in front of a coach. The buses entered with police help as the protest gathered momentum at 9.30am.

The remainder of the workers at the base- it was operating on a skeleton staff of a third of its 8000 workforce - went in early and avoided the protest.

Petter Joelson, spokesman for Trident Ploughshares, the anti-nuclear weapons group which organised the protest, said: ''We don't know what happened to the workers, but this blockade was in any case symbolic of our feeling that the base should be shut down.''

Mr Sheridan was among a trio of party leaders who took part in the road block, chaining himself to eight other protesters, two of whom were in wheelchairs.

''I was prepared to be arrested if that is what it took, but this has been the most successful demonstration for four years,'' said the SSP leader.

''People in Scotland and across Britain will wonder why it is we went to war with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction when we have the second biggest arsenal in the world. It is hypocrisy.''

John Swinney, the SNP leader, mingled with the crowds during a 15-minute visit to add his moral support. Before waving away attempts to persuade him to join the blockade, he said: ''I think it is essential that the issue of nuclear weapons is put to the fore of political debate and that the issue is articulated by members of other political parties. We need to make sure they are removed from Scottish soil and Scottish waters.''

Robin Harper, Scottish Green party leader, also stayed clear of more direct action, preferring to stand on the sidelines and support other members.

He said: ''This is not electioneering. It's about focusing minds on the issue that we are one of the nations in the world that does possess weapons of mass destruction. We cannot argue for other other countries not to have nuclear weapons when we have them ourselves. It just does not makes sense.''

The first shift in the ''rolling protest'' was outside the main gates before 7am and was joined by activists from as far afield as Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Belgium.

Mr Kent, a 73-year-old veteran demonstrator who travelled from London to join the blockade, said: ''I have never seen such a global movement of indignation against war as I have against this one.''

Charles Booth, a list candidate for the Green party in the Scottish elections and one of the first to be arrested, linked himself to a wheelchair with a solid bicycle chain before being cut free by police.