In 1992, when the first submarine armed with Trident nuclear missiles arrived on the Clyde near Glasgow, John Ainslie was in a canoe. Along with a flotilla of other protesters, he was buzzing the huge dark boat as it cut through the cold water. He had just been appointed as the coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (SCND), and he was arrested by the Ministry of Defence police.
John, who has died of cancer aged 62, was the quiet, unassuming heart of the peace movement in Scotland for the last 25 years. As well as putting himself on the line, he became an authoritative and internationally respected nuclear researcher. He was the author of 20 reports on aspects of nuclear policy, starting in 1992 with Cracking Under Pressure, about defects in nuclear submarine reactors.
His most recent report, in July, written with Dan Plesch from the University of London, argued that successive UK governments had deceived the public by pretending that Trident was a British bomb when it is actually American. Other reports exposed Trident’s safety flaws, its targeting strategies, and its secret workings. In 2008, he discovered problems with a mysterious top-secret warhead ingredient known as fogbank.
He backed Scottish independence as a way of triggering UK nuclear disarmament. In the run-up to the referendum in 2014 he showed how Trident warheads could be removed from the Clyde within two years – and how they could not safely be based anywhere else in the UK.
John played a crucial role in breaking the story of the Trident submariner, William McNeilly, who went on the run in 2015 after alleging 30 safety and security flaws. John was a skilled user of freedom of information law, and helped to prise open the MoD’s secretive nuclear citadel and expose its inadequacies.