Trident is key to much of the debate on independence.
What happens to the nuclear deterrent will impact on almost all the other negotiations that would follow a Yes vote.
The SNP’s White Paper commits to “the speediest safe withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Scotland”.
If they win the referendum and follow through on that, ordering the UK’s nuclear submarines out of Faslane, then the UK will have nowhere for them to go.
Westminster would be forced to choose between losing its nuclear deterrent, for a while at least, or negotiating with the newly independent Scotland.
If they chose the latter Trident becomes the SNP’s biggest bargaining chip because they would know their opponents’ position was desperate.
Could they allow the nuclear fleet to remain for five, 10 or even 20 years in return for sharing intelligence, smoothing accession to the EU, retaining the pound as Scotland’s currency or all of the above?
Estimates as to how long it would take to decommission the nuclear subs and how much it would cost vary.
The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster heard a range of prices all in the billions of pounds. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond conceded: “It would cost a significant amount of money.”
The committee concluded the keys could essentially be taken out of the ignition days after a Yes vote and the delicate work of removing the warheads could begin within months. More realistically it would take at least five years to dismantle the Faslane fleet.
It’s even been suggested Trident could stay indefinitely if a treaty could be drawn up signing the current base over to the UK making them sovereign territory in the same way as Army bases in Cyprus are technically little bits of Britain. In that case the weapons would have left Scotland while remaining in exactly the same place. The issue of safety also offers the SNP some wiggle room.
It could be argued that the safest course of action would be to allow the subs to stay while the UK got on with constructing a new base for the fleet elsewhere. Where that would be is subject to some debate but truth is that would not really be Scotland’s problem.
Devonport in Plymouth is the most likely destination. Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones has said he’d welcome the subs to Pembrokeshire, but mainly he’d welcome the jobs.
For whilst packing the Trident submarines off down the Clyde would rid Scotland of weapons of mass destruction, around 7000 jobs connected to Faslane and the weapons depot at Coulport would sail off with them.
However, according to the SNP, that’s not a problem. Under their defence plans Faslane would become headquarters for the newly-minted Scottish Defence Force, maintaining a similar level of employment to what is currently there.
The issue of Trident is not simply one of practicalities around where would the subs go and how many jobs would be affected.
There is a massive question mark over how NATO would react to Scotland expelling nuclear weapons from its waters and possibly even forcing the UK to deactivate its deterrent a key part of the alliance’s defences.
The SNP only adopted NATO membership as a policy in 2012 and even then the party conference vote on the issue was on a knife edge with fewer than 30 votes out of 759 cast deciding the outcome in favour of the leadership’s position.
The No camp point to an apparent inconsistency in wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons while simultaneously applying to get under NATO’s nuclear umbrella.
A group of retired military bigwigs including Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope and General Sir Mike Jackson, wrote to the First Minister earlier this year to say his policy risked infuriating the United States and France and would cast a “dark shadow” over Scotland’s reception on the world stage.
Former NATO General Secretary Lord Robertson invited ridicule when he claimed in a speech last month that independence could be “cataclysmic” for the West but among the unwise language was a warning that America was
concerned about the impact of independence, a message the Washington administration is increasingly keen for defence sources to disseminate.
Whilst France and America, the other nuclear states in NATO, would stamp their feet, the
organisation would not want to shun Scotland. The clue is in the name Scotland, just by virtue of its geography ,poking out into the north Atlantic is important for NATO.
This point was illustrated by the “Joint Warrior” exercises involving service personnel from all of the main NATO members in the waters off the north-west of Scotland in March.
NATO is ultimately a defence organisation so for that reason an accommodation would likely be reached to allow Scotland to join.
The SNP want the constitution of a separate Scotland to include a ban on nuclear weapons. They repeatedly claim it’s the will of the Scottish people to see them banished.
Plenty of people have asked why they were ever stationed just an hour from Glasgow rather than at one of the navy’s south-west bases.
The suspicion remains that Westminster would rather its weapons of mass destruction were parked by Scotland’s largest city than within striking distance of London.
The SNP’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson has said: “Neither the people nor the parliament of Scotland want nuclear weapons dumped here.”
An exclusive poll on the issue for The Sunday Post shows that while 37% of respondents wanted to give up nuclear weapons, 22% wanted to replace Trident and 26% backed retaining it but in a less powerful form. That’s 48% in favour of retaining a nuclear deterrent.
A poll by Lord Ashcroft last year brought similar results half in favour of retention, around a third for disarmament. Even those keen to keep the weapons, though, would be unlikely to want them based on their doorstep.
Officially the Ministry of Defence says it is making no contingency plans for a Yes vote while the SNP insist that if they win then Trident must go.
Seen as possibly the realistic voice on independence within the Scottish Government, Finance Secretary John Swinney summed it up well last year when he said the removal of Trident will “not be an easy issue to resolve”.
The results of an exclusive poll carried out for The Sunday Post show more Scots want to retain nuclear weapons than get rid of them.
Trident is coming to the end of its life and participants in the poll were asked if they would prefer to see it replaced on a like-for-like basis, swapped for a cheaper and less powerful system or scrapped altogether.
While 37% said they wanted to see nuclear weapons given up, 48% want to keep them in some form (22% favour a like-for-like replacement and 26% would like to see a cheaper and less powerful system).
The figures echo those from previous polls and cast doubt on SNP claims Scotland is inherently against nuclear weapons.
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