In a report published today, Thursday 25 October 2012, the UK Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee says that Scottish Separation creates the prospect of unilateral nuclear disarmament being imposed upon the Royal Navy and UK government for an indeterminate period, and says that the UK and Scottish government must fully detail the consequences of the removal of Trident as part of the whole secession agreement as soon as is practical. No vote on separation should go ahead without the Scottish people fully understanding the consequences of separation for defence and the UK's nuclear deterrent.
The UK's entire nuclear deterrent is based and serviced in Scotland. The Committee has heard in evidence that nuclear weapons in Scotland could be disarmed within days and removed within months. Since the construction of facilities elsewhere could take upwards of 20 years, such speedy action would inevitably create the prospect of unilateral nuclear disarmament being imposed upon the Royal Navy and UK government for an indeterminate period.
The SNP has a commitment to a policy of the “speediest safe transition” of the Trident nuclear deterrent out of Scotland. The Committee says that any insistence on the speediest possible removal of nuclear weapons from a separate Scotland would undoubtedly have consequences for the negotiation of the terms of secession and upon a future separate Scotland's relationship with other countries and international organisations.
The Committee says that the people of Scotland deserve to know the full consequences of separation before, rather than after, they vote, and recommends that the UK and Scottish governments establish the consequences of the removal of Trident as part of the whole secession agreement as soon as possible.
- The Committee outlines several possible options for a post separation arrangement:
Any agreement whether to relocate the UK nuclear deterrent outside the British Isles, possibly in France or the USA, would be a decision for the UK in discussion with its allies. However, the evidence presented to us suggested this would be very difficult, both logistically and politically.
- An arrangement to allow the UK to continue to operate Trident out of the Clyde in a separate Scotland could be negotiated in theory but it would be very difficult in practice. The Scottish Government would need to agree to the UK retaining complete freedom of action, either as a sovereign base in Scotland or some sort of lease arrangement. The agreement would have to assure the UK Government that the Scottish Government would cooperate sufficiently to ensure the base could operate on a day to day basis. A political deal or a gentlemen’s agreement would be vulnerable to a change of government and withdrawal of cooperation. Any agreement would have to be formalised.
- An agreement allowing Trident to remain on the Clyde would enable the UK to continue to operate Continuous At Sea Deterrent. Such an agreement could be to allow Trident to remain indefinitely, or allow time for the UK to develop a new base elsewhere in England or Wales for the new Successor submarines.
Chair of the Committee, Ian Davidson, MP said:
“A separate Scotland would be presented with a choice over Trident: it could honour the longstanding commitment of the SNP that there should be no nuclear weapons in Scotland and insist on the ‘speediest safe transition’ of Trident from Scotland. In reality, Trident can be deactivated within a matter of days, and the warheads removed within twenty four months. In the process, the UK would lose the ability to operate its nuclear deterrent and effectively be forced into unilateral disarmament, for an indeterminate period.
“Alternatively, a separate Scotland could allow Trident to remain on the Clyde long enough for the UK to identify and develop a new base elsewhere. This option would mean armed nuclear submarines operating out of Scotland for twenty years or longer. Developing a new base, particularly replicating the facilities at Coulport, could only be done at great expense, and the UK Government has made it clear that any such costs would be included in the Separation negotiations.
“This would have to be alongside other items such as access to intelligence and the work of GCHQ, and, beyond defence, retaining the Bank of England as a lender of last resort and financial regulator for Scotland.
“With all these variables flowing from the apparent commitment of the Scottish government to the ‘speediest safe’ removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, it is clear that the Scottish people must know exactly what is involved before any vote is put to them. The full details of how and when Trident would be removed from Scotland and the full consequences of that plan must be worked out before any referendum is held.”