A Daily Telegraph report of 27 January 2012 “Nuclear subs will stay in Scotland” ( James Kirkup –http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9043092/Nuclear-subs-will-stay-in-Scotland-Royal-Navy-chiefs-decide.html) is most disturbing. The essence of the story is that should Scotland votes for independence the UK nuclear deterrent would for years have to remain in what would then be a foreign country.
Why could the subs, warheads and missiles not be brought to England? Kirkup claims the Ministry of Defence (MoD) believes the provision of new facilities for the nuclear deterrent in England could take up to ten years to build.
The Trident missiles carrying Vanguard-class submarines are based at Faslane on the Gare Loch; the missiles and warheads are stored and loaded from the nearby Royal Naval Armaments Depot Coulport, on Loch Long. Kirkup quotes an unnamed source: “Berths would not be a problem – there are docks on the south coast that could be used without too much fuss. But there simply isn’t anywhere else where we can do what we do at Coulport, and without that, there is no deterrent.” In other words, the subs could be accommodated immediately in England but the storing and arming facilities of Coulport could not.
The official description of Coulport is:
The Royal Armaments Depot at Coulport, eight miles from Faslane, is responsible for the storage, processing, maintenance and issue of key elements of the UK’s Trident Deterrent Missile System and the ammunitioning of all submarine-embarked weapons.
It also stores conventional armaments for Royal Navy vessels.
Because of the nature of its work, the site is subject to the most stringent external security regulators who authorise the depot to process nuclear weapons and provide support to nuclear submarines berthed at the Explosive Handling Jetty. (http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/The-Fleet/Naval-Bases/Clyde/RNAD-Coulport
The claim that there is and will be the “most stringent external security” is questionable because the site has fallen prey to the privatisation mania with the day-to-day management moving in February 2012 from the MoD to a commercial consortium led by the Atomic Weapons Establishment in alliance with Babcock and Lockheed Martin (http://wmcnd.org.uk/news/nuclear-power-fukushima-and-chernobyl and http://www.nti.org/gsn/article/lockheed-group-to-manage-uk-nuke-installation/).
Kirkup reports an unnamed source saying “Maintaining the deterrent is the first priority for any UK government, so ministers in London would have to pay Salmond any price to ensure we kept access to [the Clyde bases]…It would be an unbelievable nightmare.”
The idea that it would take ten years to replace the facilities Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport is surely absurd. We know how quickly things can be done in wartime. This should be treated as a situation of equivalent urgency. Salmond must not be allowed to use it as a bargaining chip on the conditions of either independence or DEVOMAX.
Even if the referendum vote goes against independence, you may be sure that something like DEVOMAX will be granted to Scotland by the current Westminster Government which appears to have no sense of protecting English interests. That will simply be a stepping stone to full independence. If the nuclear facilities are left in Scotland in such circumstances they would ever be a hostage to fortune. The Government should not wait for a referendum, but begin the process of removing the nuclear deterrent facilities to England now.
If the nuclear deterrent was left in Scotland for years after independence it is almost certainly going to cause problems, not least with the Americans who supply the UK with the delivery system to for the British made and owned warheads. They might well be reluctant to allow their technology to be sited in what would then be a foreign country with all the security implications that carries. (Amazingly, you may think, the UK only leases the missiles and they are pooled with the Atlantic squadron of the USN Ohio SSBNs at King’s Bay, Georgia).
In addition, there could be no certainty about what a future government of an independent Scotland would do, or indeed how resolute a future Westminster government would be. The example of the three Irish Free State “treaty ports” the Royal Navy continued to use after the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty is not encouraging. This agreement was abruptly terminated in 1938, a year before the feared U-Boat menace to British shipping became a reality. The most dismaying thing with that episode was that the British government behaved in the most supine way – they gave and the Free State took – simply to end a long-standing trade war with the Free State.
The worst case scenario would be to do nothing before the referendum, the vote is for independence and Salmond then insists on the removal of the deterrent immediately because of the Scotch Numpty Party’s long-standing commitment to a nuclear free Scotland.
The MoD declined to discuss details of Kirkup’s story but a spokesman said “The UK government position is clear and we are arguing the case for Scotland to remain within the Union. However, any decisions on Scotland’s future are for people in Scotland to decide.” This points to the coalition taking the Micawber strategy of waiting for something to turn. That will be unreservedly to England’s (and the British Isles) disadvantage.