INFLUENTIAL senior Conservatives believe Trident should be housed in the US as a "stop gap" measure in the event of Scottish independence.
The UK could rely on its major allies to provide a home for its nuclear deterrent in the event of a Yes vote in September, they argue, with other potential options including a deal with the French.
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The thought of Trident being based in another country, even one with which the UK already co-operates on defence, will horrify many Conservative backbenchers. But there are some within the party who believe it is a realistic option should Scots back independence.
The Scottish Government has pledged to expel the nuclear deterrent after a Yes vote, with a view to ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons by 2020.
Last week Tory minister David Mundell said there was "no deal to be done" on Trident after independence because of the SNP's determined stance on the issue -and that the UK would have to accept it leaving Scotland.
But Conservative Defence Secretary Philip Hammond later said any prospect of a quick removal of Trident was "just plain wrong", and that "long and complex negotiations" would be needed in the event of a Yes vote in September.
Earlier this week a group of 12 of the country's most senior defence and intelligence veterans warned that Nato's nuclear powers, in particular France and America, would be concerned by the "unacceptable" move of ejecting Trident from Scotland.
But some senior Tories privately believe those countries could provide the answer.
One said: "Trident could go to America if Scotland votes for independence. It would not be ideal for the UK's nuclear deterrent to be outside the UK. But it would be a perfectly doable solution in the short-term, as a 'stop gap' measure".
Eventually, under the proposal, Trident would be brought back to the UK after a new home was built for it south of the Border.
But the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) said a previous proposal to move Trident to the US, in 1981, foundered because of a range of potential problems.
Kate Hudson, CND General Secretary, said: "The principal obstacle is that moving nuclear weapons to another state is in contravention of Article I of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates states to not transfer nuclear weapons to 'any recipient whatsoever'.
She added that housing the UK's nuclear deterrent in the US would end "the myth that Trident is in any sense independent".
"Moving Trident to any foreign state would be practically untenable, politically impossible, and economically disastrous," she said.
In 2012 Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat MP and then Minister for the Armed Forces, told the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee: "I would have thought that relocation would be just about the least favoured option that it would be possible to conjecture."
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, from the highly respected defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, also told the same committee the independence of Trident could be one of the main stumbling blocks for any move to the US.
The MoD said it was not making any contingency plans for an independent Scotland.
Among the potential locations that have been suggested include Milford Haven in Wales and Devonport in Plymouth. However, both are likely to lead to safety fears and will almost certainly run into local opposition.
Last night, SNP MSP and co-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament Bill Kidd said: "The message finally seems to be getting home - Scotland doesn't want Trident and it will go if we vote Yes, saving billions of pounds for Scottish taxpayers. With independence, nuclear weapons will be removed from Scotland."