Scottish CND is to be commended for addressing one of the most potentially explosive issues that could face an independent Scotland: removing Trident from the Clyde.
As we report today, independent nuclear weapons experts have endorsed the credibility of Scottish CND's practical guide to eliminating weapons of mass destruction within two years of independence. The Scottish Government has "welcomed" the report, which of course presupposes that Scotland votes Yes in the independence referendum in 2014. The UK Ministry of Defence is rather less enthusiastic. In a previously unpublished internal risk assessment – also revealed by this paper today – the MoD expresses concern about the "potential threat" posed to Britain's nuclear deterrent by the policies of the SNP.
The UK government say that there is nowhere in England where the weapons system could reasonably be relocated. The UK defence minister, Nick Harvey, appearing before the Scottish Affairs Select Committee last week, floated the idea that HM Naval Base Clyde – which includes the Faslane submarine base and the Coulport weapons depot – might be retained by the residual UK after independence, much as the US retain a military base on Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Given the dark image of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, where terrorist suspects were subjected to torture, this is perhaps not the best suggestion to win over Scottish hearts and minds.
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If the Scottish people vote for independence, and thereafter elect a government committed to nuclear disarmament, then the residual UK government will have to accept that as the legal right of an independent country. Nuclear weapons could not be imposed on Scotland against its will. There may be negotiation about the timing of their removal, and over the future conventional uses of the Faslane base, but if the residual UK wishes to retain its nuclear deterrent, it will have to find a corner of England that shall forever remain Trident. Or phase out these anachronistic and terrible weapons.
Military chiefs like Field Marshal Lord Bramall, former Chief of the Defence Staff, have long questioned whether it is wise or rational to spend up to £100 billion on replacing Trident when Britain's conventional forces are being subject to unprecedented financial constraints. Since the ending of the Cold War, there has been no conceivable use for the Trident ballistic missile system because there are no legitimate targets in Russia, or anywhere else, for these devices.
Weapons of mass destruction, like Trident, that specifically target civilians are anyway illegal under international law. Britain is supposed to be committed to phasing out nuclear weapons under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties. If Scotland can force the pace by voting to have them decommissioned, then so be it.