WALES is preparing to cash in on millions of pounds of defence spending if Scotland becomes independent, official documents show.

The potential for Wales to become the home of the Trident nuclear deterrent has already been discussed by the country's Cabinet, The Herald can reveal.

Last month, Welsh ministers laughed off suggestions they were putting plans in place to capitalise if Scotland left the UK.

However, the Welsh First Minister told members of his administration they should consider the "economic benefits such a relocation might bring should West Wales be an option".

His comments came ahead of a meeting of the British-Irish council. Welsh ministers were due to meet with their Scottish and UK counterparts to discuss a range of issues.

The SNP is committed to ridding Scotland of Trident, despite moves by the party hierarchy to overturn decades of opposition to membership of nuclear alliance Nato.

However, opponents warn thousands of Scottish jobs could be lost if Trident was forced to relocate.

In June, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones said the UK's nuclear deterrent would be "more than welcome" in Wales if Scotland no longer wanted it. He later appeared to row back on that statement, saying dis-cussions about Scottish independence were "entirely academic".

However, official minutes from a June 19 meeting of the Welsh Cabinet show he suggested his ministers consider the potential benefits to Wales of housing Trident.

Defence experts had already suggested independence could provide a defence windfall for Wales.

Francis Tusa, the respected leading defence analyst, has said Wales could be the "real winner" if Scottish independence led to a major resettlement of the UK's armed forces and the nuclear deterrent. But suggestions Trident could move south have proved extremely controversial in Wales and led to claims of a split within Mr Jones's Cabinet.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood accused the Welsh First Minister of an attitude that could be summed up as "Edinburgh gets the Green Investment Bank and Pembrokeshire gets weapons of mass destruction."

Wales is not the only part of the UK eyeing up the possible financial benefits of Scottish independence. A number of sites in England are also thought to be considering a bid to house Trident.

However, at least one senior military figure, Lord West, the former head of the Navy, has already suggested any move from the Clyde would prove so expensive the UK might have to scrap its nuclear deterrent altogether.

An SNP spokesman last night said: "Many people in Wales will be pretty horrified their First Minister is actively trying to have weapons of mass destruction based in Welsh waters.

"If they seriously think there are economic benefits to spending tens of billions of pounds on renewing Trident, especially at a time when the country is crying out for capital investment to support the economy, then it just shows how skewed their priorities are."

UK Government ministers have already warned the defence and shipbuilding industries in Scotland would lose millions in contracts if there was a vote in favour of independence.

Defence Minister Peter Luff told MPs earlier this year the UK Government would look less favourably on shipyards situated in a foreign country, leading unions to suggest that up to 16,000 jobs could be at risk.

However, the SNP has accused the Tory-LibDem Coalition of "scaremongering".

The Scottish Government insisted the skills and expertise of the Scottish defence industry would ensure a long and prosperous future post-independence.

Meanwhile, a controversial motion put forward by the SNP's defence spokesman for its upcoming conference would overturn the party's historic objections to Nato membership, while still requiring the removal of Trident. A number of SNP MSPs have already suggested they plan to oppose the move or back rival amendments.