THE Ministry of Defence opposed further devolution to the Scottish Parliament over fears that Britain's nuclear deterrent would be shut down on health and safety grounds.


Documents sent to the Smith Commission reveal that despite cross-party agreement that defence would remain a reserved matter following the referendum, the department's officials expressed deep unease that changes to the status quo in other areas risked compromising military activities, including Trident, and lobbied for their interests to be protected in the final settlement.

Internal emails reveal that senior MoD figures told the Commission it would be "helpful" if the final report on devolution included the point: "Anything which impacts on the operational effectiveness of conducting defence business should be excluded".

A spokesman for SNP minister Derek Mackay said the documents provided evidence that pro-UK representatives in the Smith Commission had "acted on the orders of Whitehall mandarins" during talks, after control of health and safety legislation was not devolved and initial proposals over the Crown Estate, which also sparked concern within the MoD, were watered down.

He added: "The whole point of devolving powers over health and safety to Scotland is to make improvements - but clearly the view within Whitehall was that the people of Scotland could not be trusted to protect their own health and safety."

The SNP is strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, promising that they would be removed from Scottish soil in the event of independence. The non-renewal of Trident has also been cited as a key target of the party should it find itself in a strong negotiating position at Westminster following May's general election.

The Commission was given details of a cosy relationship between the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the MoD, including special arrangements for inspections of bases, ships, submarines and handling classified information. It also has a series of legal exemptions from health and safety laws, which it claimed are "required to support defence outputs".

A note to the commission, which has been obtained by The Herald under Freedom of Information laws, expresses concern at the impact of "divergent approaches or practices" at Holyrood, "now or in the future", and that changes to the relationship between the HSE and regulators, including the Office for Nuclear Regulation, may change causing "associated impacts on defence outputs".

It adds: "Proposals for a Scottish HSE may mean different priorities, goals and potentially also different inspections from the status quo. Such changes could have implications for the delivery of defence outputs, including the nuclear deterrent, and could affect the ability of the MoD to discharge its UK defence and security obligations, both now and in the future."

Provisions for the creation of a Scottish HSE had been included in a draft Smith Commission report, with the body to be given power to set "enforcement priorities, goals and objectives" north of the border, but the proposal was axed days before the final version was published.

The commission was also told that Crown Estate land in Scotland included the base for its entire submarine fleet, including the UK's nuclear arsenal, and is vital to strategic intelligence gathering and testing of military hardware.

It said activities carried out on the Crown Estate were linked to its obligations as part of NATO, and while a series of legally binding agreements had been struck, some land used for defence purposes were not covered by formal agreements.

The note asks the Smith Commission to consider "the impact on the MoD's existing capability, and on its ability to adapt in response to future changes in defence and national security policy objectives", when considering the Crown Estate.

While the devolution of managing and income from the Crown Estate, which controls Scotland's seabed, large rural estates and half the coastline, did make it into the final Smith report, the UK Government has since been accused of backtracking with draft clauses proposing a complex "scheme" for transfer.

The spokesman for Mr Mackay added: "The Smith Commission's recommendations on the Crown Estate included a proposal that there should be a Memorandum of Understanding between the Scottish and UK Government to protect national security issues such as defence.

"However, we understand the MoD - who have long-term leases on some Crown Estate land - expressed concern about the transfer so the UK Government included in their Command Paper a specific 'carve-out' for defence when devolving management of the Crown Estate assets, and also included draft legal clauses to protect defence interests."

An MoD spokesman described Trident as the "ultimate guarantor of our nation's security", adding: "The MOD was asked to provide factual analysis of the Smith Commission proposals, considering operational effectiveness both now and in the future. This included the very wide range of UK defence activities carried out on the Crown Estate."