NICOLA STURGEON has said she still plans to kick out the UK's nuclear deterrent in the early years of an independent Scotland, despite Russia's ruthless war in Ukraine.

The First Minister yesterday told The Herald it was her "expectation and hope" that Trident would be removed from the Faslane naval base on the Clyde in the first Holyrood term after a Yes vote.

In spite of the global ramifications of Vladimir Putin's aggression, this is the same timetable as the one proposed by the SNP almost a decade ago.

The policy could effectively disarm the UK - one of three nuclear powers in the Nato alliance - as there are no alternative sites in the UK for the Trident submarines and warheads.

While Milford Haven in Wales, Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria and Devonport in Plymouth have all been touted as possible alternatives, none is ready and all have major limitations.

Crucially, no other site in the UK offers the equivalent of Coulport near Faslane, the UK's strategic nuclear weapons facility where the warheads for the Trident system are stored.

The opposition parties accused the SNP leader of being "reckless".

Last week, journalist and broadcaster Andrew Marr warned that "Trident could be the issue that makes winning an independence referendum next year impossible".

Writing in the New Statesman, he argued a UK prime minister would make nuclear threats by Putin a key reason for staying in the Union and hence keeping Trident.

On Sky News yesterday, Ms Sturgeon said it remained her plan to have a second independence referendum late next year, despite Boris Johnson's refusal to grant Holyrood the necessary powers.

She was also asked if Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the resulting devastation has changed her plan to rid an independent Scotland of nuclear weapons, and whether a Yes vote would be a vote to "strip the UK of its nuclear capability".

She said: "Nuclear weapons are dangerous and we would always be responsible in terms of the negotiations around the timing and the practical arrangements for the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland. We would not be in any way irresponsible about that.

"But we are a non-nuclear party."

Asked if Ukraine has changed her thinking on defence, Ms Sturgeon said it had, and she was more certain an independent Scotland "would need to be a fully constructive member of the Nato alliance".

But, while campaigning later in the local elections at Portobello beach, Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon made it plain that, for her, constructive Nato membership could mean bringing about the nuclear disarmament of the UK, one of three Nato nuclear powers alongside the US and France.

Asked if it was still SNP policy to remove Trident within the first Holyrood term of an independent Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said: "That would be our expectation and hope. But when you're dealing with nuclear weapons the responsibility of acting in a way that is safe is of paramount importance."

Pressed about the lack of a functioning alternative site for Trident in UK waters, she said: "I suspect these are questions you have to put to the UK Government. I have made clear we would act in a responsible way and that would apply to timescale."

Asked if she considered a single five-year term for ousting Trident to be "hasty", she said: "I would like to see nuclear weapons out of Scotland as quickly as possible.

"What 'as possible' means will have to take account of the detail of these discussions. But there is nothing changed in terms of the Continued on Page 4

Continued from Page 1 strength of my feeling and strength of my opinion in terms of the nuclear questions."

The SNP Government's November 2013 White Paper on independence, which was given to voters before the referendum eight years ago, promised the "speediest safe withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Scotland".

It said: "The detailed process and timetable for removal would be a priority for negotiation between the Scottish Government and the government of the rest of the UK.

"However, following a vote for independence, we would make early agreement on removal of nuclear weapons a priority. This would be with a view to the removal of Trident within the first term of the Scottish Parliament following independence."

Donald Cameron, the Scottish Conservatives' constitution spokesman, said: "Nicola Sturgeon seems determined to double down on her opposition to nuclear weapons and not recognise how reckless a position this is in the current climate.

"[Ukraine's] President Zelenskyy has continually praised the United Kingdom's support and our nuclear deterrent is a key part of that.

"The SNP's continued obsession with breaking up the UK would only destabilise Europe and weaken the United Kingdom, and that's before they even get into the issue of nuclear deterrents."

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: "At a time of heightened international tension and conflict in continental Europe, the people of Scotland need confidence that their leaders will protect our country.

"By constantly flip-flopping on Nato and our nuclear deterrent, it is clear Nicola Sturgeon cannot be trusted on defence."

Ms Sturgeon also said yesterday she would not "shy away" from dealing with sexual misconduct in her party, but denied knowing about reported findings against two of her MPs.

It was reported last month that sexual misconduct complaints against the pair had been upheld by a recently created Westminster ethics watchdog.

Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North, and Patricia Gibson, MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, had been investigated under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).

On Sophie Ridge's Sky News On Sunday, the First Minister was asked if the ICGS had upheld the complaint against Mr Grady, who was accused of groping two male researchers at a Christmas party in 2016.

She said: "I don't know. I've seen what has been reported. As I understand it, the process is under way. I have not seen any findings. I'm not trying to dodge this. It's important that the process is allowed to proceed.

"When I do know whether things have been upheld, I'm happy to come on and talk to you about that, and I'm happy to be open about what I think should happen in those circumstances.

"But I don't know what if anything has been upheld, and it would therefore be wrong and actually not possible for me to go into detail about that.

"I think parties cannot simply throw stones when it's people in other parties who are being found guilty of these things. We all have to apply these standards to ourselves, and I will not shy away from that when I do know the outcome of these processes."

Mr Grady stood aside as chief whip after The Herald revealed the claims last year, but neither he nor Ms Gibson - who says the claims against her are "malicious" - has been suspended.

Ms Sturgeon was also asked about a new poll for the Sunday Times showing widespread dissatisfaction with her government's record on key issues.

On education, 46% felt standards had deteriorated since the SNP came to power in 2007, while 24% said things had improved. On health, 56% said standards had slipped and 23% said they had improved.

More people also felt the SNP had done poorly on crime and the economy than thought it had done well.

Yet, overall, 43% of voters said the party was doing a good job, with 39% rating it badly, and 19% neutral.

The FM said: "What I do think is telling about that poll is that 15 years into the SNP's period in government we're still the dominant party."

Pressed on the poll's findings on health and education, she said the pandemic had had a big impact.

"We're focused on catching up with that and supporting young people to get back on track with education."