The United Kingdom’s supply of nuclear missiles are stored at their purpose-built home in Faslane.
The majority of Scots support a no-nukes Scotland.
All of this adds up to the surety that when Scotland becomes independent, and Faslane ceases to be a UK military base, the nuclear missiles must go.
But the removal of Trident is always going to be the biggest problem the Westminster government/the UK’s Ministry of Defence has with Scottish independence, because not only is there nowhere else for it to go and it would take a couple of decades to build an alternative site, there isn’t a realistic alternate site in the rest of the UK for deep-water nuclear submarines.
Devonport is physically possible but is a political impossibility, certainly for any Conservative government (and in a twenty-year construction plan there will likely be at least one Conservative government): while Scots feel uncomfortable about how near Faslane is to Glasgow, Devonport is literally in the middle of Plymouth. Pembrokeshire is a technically feasible location, but building an entirely new military depot for nuclear weapons on the coast of Wales creates a whole new political problem for rUK after iScotland has voted Yes and departed.
I think the timescale for independence for Scotland is likely to be – very roughly – that in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2021, both the SNP and the Scottish Greens have a second independence referendum in their manifesto, and, between them, have the majority of seats in Holyrood. This gives the Scottish Parliament a democratic mandate for a second independence referendum, but – given the timescale for Scottish legislation and the necessary campaign time required, means we likely wouldn’t have the referendum until 2023.
Assuming that this time a majority vote Yes, we are certainly looking at three to five years for iScotland to separate from rUK: anyone who argues that we could do it much faster is invited to consider the complexities of Brexit, and ask yourself if you really want to sound like disgraced former defence minister Dr Liam Fox or even David Davis. Independence isn’t going to be instant, nor should it be.
But that five-year span doesn’t give enough time for the Ministry of Defence to build a replacement for Faslane.
So the options for the UK government after Scotland becomes independent and Faslane ceases to be a UK military base, are as follows:
- The rUK could unilaterally disarm itself of nuclear weapons because it has nowhere to keep its missiles.
- Or the rUK can pay rent to iScotland for use of its base for fifteen years after independence day.
- Or rUK can do a Guantanamo Bay and declare that segment of Scotland to be English in perpetuity, and back that claim up with military force.
I think the first option of those three would be the best, but realistically, the least popular for the English MPs and the rUK Ministry of Defence: the second is the most realistic, but once agreed to, hard to see how iScotland could evict rUK if a second base hadn’t been built by the end of the lease: the third option is alarmingly possible.
“An independent Scotland cannot really sensibly insist on removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from its waters in the short to medium term.
“Therefore some pragmatic solution has to be adopted. The pragmatic solution is, in my opinion, to rent the Faslane nuclear facilities to the rest of the UK until such time as some other arrangement can be brought about. If there is any chance of Scotland becoming an independent country in 2021, it would take the UK government at least 20 years to build the equivalent to the Faslane/Coulport facilities elsewhere in the UK.”
Last time, in the run-up to the 2014 referendum, the Ministry of Defence simply made no plans for how they’d cope if they lost Faslane. (Reports that they were planning a move to Wales should be regarded cynically as those were reports in the Daily Mail.)
Last time, the Scottish Government were planning to ask rUK to allow iScotland to use the Bank of England as its central bank, and be in a currency union “Sterlingzone”. Alex Salmond had laid such political capital on this that it would have been a major concession for the UK government to approve it – and insist on retaining Faslane.
As far as I know, the Scottish Government has no such plans to ask such a major concession from rUK government following a Yes vote for independence. But there will still be concessions asked and deals done, and it shouldn’t be forgotten, ever, that Faslane will be one of the biggest chips on the board. If the UK MoD gets to rent it, the lease must have a sure end date – and iScotland shouldn’t offer this concession for nothing.
Neither should it be forgotten, ever, that the best thing we can do with nuclear weapons is disarmament.