MINISTERS last night defended the creation of a group to look into ways of removing Trident submarines from Scotland, after claims that they had no remit to fund such a body.
The Trident Working Group, made up of anti-nuclear campaigners, church representatives and lawyers, and financed by the Scottish Government, met for the first time yesterday – in government offices in Edinburgh.
It has been asked to look at planning regulations and transport powers, to see if Scottish ministers could prevent nuclear weapons from being sited or transported north of the Border.
It will also examine if Scotland could be represented at international non-proliferation talks and look at the economic impact of the removal of Trident.
The group's remit has been carefully worded to make sure it stays within devolved areas, such as planning law, which ministers believe could be used to prevent an expansion of the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
But opposition politicians claimed after yesterday's meeting that it was merely another attempt to pick a fight with Westminster.
Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP for Dumbarton, which includes the Faslane base, said: "Unless somebody is prepared to take on the economic impact of losing 11,000 jobs in West Dunbartonshire, they are wasting everybody's time. A quarter of the full-time workforce in West Dunbartonshire depends on Faslane for employment. The consequences of the loss of Faslane to towns like Helensburgh don't bear thinking about."
She added: "Whether you are a multilateralist or a unilateralist, you have a responsibility to consider these matters."
Ms Baillie said defence was a matter reserved to Westminster and the Scottish Government did not have any remit to use public funds discussing it.
Murdo Fraser, for the Tories, said the anti-nuclear working group was just another example of the Scottish Government's determination to pick rows with Westminster. He said: "The SNP no doubt has a strategy team that spends its time looking for constitutional rows, so it can indulge in its politics of grudge and gripe at the taxpayers' expense."
But Bruce Crawford, the minister for parliamentary business, who chaired the meeting, said the group was doing important work. He said: "The Scottish Government is opposed to nuclear weapons and it is the action of a responsible government to plan for a scenario where, in the future, nuclear weapons are no longer based on the Clyde.
"The group brings together a broad consensus in Scotland and the world, which aspires to our nation becoming free of nuclear weapons. Today's first and very productive meeting of the working group enabled us to begin discussions on how we ensure the maximum benefit to Scotland should nuclear weapons be removed."