DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond will today challenge the SNP to explain how it would fill the economic void left by removing Trident from Scotland, as he announces £350 million of funding towards the replacement of the nuclear weapons system at Faslane.
The minister will visit the Royal Navy base on the Clyde that houses the submarine-based system, insisting the government is pressing on with its plans in the belief that independence will be rejected by Scots – but still warning that SNP proposals to get rid of Trident could jeopardise thousands of jobs.
The SNP is committed to the removal of Trident from Scottish territory, but there are growing warnings that the weapon would have to stay in place long after independence, and the issue could be used to block Scotland’s membership of the European Union.
Speaking ahead of today’s visit, Mr Hammond insisted that the pro-Union campaign was increasingly confident of victory in the independence referendum in 2014.
“We are confident that the Scottish people will choose to remain part of the United Kingdom,” he said.
“The Faslane complex is the largest employment site in Scotland with over 6,500 jobs underpinning the local economy. We have no plans to move the nuclear deterrent from the Clyde.
“On the contrary, we intend to move the Astute and Trafalgar Class attack submarines to Faslane, creating a further 1,500 jobs,” he added.
“The Scottish Government needs to explain how their policy would benefit Scotland’s economy and safeguard Scottish jobs.”
But the additional £350m spending on design work for the Trident replacement submarines was branded “obscene” by the SNP yesterday, which also raised questions over the number of jobs sustained at the base.
The Scottish Government has endured a bruising week, amid damaging divisions over the nuclear issue. Two MSPs quit over the decision to back membership of the Nato nuclear defence umbrella. And senior Nationalist Adil Bhatti revealed at the weekend he had quit amid discontent over the Nato U-turn.
Highlands MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart resigned last Tuesday, insisting they could not advocate joining a “first-strike nuclear alliance”.
But the UK could be left without a nuclear deterrent “indefinitely” if a Nationalist Scottish Government post-independence demanded its removal from Scottish territory, Westminster’s Scottish affairs select committee warned last week.
First Minister Alex Salmond has ruled out a Cyprus-style UK enclave on the Clyde to house Trident after independence, suggesting the UK take Trident to the “US or France”.
There are suggestions that it could take up to 20 years to build a new base in the UK.
Dr Phillps O’Brien, of Glasgow University, warned yesterday that the UK government could use Scotland’s proposed membership of the EU as a bargaining chip in the negotiations over the removal of Trident.
“The government of the UK would have enormous leverage over Scotland,” he said. “It could say, for instance, if you don’t keep Trident until we are ready to rebase it in the United Kingdom we can deny you successor-state status, which would keep you out of the European Union without an application – and that means Scotland would have to join the euro.”
SNP MSP Bill Kidd, a vice-president of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, criticised the funding announcement.
“For the UK government to boast about spending hundreds of millions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction – while at the same time implementing brutal welfare cuts and slashing investment in the economy – is obscene,” he said.
The SNP also pointed to figures that emerged yesterday from the Ministry of Defence through a Freedom of Information request, which revealed there are 520 civilian jobs at Faslane which rely directly on the Trident programme, suggesting supporters of the nuclear weapons programme overestimate its economic impact.
Mr Kidd insisted all of these and more “will be taken up by Faslane continuing as the main Scottish naval base”.
The decision to replace Trident will not be approved until after the next election, amid splits in the coalition.
But £3 billion has been spent so far, and a further £3 bn committed to Trident’s replacement. The Vanguard submarines will be replaced from 2028 by the Successor, which is currently being designed by British companies. As a result of today’s announcement, BAE Systems will proceed with an additional £315m worth of work, with a further £38m carried out by Babcock.
All navy submarines will be based at Faslane by 2017, including the Astute and Trafalgar class attack submarines, which will increase the workforce to more than 8,000 by 2022.