DEFENCE chiefs are reported to be drawing up urgent plans to withdraw the fleet of Trident nuclear submarines from Scotland, amid fears that voters will back independence.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is concerned that First Minister Alex Salmond will win the independence referendum and go ahead with his promise to remove the submarines from the Faslane base, as well as the warheads held at the nearby holding site at Coulport.
Officials at the MoD were yesterday reported to have started planning for a new multi-billion-pound nuclear base on the English east coast, with locations near Plymouth or Portsmouth being considered. The moves come amid fears that the MoD would be left with nowhere for the fleet if Scotland becomes independent.
But officials are said to be concerned about spending funds unnecessarily if work on the new bases were to start now and Mr Salmond lost the referendum.
Defence chiefs were reported to have said that the operation was at the planning stage, but that no firm decision had been taken. Work on any new base could take up to a decade.
It is understood that the Royal Navy is considering whether to ask if Trident could remain in Scotland after independence, until a new base is ready. However, the MoD could demand compensation from the Scottish Government if it is forced to remove the submarines from Faslane immediately with no alternative storage space.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson claimed that Trident was “not wanted” by Scots, as he dismissed suggestions that the MoD would be compensated for the removal of the fleet in an independent Scotland.
Mr Robertson, who is also his party’s leader in the Commons said: “Westminster bullying Scotland over the future of Trident will backfire on the anti-independence parties given that these weapons of mass destruction are not wanted in Scotland and never have been.
“For the MoD to demand compensation when the same department is responsible for a £5.6 billion defence underspend in Scotland, accompanied by 10,500 job losses and base closure over the last decade, is incredible.”
The row comes after it was previously reported that the SNP was drawing up plans for its own army, navy and air force after independence.