AN INDEPENDENT Scotland might be forced to postpone banning nuclear weapons from its territory in exchange for an easier passage into Nato and the European Union, a leading defence expert has claimed.
In an analysis of what might happen after a vote for independence in Scotland, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), argues that the SNP would be forced to use the nuclear weapons based at Coulport and Faslane on the Clyde as a “bargaining chip” in negotiations and would not automatically be able to get rid of them by May 2020 as currently planned.
However, Prof Chalmers also praises the SNP blueprint for defence after independence as “reasonable” and says the plans set out important principles on how it could work.
But a large focus in the paper is on the future of Trident in Scotland and its rebasing following independence.
Prof Chalmers notes that as the referendum approaches “there has been a softening of the SNP position” on Trident mainly because of the decision to support entering Nato and working with allies.
He said: “The SNP may now have accepted – although the white paper does not state this explicitly – that membership of Nato would require Scotland to accept all elements of its ‘acquis’, including the role of nuclear weapons in its deterrent policy, as affirmed in the Alliance’s 2010 Strategic Concept.”
He added: “Further evidence of the seriousness of this commitment is seen in the November 2013 white paper’s acceptance that Scotland would have to allow Nato nuclear-armed vessels to transit Scottish waters.”
But he said that the issue would be forced into the heart of the negotiations following a Yes vote.
He wrote: “The UK government would have a strong interest in seeking assurances on the future of the Faslane and Coulport facilities during the pre-independence negotiations.
“The Scottish Government would therefore be under strong pressure to play its nuclear ‘bargaining chip’ at this stage, agreeing to long-term (though not necessarily permanent) basing in return for Scotland’s interests being secured in other difficult aspects of the negotiations, including currency, maritime boundaries, and debt-sharing arrangements.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It will be in the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK to continue to work closely together to ensure the security of both countries – as this paper notes in its conclusion. The UK will have a serious security partner in Scotland with effective capabilities meeting Scotland’s needs and playing its part in Nato.
“Independence will give Scotland the opportunity to develop specific defence capabilities that better meet Scotland’s needs and circumstances.”