SNP politicians have been outraged by reports that the Westminster government was considering claiming the Faslane nuclear base as sovereign UK territory in the event of Scottish independence.
Despite Downing Street doing its best to dismiss the claim made by an unnamed defence official, the SNP said confusion over the issue showed the No campaign was in “disarray”.
Shortly after the claim came to light, Number 10 issued a strenuous denial, saying no such proposal was being examined.
But Nicola Sturgeon claimed Downing Street’s attempt to distance itself from the report showed that the No campaign was “running scared of their own Project Fear”.
She said: “People in Scotland are beginning to look and laugh at the absurdities coming out of it [the No campaign].”
The claim emerged in a newspaper article quoting a defence official who suggested that the UK government was looking at a plan which would see Faslane having the same status as British military bases in Cyprus.
The idea was proposed in response to the Scottish Government’s policy to remove Trident if the public votes Yes for independence.
The source said: “It would cost a huge amount of money, running into tens of billions of pounds, to decommission Faslane. Those costs would be factored into any negotiations on an independence settlement. The sovereign base area is an option.”
Yesterday, Downing Street issued a strenuous denial with a Number 10 spokesman saying: “This government has not commissioned contingency plans over Faslane. No such ideas have come to the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister.”
Downing Street’s attempt to close down the row failed to prevent the SNP raising the matter in the Commons yesterday.
In a contribution that raised laughter in the House, Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for the Western Isles, mentioned the report in the same breath as Saddam Hussein, asking: “Can we have a debate on the dangers and evils of imperialism and annexation of another country’s territory?”
He added: “Whether it be Saddam Hussein in Kuwait or, at the other end of the spectrum, the Westminster government on the front page of the Guardian bullying Scotland.”
Andrew Lansley, the leader of the House, dismissed the report, as did the Better Together campaign leader Alistair Darling at an event in Glasgow.
Mr Darling said it was a “ridiculous proposition”, adding: “Any normal person looking at it for more than ten seconds would come to the view that this is something that should go straight into the bucket.”
But Ms Sturgeon said it was another example of confusion in a scaremongering No campaign.
The deputy first minister said: “The UK government should sit down with the Scottish Government, in the light of day, to discuss the range of issues that will require to be negotiated if Scotland votes Yes – including removing Trident from Scotland.”
Salmond says Westminster doesn’t deliver for Scotland
INDEPENDENCE would give Scotland a more “cost-effective” parliament that “truly reflects” the people’s wishes, the First Minister will say today.
Taxpayers north of the Border contribute £50 million a year to the running of the Houses of Parliament in and the Scotland Office in Whitehall, Alex Salmond says.
In a speech today, he will say that these institutions do “not deliver for Scotland”.
However, George Osborne insisted last night that the campaign to keep Scotland in the Union was going “much better than we hoped”. The Chancellor said the Yes campaign had failed to respond strongly to Westminster analysis highlighting concerns about independence.
The First Minister will use a speech at Nigg Energy Park, on the Cromarty Firth, to make the case for an independent Scotland. He will brand his political rivals as a “parcel of rogues” and attack their “scare stories” about independence.
“The parcel of rogues in the No campaign have been caught out big time in the nature of their arguments,” he will say. “They claimed that mobile phone charges would go up in an independent Scotland the day before the European Commission set about abolishing roaming charges across Europe.
“They said that the UK’s triple-A status was crucial to Scotland and then proceeded to lose it for the UK.”
But speaking at Westminster, Mr Osborne said the No campaign was progressing well. “We have made a lot of progress in the last two years,” he said.
“The Unionist case is far stronger and better articulated than it was two years ago, because we called the SNP’s bluff and said let’s have the referendum and challenged them to make the arguments for independence.
“Those arguments are turning out to be very thin.”