The government is guilty of a “dereliction of duty” in failing to look at what would happen to Trident if Scotland votes for independence, a former first sea lord has said.
Lord West of Spithead warned the ability of the rest of the UK to defend itself would be “dramatically reduced” if the Scots voted to quit the Union.
Former secretary of state for Scotland Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said a vote for independence would in effect mean the end of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.
The submarines carrying the UK’s Trident nuclear warheads operate from the Faslane naval base on the Clyde and there are potential problems with finding a suitable alternative location in England.
At question time in the House of Lords, defence minister Lord Astor of Hever told peers: “We are confident the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom, therefore we are not making any contingency plans for a Yes vote.”
But Labour’s Lord West, a former security minister, said: “It does seem that it is a dereliction of duty not to be looking at alternatives on such an important issue.
“We all know that actually our ability to defend our islands should Scotland separate is going to be dramatically reduced.
“We know whatever happens should they separate there will be huge costs to our defence budget.”
He said the “real special relationship” with the United States was based on a “nuclear and intelligence relationship”.
Tory Lord Forsyth asked: “Why is the government prepared to anticipate what the effects on Scottish independence would be on the currency, but not on our national security and our defence policy given the threat this represents to the independent nuclear deterrent?
“Isn’t the truth of the matter that if [First Minister] Alex Salmond achieves his nuclear-free Scotland, the practical consequences will mean the end of the British nuclear deterrent at a time of great economic and geo-political uncertainty. Does the government have a Plan B?”
Lord Astor said moving the deterrent and its facilities would be an “enormous exercise”.
He told peers: “Our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate safeguard of our national security and we have made a clear commitment to maintain that. There is absolutely no question that the UK will unilaterally disarm.”
He added: “To start planning now for a United Kingdom without Scotland would start to unpick the fabric of the UK before the people of Scotland have had their say and would require UK government ministers to prioritise the interests of one part of the United Kingdom over those of others.”
He said a vote to leave the UK would mark the start of a “lengthy and complex” process of negotiations.
Labour’s Lord Desai asked: “Would it be charitable to believe that the government, as a responsible agency, may have scenarios up its sleeve but you are not willing to take the House into confidence?”
Lord Astor replied: “Even if I did know that I couldn’t possibly comment.”