CHANCELLOR George Osborne will today unveil £500 million of investment in the Faslane submarine base on the Clyde in a move which confirms Tory ministers will press ahead with the replacement of the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent.
The money, announced during a visit to the base by the Chancellor, will be spent on ship lifts, sea walls, jetties and other major projects. The government says it will secure 6,700 jobs and create thousands more.
And it will ensure Faslane continues as “a world leading naval base” until at least 2067 as home to the new Astute class attack submarines and the successors to the Vanguard submarines which carry the nuclear deterrent.
But the move has sparked fury among the SNP who have been pressing for the nuclear deterrent not to be renewed and “weapons of mass destruction” to be removed from Scotland.
In an angry statement they claimed that the announcement was evidence of the Tory UK government pressing ahead with spending for the new deterrent ahead of it being approved by MPs later this year or next year.
The Tories have already committed to having four new submarines as the replacement of Trident and made it a key issue in the election.
Mr Osborne will say today: “Today’s announcement of more than £500 million demonstrates the UK government’s commitment to investing in the infrastructure and capability to ensure that Faslane remains the centre of UK submarine operations for the next generation.”
He will add: “There will be thousands more jobs right here in Faslane, as well as across the UK supply chain.
“Across Scotland, around 12,600 people work in defence and my defence spending commitments will secure these jobs and provide huge opportunities for defence, security and technology companies all over the UK.”
With speculation mounting that the SNP will make renewal of Trident a reason for holding a second referendum, the party’s defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara condemned the announcement.
Mr O’Hara said: “With the UK government facing a United Nations probe over its cuts to support for disabled people, George Osborne has his priorities all wrong.
“He should be defending the disabled, not his government’s indefensible decision to spend £100bn on a new generation of nuclear weapons – and this so-called investment in Faslane will directly support the deployment of Trident submarines.”
He went on to accuse Mr Osborne of “pre-empting” the vote by MPs on renewing Trident with Labour set to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader with an anti-nuclear weapons policy. Mr O’Hara said: “There is something fundamentally wrong with Westminster’s values and priorities if the Chancellor thinks wasting billions on nuclear weapons is something to boast about when people are dying within our benefits system.”
He added: “In defence terms too, at a time when Scotland’s conventional defence footprint has never been smaller with major capability gaps, base closures and personnel numbers at an all-time low, it seems the Treasury apparently has a limitless pot to keep an unwanted and obscene arsenal of nuclear weapons afloat.
“Investment in Faslane is welcome – but it must be as a conventional base and not more money spent on weapons of mass destruction.”
He also challenged the view that the investment is a boost for Scotland.
He said: “The reality is that Scotland has been hit by continued, disproportionate cuts to our defence footprint – with less than 10,000 defence personnel. Axing of air bases such as Leuchars, for example, have seen Fife badly hit with a reduction from 1,770 personnel to just 570 since April 2012.
“The Tories claim that they are the party of defence and yet we see time after time they cut the defence footprint in Scotland to the bone, to the point where we are left in the absurd situation in Scotland as a maritime nation without a single maritime patrol aircraft to defend our waters and without the proper conventional naval vessels based in Scotland, whilst Westminster is hellbent on renewing Scotland’s nuclear arsenal.”
He also renewed calls for Mr Osborne to keep the promise made by Conservative ministers that the Strategic Defence and Security Review, to be published in the autumn, will not include any more cuts to forces north of the Border.
However, in his speech Mr Osborne will argue that the announcement of cash for Faslane will underline the government’s commitment to defence and investment in Scotland.
The Chancellor has also been facing criticism from his own Conservative backbenches over whether he will keep his promise to maintain two per cent of GDP spending on defence in the UK, with suggestions that he might try to include the budget for the intelligence services to boost the figures.
Currently the UK is one of just four nations to spend the Nato target of two per cent of GDP on defence and last year at the organisation’s conference in Wales, Prime Minister David Cameron pressed other partner nations to meet the target.
Speaking from Faslane today, the Chancellor will say: “I’m proud to say that this government continues to recognise that our brave armed forces across Britain have always been resolute in defence of liberty and the promotion of stability around the world.
“That’s why I recently committed to meet the Nato pledge to spend two per cent of our national income on defence every year of this decade. A strong and secure country is vital to both our prosperity and national security.”
The Scottish Lib Dems, who opposed the replacement of Trident in its current form and suggested a much scaled-down version, have welcomed Mr Osborne’s announcement.
Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “Faslane is set to be the sole submarine base for the whole UK. Thousands of jobs are attached to this move.”
Last year Mr Osborne also committed to spending on a new surface fleet of Type 26 frigates which will help guarantee shipbuilding on the Clyde.