THE Trident nuclear deterrent would continue to be based in Scotland for many years after a vote for independence, the UK Government has warned.
The SNP has said it wants to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons but, in response to a Commons Scottish affairs select committee report on the impact of independence, the UK Government warned last night that moving the deterrent to a new site would cost at least £3.5 billion and take a long time.
The response said: “Any alternative solution would come at huge cost. It would be an enormous exercise to reproduce the facilities elsewhere. It would cost billions of pounds and take many years.”
Ministers also said that independence would eventually lead to the entire submarine fleet being pulled out of Faslane on the Clyde, with the loss of 8,200 jobs.
The Ministry of Defence ruled out any notion of relocating the Vanguard submarines which carry the Trident nuclear missiles to bases in France or America – as was suggested in the committee report – and made clear there will be “no unilateral disarmament”, meaning that the fleet would be moved to a new base in England or Wales.
Possible candidates include Milford Haven, Wales or the Devonport naval base in south-west England.
In addition to the Vanguard submarines, Scotland would lose the seven Astute class vessels planned over the next decade and the Trafalgar class submarines they are to replace. The Astute and Trafalgar class subs are nuclear powered but do not carry nuclear weapons.
The government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review published in 2010 had set out an intention to make Faslane – which recently underwent a £3.5 billion refit – the sole submarine base, increasing the number of Royal Navy personnel jobs in Scotland by 1,500 from 6,700 by 2017.
But in its report, published in October, the select committee concluded that “nuclear weapons in Scotland could be disarmed within days and removed within months”, a scenario rejected by the UK Government.
The government response made it clear the MoD does not anticipate Scotland voting for independence. It stated: “We are confident the people of Scotland will choose to remain part of the UK and are not planning for Scottish independence or to move the strategic nuclear deterrent from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde.”
However, it added: “If the result of the referendum on Scottish independence were to lead to the current situation being challenged, then other options would be considered.”
This did not include moves to bases in France or the US, as had been suggested as a possible outcome in the committee report.
The response noted: “The appropriate facilities do not exist in France and to use facilities at King’s Bay in Georgia, USA, would present a complex logistic and cost challenge.”
It added: “Operations from any base in the USA or France would greatly compromise the independence of the deterrent and there would be significant political and legal obstacles.”
But the response also appeared to rule out suggestions the nuclear deterrent would be scrapped altogether – a prospect raised in the committee’s report – saying there were “no plans” to “unilaterally disarm”.
Crucially for the SNP time- table on getting rid of Trident, the UK Government insisted there would be “no pre-negotiation” and it would take a long time for the weapons to be moved. It said: “There would inevitably be time and cost implications if an independent Scottish Government demanded the withdrawal of the UK deterrent.”
On cost, it pointed out that the recent upgrading of the facilities at Faslane cost £3.5 billion.
It added: “This built upon decades of investment in the base infrastructure and associated housing. Any replication of facilities would cost at least that much and probably more.”
The UK Government has made it clear it would want Scotland to share the costs of relocation should it force the deterrent to be moved from Faslane.
It also said Scotland would lose the entire submarine fleet, even though in 2011 the SNP welcomed the moving of Astute and Trafalgar subs to Faslane.
The UK Government response also undermines efforts by the SNP to have shared defence facilities post-independence as part of Nato. A government spokesman said: “There would be no question but that the entirety of the submarine enterprise on the Clyde would be relocated.”
UK ministers said it was up to the Scottish Government to say how it would replace the lost 8,200 highly skilled jobs.
Scottish affairs committee chairman Ian Davidson said: “We welcome the UK Government’s reminders of the stark choice facing Scotland in relation to the Royal Naval facilities on the Clyde.
“Remaining within the UK would not only retain the existing 6,700 jobs at Faslane but would increase employment to 8,200 by 2022.”
He said the Scottish Government now needs to say how it would replace the lost 8,200 jobs and how it believes the cost of moving Trident should be shared.
However, SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson insisted: “Faslane has a bright future as the base for Scotland’s conventional naval forces with independence, rather than as a repository for Trident nuclear weapons that the people and parliament of Scotland do not want.”
However, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy MP said: “This would be a fatal blow to Faslane and thousands of jobs throughout the West of Scotland.
“The Clyde is becoming the UK’s submarine centre and emerging as a world leader. This revelation means that if the SNP get their way, not only will there be no Royal Navy shipbuilding on the Clyde, there won’t be a single sub based in our waters.”
A decision to replace the Trident missile system was made in 2006. The UK Government approved the initial assessment phase in May last year on the programme will not be made until 2016, with the first replacement Vanguard class submarine due to be delivered in 2028. The lifetime cost of the project is expected to be up to £100 billion.