NICOLA Sturgeon has urged Labour to adopt an anti-Trident stance amid mounting speculation that the UK government is poised to announce an early vote on replacing the nuclear deterrent.
The First Minister implored Labour MPs to reject the weapons system as it was suggested that David Cameron intends to force a swift vote to take advantage of the party’s disarray on the issue.
With the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon expected to visit the Faslane submarine base today, suggestions that the Prime Minister wants to fast-track the vote were gaining currency last night.
Previously, it had been assumed the UK government would wait until the summer before holding the crucial vote on whether to replace the multi-billion pound missiles housed on the Clyde.
With Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn facing a battle to reverse the UK party’s pro-nuclear policy, Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Hearing rumours that UKG might go for early vote on Trident renewal. Labour needs to quickly decide what side it’s on – hopefully against.”
The SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara added: “We would welcome the debate. We would never turn down the opportunity to debate Trident and I hope that Jeremy can bring his party to order.”
Mr Fallon last night insisted no decision has yet been made on Trident renewal.
“We’ve not set a date yet for endorsement of the move to replace our existing Vanguard submarines,” the defence minister added after talks with a Polish ministerial delegation in Edinburgh. Although we expect that vote to take place some time this year, we’ve not set a particular date for it.”
Mr Corbyn has been a vociferous campaigner for unilateral disarmament but his party’s policy is still pro-Trident renewal at a UK level.
Many of Mr Corbyn’s parliamentary Labour Party are Trident supporters, believing in multi-lateral disarmament, a position that favours delaying getting rid of nuclear weapons until other countries agree to ditch their missiles.
In the meantime, Mr Corbyn has appointed Emily Thornberry, his new shadow defence secretary and anti-Trident campaigner, as head of a review that will determine Labour’s defence policy.
At the weekend, the confusion over Labour’s defence policy came in for more criticism when Mr Corbyn suggested there could be a “third way” on Trident.
In an attempt to reassure unions concerned about defence job losses, he said the building of new submarines could go ahead without them being armed with nuclear warheads.
The issue came up when Alex Salmond hosted his radio phone-in on LBC yesterday afternoon. The SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman said the SNP was prepared to work with anti-Trident Labour MPs.
When asked if he and the SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson had been in discussions with Mr Corbyn, Mr Salmond said there had been talks.
“There have definitely been talks between the anti-renewal of nuclear weapons members of parliament and how we can maximise support against it,” Mr Salmond said.
A Downing Street spokeswoman refused to comment on “speculation”, adding that the timetable for the Trident vote and debate would become clear in the fullness of time.