Independence: Battle lines drawn on nuclear weapons

ANY removal of Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland after independence would take longer than the timescale set out by the SNP, the UK’s Defence Secretary will warn today.

Plans to scrap Trident would be 'unacceptable for Nato', high-ranking defence veterans have warned. Picture: BAE Systems

Philip Hammond will say any prospect of a speedy removal of Trident is “just plain wrong”, and that “long and complex negotiations” will be needed should Scotland vote Yes in September’s referendum.

His remarks come just a few weeks after Alex Salmond reiterated that the weapons would be gone by the end of the first parliament after independence, set to be in 2020. The First Minister has also firmly ruled out any deal allowing them to remain if Scotland is allowed to keep the pound after a Yes vote.

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The latest developments came as a group of former military chiefs waded into the Trident row yesterday, warning the removal of the weapons would cause “huge practical problems” and cost ­billions.

Major Western powers like the US and France would have “particular concerns” over such a move which “would be unacceptable for Nato”, according to the group – led by Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, former first sea lord and chief of naval staff – who have sent a letter to Mr Salmond.

But the SNP government last night insisted Scotland would be “warmly welcomed” into the international community and many “friends, neighbours and allies” share its anti-nuclear stance. Ministers said it would be in Nato’s interests for Scotland to be a member following a Yes vote. In a keynote speech, Mr Hammond will warn that no deal will be done in the independence negotiations on a currency union, in the event of a Yes vote.

“It’s not an item up for negotiation,” he will say in a speech in Glasgow.

The First Minister’s approach will also come under attack from Mr Hammond. “He wants to dictate the timescales for removing our nuclear deterrent within the first term of parliament following independence,” the Defence ­Secretary will say.

“But Alex Salmond knows, as I know, that the future of our naval base at Faslane would be just one of many defence issues that would be the subject of long and protracted negotiations if there were to be a Yes vote in the referendum.

“If they insist that it has to go, there would have to be complex talks about the costs and time-scales involved. Any notion that it would be quick and easy is just plain wrong.”

The timescale had previously been estimated at a decade by Mr Hammond.

The SNP says about £170 million is contributed by Scotland towards the maintenance and running of Trident and this could be “far better spent” on conventional defence needs.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said last night: “Our position is crystal clear – Trident will be removed from an independent Scotland and the timetable we have outlined, which would see the weapons’ withdrawal by 2020, is a sensible, reasonable and eminently achievable one.”

She added: “An independent Scotland will be warmly welcomed into the international community of nations, and our position on Trident and nuclear weapons is in keeping with that of many of our friends, neighbours and ­allies.

“It is in Scotland, the rest of the UK and Nato’s mutual interests for Scotland to be a member. Only three Nato members are nuclear-weapon states, and 20 of the 28 member states neither possess nor host nuclear weapons.

“With independence, Scottish defence spending will provide security as well as increasing economic benefits and employment on which we currently miss out.

“As set out in Scotland’s Future [white paper], an independent Scotland focusing on a strong – non-nuclear – conventional defence footprint with an annual defence and security budget of £2.5 billion would provide for significant investment in the defence sector and support key Scottish industries, including shipbuilding.”

The SNP performed a controversial U-turn on its long-standing opposition to Nato membership two years ago and now plans to join the international defence alliance after a Yes vote.

The UK’s nuclear deterrent includes the Vanguard nuclear submarines based at Faslane on the Clyde, as well as the warheads which are stored at nearby Coulport. The prospect of relocating to alternative naval sites, such as Devonport in Plymouth has met with concerns that the cost could be up to £20bn.

The group of former military chiefs which has sent a letter to the First Minister on the issue of Trident includes former first sea lords and chiefs of naval staff; former chiefs of the defence staff Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup, General Lord Walker, Admiral the Lord Boyce and Field Marshal Lord Guthrie; and former chief of the general staff General Sir Mike Jackson.

It is the most significant ­intervention in the independence debate from the military world so far. They warn the timescale would cause “huge practical problems” costing billions of pounds – as well as causing “deep resentment”.

“Were the Scottish people to vote for independence, then Scotland, as a new small nation in an uncertain world, would need international partners to help secure its economic and ­social objectives and allies to provide national security,” the letter states.

“Nato, as an alliance with ­nuclear deterrence as a central part of its strategic concept, could hardly be expected to welcome a new member state whose government put in jeopardy the continued operation of the UK independent nuclear deterrent – a deterrent which protects not only the UK but all of Nato as well.”

The group warns the negotiations with Westminster following a Yes vote, covering matters such as currency, financial settlements and reallocating existing UK defence and other assets, can be expected to be “complex and difficult”.

“If the very future of the UK nuclear deterrent was also in the balance, it would inevitably sour those negotiations,” the letter adds.

The UK is part of the “P3” partnership with France and the US which have nuclear weapons for largely political, not military, purposes. They are only used as last resort under the “most extreme circumstances”.

The military chiefs add: “The United States and France as two of the P3 nuclear powers could be expected to be particularly concerned at the risk that an independent Scotland was effectively pushing a unilateral nuclear disarmament agenda that they and Nato have consistently ­opposed.

“They would also view with alarm the white paper suggestion of a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in Scotland – a move which would be unacceptable for Nato allies.”

The outcome of negotiations for EU and Nato membership are “impossible to predict”, the military chiefs said.

Ditching part of UK debt after Yes vote could jeopardise division of assets says think-tank

THE prospect of a deal over the division of assets, such as embassies and overseas territories, after a Yes vote could be harmed if an independent Scotland walked away from its share of UK debt, a leading think-tank warned.

The Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) talked about the SNP’s “flawed” threat to dump the debt if it cannot share sterling and stated it would lead to cross-border acrimony and disturb international markets, as well as “punitive” borrowing costs and a dent in Scotland’s economic reputation.

A report from the CPPR suggested “the division of such assets and liabilities is likely to be affected by whether the debt negotiations are conducted cordially or otherwise”.

John McLaren, of the CPPR, told The Scotsman the UK may not hand an independent Scotland a share of Britain’s overseas embassies if it refused to take on part of the national debt during negotiations following a Yes vote.

The economist suggested an independent Scotland could respond by demanding a say over how overseas UK territories, such as the Falkland Islands, are run by claiming Scots resources had previously been devoted to them.

Meanwhile, the CPPR report said dumping a share of the UK’s debt would be worth twice as much to an independent Scotland as North Sea oil. A low or zero share of the UK debt would “substantially improve Scotland’s fiscal balance” from the otherwise “poor” economic outlook it faces if it takes a population share of debt in the event of independence, Glasgow University’s CPPR said.

An independent Scotland’s refusal to assume none of Britain’s debt liabilities could lead to an “acrimonious dispute” with the rest of the UK, the think-tank said.

The CPPR suggested that not accepting its share of debt could affect what access Scotland had to UK embassies and gold reserves, as well as future liabilities over North Sea decommissioning costs.

SNP finance secretary John Swinney insisted any settlement would have to include a “fair share” of the UK’s assets as well as of its liabilities.

He said: “This report shows exactly how strong a hand Scotland will have in negotiations following a vote for independence.”