An independent Scotland would be unable to remove Trident from Scottish waters for at least 20 years, a former defence adviser to the SNP has warned.
Instead of getting rid of the nuclear deterrent from the Clyde, an independent Scotland should explore leasing the Faslane facility to the UK government at around £1.1 billion per year.
The proposal has been made by Stuart Crawford in a paper which will be published this autumn looking at defence options in an independent Scotland post-Brexit.
Crawford argues that Trident would have to stay in the short to medium term because it would take two decades and £25 billion to build a facility comparable to Faslane south of the border.
His proposal that Trident should stay until an alternative site can be built will be met with hostility from the SNP grassroots and leadership, which is passionately opposed to nuclear weapons.
But Crawford, a defence commentator and former army officer, believes he is offering a pragmatic solution given the difficulties associated with getting rid of the deterrent, which supports around 7,000 military and civilian jobs in Scotland.
Crawford believes that insisting on getting rid of nuclear weapons would pose a diplomatic problem for an independent Scotland in that the US would object.
This, he believes, could see America block an independent Scotland’s accession to Nato.
Crawford’s paper will also outline the practical challenges of removing Trident from the Faslane/Coulport naval base on the Clyde and rehousing the weapons system south of the border.
The most pressing would be replicating the bunkers specially designed for storing the nuclear warheads securely outside Scotland as well as the storage and jetty facilities for the submarines that carry them.
Devonport, Falmouth, Portland, Milford Haven and Barrow-in-Furness have been suggested as possible replacements for Faslane. Crawford argues that all of them would require major work to be made suitable at a multi-billion pound cost.
Crawford said: “The paper is going to say in essence that an independent Scotland cannot really sensibly insist on removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from its waters in the short to medium term.
“Therefore some pragmatic solution has to be adopted. The pragmatic solution is, in my opinion, to rent the Faslane nuclear facilities to the rest of the UK until such time as some other arrangement can be brought about.
“If there is any chance of Scotland becoming an independent country in 2021, it would take the UK government at least 20 years to build the equivalent to the Faslane/Coulport facilities elsewhere in the UK. Then it would seem that some sort of leasing arrangement over 25 years or thereabouts would be sensible.
“We reckon to build the new facility elsewhere in the UK, if a place can be found, it would probably cost somewhere in the region of £25 billion.
“An educated estimate of what Scotland might be looking at to rent Faslane to the rest of the UK might be in the order of £1.1 billion per year.”
Crawford acknowledged that his plan would not sit well with the SNP, but he argued that having Trident on Scottish soil would give the Scottish Government a strong hand in the negotiations to break up the UK.
“It is the most emotive defence-related issue in the whole independence debate. The difficult thing for the SNP leadership would be selling this to the foot soldiers. The broad base of the independence movement is very much grounded in the CND movement. I am completely sympathetic to that.
“The SNP Government might look at this plan and say it doesn’t deliver our promise to remove Trident, but it would be the biggest bargaining chip that an independent Scotland could have.”
Alex Salmond’s independence white paper prepared for the 2014 referendum aimed that Trident should be removed from Scotland within the first term of the Scottish Parliament immediately following independence.
The blueprint said Scotland would become a non-nuclear Nato member, despite the organisation being a nuclear defence alliance. Under Salmond’s 2014 plans Faslane would be transformed into a conventional naval base and become joint headquarters of the Scottish defence forces. The white paper argued that removing the deterrent would prevent £100bn being “wasted” on maintaining a new nuclear weapons system.
The prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum was put on the agenda by Nicola Sturgeon after the UK voted to leave the European Union. She has since “reset” her indyref2 plans, saying she would revisit the issue this autumn, assuming details of the UK’s Brexit deal are clearer by then.
Earlier this year, the SNP published its Growth Commission, a document produced by the former SNP MSP and economist, Andrew Wilson, which acts as an independence blueprint. The Growth Commission said an independent Scotland’s defence budget would be 1.6 per cent of GDP, a saving on the UK’s plans for Scotland. But the document did not deal specifically with the Trident issue.
The SNP’s opponents claimed Crawford’s model demonstrated that the SNP’s pledge to get rid of nuclear weapons lacked credibility.
Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative MP for Moray, said: “These comments add an element of realism to the SNP’s defence policy for an independent Scotland, something that has been sorely lacking for a long time.
“However, the idea of the UK’s nuclear deterrent remaining on the Clyde for 20 years would not sit well with many rank and file nationalists.
“It was never credible to think that Trident would just disappear from the Clyde following a Yes vote. There are thousands of Scottish jobs that depend on it. This is another example of policy and decision-making being driven by political dogma and the SNP’s obsession for separation at any cost.”
An SNP spokeswoman said: “The SNP does not support Trident either as part of the UK or in an independent Scotland. We have continually opposed the renewal of Trident at the cost of conventional and cyber defences and continue to do so. In 2014 the Scottish Government set out a responsible approach to the removal of Trident from Scotland and in the event of independence securing the speediest and safest withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Scotland would be a priority for an SNP Scottish Government.”
The Ministry of Defence declined to comment.