'No Scottish involvement' in decision to base nuclear submarines at Faslane

HMNB Clyde is the home of the Royal Navy in Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
HMNB Clyde is the home of the Royal Navy in Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
Share this article
0
Have your say

Politicians in Scotland were kept in the dark over the decision to base the UK's fleet of nuclear-armed submarines at Faslane, a leading historian has claimed ahead of the new launch of a new book which examines Scotland's role in the Cold War.

The UK Government brokered a deal with the United States in 1963 for the sale of the Polaris system - the forerunner to today's Trident nuclear deterrent - which could be fired from a fleet of submarines based on the Clyde.

But the decision to base the missiles at Faslane, which is just 26 miles from Glasgow, has proved intensely controversial in the decades since.

Trevor Royle, an expert in military history, said the decisions about military bases were generally made in Washington, with approval from London, with politicians north of the Border left to find out later.

The historian has completed a new book on Scotland's role in the Cold War, Facing the Bear, and will discuss his findings at the Edinburgh Book Festival tomorrow.

The decision to base the Royal Navy's fleet of nuclear submarines in the west coast of Scotland was ultimately signed off by Harold Macmillan's Tory administration but was taken to satisfy several key demands from the American military establishment.

READ MORE: How many people are employed at the Faslane nuclear base?
"The prime minister Hardol Macmillan begged the Americans to let Britain have the Polaris submarine, and the Americans agreed," Royle told The Times.

"They wanted a base near deep sea lanes, with an international airport nearby, and there was Prestwick - problem solved. There was not much discussion, no Scottish involvement, and by the time Labour politicians found out, it was a done deal."

But Americans plans to make Prestwick its main distribution hub in the event of a war were thwarted after the plans were leaked to the press, prompting official denials in Westminster and Washington.

"They told lies about it, claimed that no development had taken place and no land sold," Royle added.

The development of the Polaris system was significant as it moved the UK's nuclear deterrent out to sea, removing the threat of it being targeted in a preemptive strike.

But the decision to base it in Scotland was opposed by anti-nuclear campaigners, who have ran a peace camp in the area ever since, as well as the SNP.

A cornerstone of the SNP's defence policy in an independent Scotland is the removal of all nuclear weapons from the country.

Faslane's history as naval base dates to the Second World War era. It is now the home of the Royal Navy in Scotland.

A 2014 Freedom of Information request found a total of 2,250 non-military employees worked at Faslane, with the FAI estimating the base in turn supports a total of 4,911 jobs across Scotland.