Trident faces public opposition whether or not it is forced out of Scotland, experts told the House of Commons Defence Committee yesterday, as they offered varying visions on the likely impact of Scottish independence on the future of Britain’s nuclear weapons system. The comments echoed the findings of a detailed report by CND on the lack of possible sites for relocation of Trident.

Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) suggested that a potential site for Britain’s nuclear-armed submarines could be found, though it would cost billions, but that a location for the warheads would be exceedingly difficult and would cause ‘political controversy’.

He stated that the Faslane facilities (which currently house the submarines) could be replicated at HMNB Devonport (Plymouth) if ‘several billion’ pounds were spent, but that there would be ‘political controversy’ if the Ministry of Defence sought to replicate the Coulport warhead store along the coast at Falmouth. In particular he noted that the necessary safety requirements, planning applications and appeals it would face would make it difficult to build a new warhead store.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford argued that the only option would be for Westminster to effectively coerce an independent Scotland into allowing Trident to operate out of the Clyde bases until the end of their service. But he accepted this would be against the wishes of the Scottish government and its electorate and could only be achieved by threatening to make life difficult for a new Scottish administration.

Whether Scotland becomes independent or not, Trident faces significant opposition to remaining on the Clyde, while it is likely that any proposal to relocate the submarines elsewhere in England or Wales (a move which the MoD have previously discounted) would not only be economically disastrous but would face public opposition that would make such a move politically difficult.

Kate Hudson, General Secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) stated:

‘The MoD is burying its head in the sand over the possible implications of Scottish independence – so at least the Defence Committee has realised that this situation requires a serious reassessment of the future of Trident.’

‘However, CND’s concern is that even when faced with overwhelming economic, strategic and logistical arguments against Trident, the government will attempt to cling on to its blind commitment to remaining a nuclear weapons state. ‘

‘This flies in the face of public opinion – the majority of which is opposed to spending such exorbitant sums on a Cold War weapons system at a time of brutal cuts to public services.’

[1] John Ainslie, author of this report, is also due to be called to the Defence Committee to give evidence.