- Published on Sunday, 04 May 2014 15:20
The Sunday Post on 4 May contains a substantial article by James Millar on Trident and independence.
Millar includes the results of a new poll and says: ”The figures echo these from previous polls and cast doubt on SNP claims Scotland is inherently against nuclear weapons.” This statement should not be taken at face value.
In February 2013 Scottish CND commissioned TNS to carry out a poll on views on Trident in Scotland. This showed that, of those who expressed a clear view, 80% were opposed to spending billions on Trident replacement.
In response, Lord Ashcroft commissioned a Scottish poll on Trident from YouGov which was published in May 2013. Ashcroft had the temerity to suggest that Scottish CND might have had its own agenda in commissioning its poll. It should be noted that Lord Ashcroft is a billionaire former deputy-chair of the Conservative party. In 2010 it was revealed that for tax-purposes Ashcroft was a non-dom. The Guardian has claimed that some of his polls were commissioned from Belize and so not subject to VAT.
One of Ashcroft’s questions asked if Scots supported a like-for-like Trident replacement, a less-powerful cheaper alternative, or no nuclear weapons. Ashcroft’s approach was repeated in the new Sunday Post poll. The paper gives the following results:
Want a like-for-like Trident replacement 22%
Want a less powerful cheaper system 26%
Want to give up nuclear weapons altogether 37%
Don’t know 15%
Millar combines the first two figures to say “that’s 48% in favour of retaining a nuclear deterrent”.
However, it is misleading to introduce a “less powerful cheaper” option and then use the results to imply that most people are in favour of nuclear weapons.
Firstly, the middle option is not a real alternative. The Tories and Labour have both firmly rejected the possibility of any alternative to a like-for-like replacement for Trident. A detailed study of non-Trident options was carried out by Downing Street. Their report argues that the less-powerful alternatives would be more expensive than a Trident-type system. Following this study the Liberal Democrats have abandoned their proposals for an alternative nuclear-weapon system. They now support the plan for new submarines which will carry ballistic missiles. The Liberal Democrats only differ from the other two parties in that they say fewer submarines should be built and that continuous patrols should end.
Secondly, introducing a middle option into a poll is likely to produce a different result than if respondents can only chose between two options. Those without strong views often select the middle option.
The Sunday Post poll did not include a question which asked whether Scots were fundamentally opposed to nuclear weapons. Interestingly, Ashcroft’s poll did and it found that opposition was much greater than support. One of Ashcroft’s questions was: “In principle, do you support or oppose the United Kingdom having nuclear weapons?” The response was: Support 37%, Oppose 48%, Don’t Know 15%
Millar refers to Ashcroft’s polls, but ignores both this, and another of its results. Ashcroft’s poll asked Scots if they would support the rest of the UK leasing Faslane in the event of independence. The response was that 35% said that nuclear weapons could continue to be based in Scotland, 50% said that they should not be and 15% said don’t know.
Millar suggests that a future Scottish Government might use Trident as a bargaining chip and allow the submarines to stay for 20 years or even indefinitely. He quotes John Swinney as saying that the removal of Trident would not be an easy issue to resolve. However he ignores a series of more recent statements from leading SNP figures, including the Finance Secretary. Swinney told the BBC that “one of the purposes of independence was to remove nuclear weapons from Scottish soil and Scottish waters”. Both Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon said that Trident was not a bargaining chip.
Millar refers to the SNP proposal that the constitution of an independent Scotland should ban the bomb, but he fails to appreciate the implications of this. A Scottish Constitutional Convention is likely to adopt the idea of prohibiting the deployment of nuclear weapons. It is inconceivable that Trident would be allowed to stay for half a century, if the constitution prohibited it.