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How a Yes vote can lead to nuclear disarmament

Scottish independence could be the trigger to Britain abandoning its nuclear weapons. So said leading academic, Lord Peter Hennessy, interviewed by Andrew Neil in "Scotland Votes: What's at stake for the UK?". He explained how Scots have it within their power to abolish the UK's Weapons of Mass Destruction. 
BBC Iplayer (from 8:00).

  

Transcript

Andrew Neil

If Scottish independence is a daunting prospect for Britain’s conventional armed forces, it could be terminal for the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent ..

It’s long been a pillar of Scottish nationalism that an independent Scotland would be nuclear free. So, if Scotland votes Yes in September, those submarines, their warheads and their missiles would have to go and pronto. All of which presents London with perhaps its biggest post-independence headache. How to replicate Faslane and Coulport somewhere else in the UK by the SNP’s deadline of 2020. 

Lord Hennessy 

Coulport and Faslane are not replicable without the most enormous amount of public expenditure and enormous quantity of time in the South, if indeed they are replicable at all. It’s down effectively to Falmouth or Milford Haven, but even they won’t work because just think of the planning permission for that narrow estuary in Falmouth, because Coulport is the most enormous installation, enormous security around it. Keeping nuclear warheads safe and stored well, with all the top of the range requirements for that are absolutely enormous real estate. Milford Haven is now covered with oil and gas terminals. Not an ideal place. 

Lord West 

For the life of me it seems that to replicate those very high tech facilities elsewhere, South of the border, to do that in 4 years seems to me virtually impossible. It is the unique facilities which the warhead establishment at Coulport give for the storage and maintenance of the warheads, without which there is no deterrent.

Andrew Neil 

If the future of the UK’s deterrent could be put in doubt by Scottish independence, you would expect Westminster to be thinking about alternatives. You would be wrong. 

Have you done any contingency planning for this?

Philip Hammond  

We are not planning for the contingency of Scottish independence because we think the likelyhood of it occurring is low and even if there were a Yes vote there would clearly be a period of what would be quite complex negotiations before any independence took effect. 

Andrew Neil 

The future of Trident is perhaps the single biggest issue raised by the referendum for the rest of the UK but few in Westminster admit to doing any planning for what should happen if Scotland votes Yes. 

Lord Hennessy 

I was amazed at this because we contingency plan for everything, quite rightly, that part of the thing the state is for.  They said, well if we did start contingency planning, the fact that we were would leak and Alex Salmond would then say look they’re getting ready for it, it shows it’s viable. And this shook me rigid, because cannot allow one politician, however gifted, however difficult to deal with, to make your own psychological weather down here. To the point where you don’t want to give him one glancing blow in a speech – look they’re getting ready for it, therefore it’s entirely practicable. It still takes my breath away that the edict went out – there should be no contingency planning. 

Andrew Neil 

Some believe the speedy removal of the deterrent from Faslane could be its death knell. Stuart Crawford is the former army officer who wrote an influential paper on an independent Scotland’s likely defence strategy. 

Lt Col Stuart Crawford 

There is a very strong argument which suggests that if an independent Scotland were to insist on the removal of Trident from Scottish waters soon after independence then it is effectively demanding the unilateral disarmament of the United Kingdom. Now that is something that I find attractive, being a unilateralist. However, I don’t think others would find it attractive. Westminster will certainly not find it attractive and of course the United States of America would find that very worrying indeed and would bring immense pressure on the government of an independent Scotland through diplomacy and any other means it thought appropriate to prevent this happening. 

Andrew Neil

But for some it can’t come a moment too soon. .... Jane Tallents has been campaigning for the removal of Trident from Scotland for 30 years. Like many unilateralists, she hopes that a Yes vote could bring about the end, not just the removal of the nuclear deterrent.  She doesn’t just want it gone from Faslane.

Jane Tallents

Any part of England or Wales that was being asked to host it is going to start thinking, well wait a minute, if the Scots don’t want it, why on earth should we have it here. The vast majority of people that I know that are anti-Trident in England are just cheering us on, they see it the same way that we do, that it is a route to getting rid of nuclear weapons. We want a Yes vote because of this reason. 

Andrew Neil  

The Scottish nationalist position is unequivocal. 

Alex Salmond (at SNP conference) –

Let me give this cast iron guarantee. A Yes vote on September 18th is a vote to remove these Weapons of Mass Destruction from Scotland once and for all. 

Andrew Neil  

Despite the nationalists insisting that removing Trident is non-negotiable, some in Westminster are adamant that a Yes vote would  not lead to the loss of Britain’s nuclear deterrent. 

Jack Straw 

Would that lead to us abandoning our nuclear deterrent as  a result of force majeure by Scotland? No, of course it wouldn’t. Not for a second. And I’m not going to speculate about how we’d be able to achieve that. But I will just say, without peradventure, that, regardless of decisions made in Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom would maintain its nuclear deterrent and its capability as long as the Westminster parliament determined that. 

Andrew Neil  

So where would it be based then?

Jack Straw  

I’m not an expert on this. I’m not going to speculate about it.

Andrew Neil  

Gus O’Donnell was once Britain’s most senior civil servant. He believes that even if the deterrent was retained, independence might mean it has to take another form. 

Lord O’Donnell 

There are different ways of having a nuclear deterrent. You could go back to exploring those other options, airborne, cruise missiles, all sorts of other possibilities. So you could be a nuclear power, without necessarily being one that’s based around Trident.  

Andrew Neil

So it could reopen the whole debate about Trident?

Lord O’Donnell

I think it might well reopen the debate about Trident. Yes. 

Andrew Neil 

But finding an alternative to Trident would not be easy.

Lord Hennessy  

Scotland could be the trigger to the unilateral nuclear disarmament of the United Kingdom. The United States doesn’t want this. The United States is very, very keen for us to remain a nuclear weapon state. If you are going to cease to be a nuclear weapon state, you need a very long debate and it needs to be UK-wide and it needs to be thought through very, very carefully indeed. 

Andrew Neil   

With nowhere else to relocate the deterrent South of the border, certainly not in the short term, if an independent Scotland stuck to its guns it could be the end of Britain as a nuclear power. Not because of a democratic decision taken by the rest of the UK, but as a consequence of the Scots voting for independence. In effect, an enforced unilateral nuclear disarmament. 

 

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