Could Trident remain in an independent Scotland?

Royal Navy chiefs say the UK would have no choice but to do a deal with Scotland.

Two weeks ago I posed the question of what would happen to Trident if Scotland won independence. Almost all of the UK's nuclear submarines are stationed at the Faslane naval base on the Gare Loch, while the warheads and missiles are stored at Coulpor on Loch Long, but the unilateralist SNP has long pledged to remove them from Scottish waters if it wins control over defence policy (currently a reserved matter for Westminster).

The answer, according to Royal Naval chiefs, is that Trident would have to remain in Scotland for up to ten years. Today's Telegraph reports that chiefs have concluded that "the Scottish naval base currently used to arm submarines with Trident nuclear missiles is the only site suitable for the task and building another could take up to a decade".

As I explained before, while the UK could find an alternative site for the nuclear subs (three are currently stationed at Devonport in Plymouth), there is no obvious location for its missiles and warheads. One defence source tells the Telegraph:

Berths would not be a problem - there are docks on the south coast that could be used without too much fuss. But there simply isn't anywhere else where we can do what we do at Coulport, and without that, there is no deterrent.

Consequently, should Scotland go it alone, ministers would be forced to persuade Alex Salmond's government to let it keep its nuclear weapons on Scottish soil while a new site is constructed, perhaps in exchange for concessions on other issues such as the national debt, sterling and North Sea Oil. The UK would not be the first country to station nuclear weapons on foreign territory. For instance, there are still around 200 US tactical nuclear weapons located in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey. But it would be unprecedented for a nuclear weapons state to base almost its entire force on the territory of a non-nuclear weapon state.

Yet with an increasingly wide range of political opinion recognising that the costs of Trident outweigh the benefits, would it really be unthinkable for the UK to finally abandon this national virility symbol?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.