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.

Picture: ANDRÉ CARRILHO
Show Hide image

Leader: Boris Johnson, a liar and a charlatan

The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. 

Boris Johnson is a liar, a charlatan and a narcissist. In 1988, when he was a reporter at the Times, he fabricated a quotation from his godfather, an eminent historian, which duly appeared in a news story on the front page. He was sacked. (We might pause here to acknowledge the advantage to a young journalist of having a godfather whose opinions were deemed worthy of appearing in a national newspaper.) Three decades later, his character has not improved.

On 17 September, Mr Johnson wrote a lengthy, hyperbolic article for the Daily Telegraph laying out his “vision” for Brexit – in terms calculated to provoke and undermine the Prime Minister (who was scheduled to give a speech on Brexit in Florence, Italy, as we went to press). Extracts of his “article”, which reads more like a speech, appeared while a terror suspect was on the loose and the country’s threat level was at “critical”, leading the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, to remark: “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service.”

Three other facets of this story are noteworthy. First, the article was published alongside other pieces echoing and praising its conclusions, indicating that the Telegraph is now operating as a subsidiary of the Johnson for PM campaign. Second, Theresa May did not respond by immediately sacking her disloyal Foreign Secretary – a measure of how much the botched election campaign has weakened her authority. Finally, it is remarkable that Mr Johnson’s article repeated the most egregious – and most effective – lie of the EU referendum campaign. “Once we have settled our accounts, we will take back control of roughly £350m per week,” the Foreign Secretary claimed. “It would be a fine thing, as many of us have pointed out, if a lot of that money went on the NHS.”

This was the promise of Brexit laid out by the official Vote Leave team: we send £350m to Brussels, and after leaving the EU, that money can be spent on public services. Yet the £350m figure includes the rebate secured by Margaret Thatcher – so just under a third of the sum never leaves the country. Also, any plausible deal will involve paying significant amounts to the EU budget in return for continued participation in science and security agreements. To continue to invoke this figure is shameless. That is not a partisan sentiment: the head of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir David Norgrove, denounced Mr Johnson’s “clear misuse of official statistics”.

In the days that followed, the chief strategist of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings – who, as Simon Heffer writes in this week's New Statesman, is widely suspected of involvement in Mr Johnson’s article – added his voice. Brexit was a “shambles” so far, he claimed, because of the ineptitude of the civil service and the government’s decision to invoke Article 50 before outlining its own detailed demands.

There is a fine Yiddish word to describe this – chutzpah. Mr Johnson, like all the other senior members of Vote Leave in parliament, voted to trigger Article 50 in March. If he and his allies had concerns about this process, the time to speak up was then.

It has been clear for some time that Mr Johnson has no ideological attachment to Brexit. (During the referendum campaign, he wrote articles arguing both the Leave and Remain case, before deciding which one to publish – in the Telegraph, naturally.) However, every day brings fresh evidence that he and his allies are not interested in the tough, detailed negotiations required for such an epic undertaking. They will brush aside any concerns about our readiness for such a huge challenge by insisting that Brexit would be a success if only they were in charge of it.

This is unlikely. Constant reports emerge of how lightly Mr Johnson treats his current role. At a summit aiming to tackle the grotesque humanitarian crisis in Yemen, he is said to have astounded diplomats by joking: “With friends like these, who needs Yemenis?” The Foreign Secretary demeans a great office of state with his carelessness and posturing. By extension, he demeans our politics. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left