What would Scottish independence mean for Trident?

The UK would struggle to find a new home for its nuclear weapons system.

Among other things, an independent Scotland would require the UK government to find a new home for its Trident nuclear weapons system. It's an issue that has received surprisingly little attention this week, with most commentators focusing on the economic implications of independence, but it is one of the thorniest. Almost all of the UK's nuclear submarines are stationed at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde, 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).

Initial work has already begun on the replacement of Trident (although the final decision won't be taken until 2017) but finding a new site for the submarines and warheads would dramatically complicate the process. As Professor William Walker wrote in the Scotland on Sunday:

Although a harbour might be adapted to function like Faslane, establishing another Coulport - at a location that would meet stringent safety and logistic requirements - would be extremely difficult. Furthermore, transfer south would require huge investments to replace infrastructure built in Scotland over decades.

The only viable alternative base to Faslane is Devonport in Plymouth, where three Trafalgar-class nuclear submarines are currently stationed (they are in the process of being moved to Faslane). But this still leaves the government without a new site for its missiles and warheads.

In practice, the UK government would likely attempt to persuade Scotland to retain Trident in exchange for concessions on other issues such as the national debt, sterling and North Sea Oil. But with a significant body of political and military opinion now convinced that the costs of Trident outweigh the benefits, the case for UK nuclear disarmament would be all the stronger were Scotland to go it alone.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Lib Dems' troubled start doesn't bode well for them

Rows over homosexuality and anti-Semitism are obscuring the party's anti-Brexit stance.

Tim Farron has broken his silence on the question of whether or not gay sex is a sin. (He doesn't.)

Frankly, this isn't the start to the general election campaign that the Liberal Democrats would have wanted. Time that they hoped would be spent talking about how their man was the only one standing up to Brexit has instead been devoted to what Farron thinks about homosexuality.

Now another row may be opening up, this time about anti-Semitism in the Liberal Democrats after David Ward, the controversial former MP who among other things once wrote that "the Jews" were "within a few years of liberation from the death camps...inflicting atrocities on Palestinians" has been re-selected as their candidate in Bradford East. That action, for many, makes a mockery of Farron's promise that his party would be a "warm home" for the community.

Politically, my hunch is that people will largely vote for the Liberal Democrats at this election because of who they're not: a Conservative party that has moved to the right on social issues and is gleefully implementing Brexit, a riven Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, etc. But both rows have hobbled Farron's dream that his party would use this election.

More importantly, they've revealed something about the Liberal Democrats and their ability to cope under fire. There's a fierce debate ongoing about whether or not what Farron's beliefs should matter at all. However you come down on that subject, it's been well-known within the Liberal Democrats that there were questions around not only Farron's beliefs but his habit of going missing for votes concerning homosexuality and abortion. It was even an issue, albeit one not covered overmuch by the press, in the 2015 Liberal Democrat leadership election. The leadership really ought to have worked out a line that would hold long ago, just as David Cameron did in opposition over drugs. (Readers with long memories will remember that Cameron had a much more liberal outlook on drugs policy as an MP than he did after he became Conservative leader.)

It's still my expectation that the Liberal Democrats will have a very good set of local elections. At that point, expect the full force of the Conservative machine and their allies in the press to turn its fire on Farron and his party. We've had an early stress test of the Liberal Democrats' strength under fire. It doesn't bode well for what's to come.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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