Nuclear friction. Photo: Flickr/UK Ministry of Defence
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What are the political implications of moving Trident to Wales?

Whispers of our nuclear deterrent relocating from Scotland to Wales could be a clever move by the Tories.

Funny that one of the biggest potential threats to a working UK government is one of the biggest symbols of our national security. Yes, Trident is rearing its ugly periscope again, as whispers around Whitehall suggest it could be relocated from Scotland to Wales.

The Mail is reporting that MoD officials are secretly looking at plans to move our nuclear fleet from the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde to Milford Haven, a natural deep water port in Pembrokeshire.

Labour’s First Minister in Wales, Carwyn Jones, has previously indicated that he would be prepared to see Trident moved to Wales.

Scrapping Trident is a joint “red line” issue for the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens if they are to prop up a government in Westminster. This essentially means that Labour will have a hard time making deals with these smaller parties in the event of a hung parliament unless it is willing to somehow compromise its pro-Trident stance.

Although the MoD insists it has no intention of moving Trident, the prospect of such a strategy is clever politics from the Tories.

First, it weakens the SNP in its campaign for a second independence referendum. It calls Nicola Sturgeon’s bluff. Trident was key in the build-up to last year’s referendum, as the SNP promised an independent Scotland would scrap it, and save money by doing so. In the event of another vote, it would no longer have such a visceral subject in Scotland to use in its campaign if Trident were to be moved. 

Before the referendum last year, there was talk of Trident being moved to England – something the UK government would not discuss publicly, to avoid seeming as if it were making contingency plans for Scottish independence. Now it looks like the Tories are trying to get one step ahead of Sturgeon.

Second, it takes the sting out of the SNP’s potential post-election negotiations if there is the prospect of one of the party’s boldest “red lines” being washed away by the gently lapping Pembrokeshire waters. As James Forsyth points out at the Spectator, although it’s unlikely the SNP would work with the Tories in Westminster, there are opportunities for the latter to tempt the former into some form of agreement.

But such plans would not spell a black and white win for the Tories. Weakening the SNP’s non-negotiable stance on Trident could help the party along in a deal with Labour, a potential “confidence and supply” arrangement that has so far seen a significant obstacle in the parties’ disagreement on nuclear disarmament.

As well as this, the idea of moving Trident to Wales would be a political gift for Plaid Cymru, which would finally have something tangible to rally against and over which to gain traction, in the absence of any SNP-style drive for Welsh independence.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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