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?