Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scottish independence: Dilemma over future of Faslane

The Falsane nuclear submarine base on the Clyde could remain under UK control in an independent Scotland, according to a senior defence minister.

Armed forces minister Nick Harvey said the future of Trident would be the biggest issue in negotiations that would follow a vote for Scottish separation.

Mr Harvey told MPs at the Commons Scottish affairs committee: “I would have thought that relocation would be about the least favourite option possible.”

With the SNP set on removing “weapons of mass destruction” from Scottish territory, the Liberal Democrat minister warned the “costs of moving the base would be absolutely immense”.

His Tory colleague, Peter Luff, said relocation would be “a seismic shock” to the UK budget.

But the suggestion Faslane could remain part of the UK was last night dismissed by the SNP, which wants to turn it into a conventional naval base.

Mr Harvey said the most recent upgrade of Faslane was £3.5 billion “in today’s money” but added that this figure would be “dwarfed” by relocation costs.

It was also suggested that removing Trident could take as long as 20 years.

Under questioning from Tory MP David Mowatt, Mr Harvey raised the prospect that the base could remain UK territory. The move would create a military enclave north of the Border, comparable with US-controlled Guantanamo Bay in the Caribbean.

Another parallel is the Baltic port of Kaliningrad, which remained Russian after Lithuania broke away from the old Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Mr Mowatt asked what terms the UK government would insist on if the SNP reversed its policy on Trident and permitted UK submarines to remain on the Clyde.

Mr Harvey said: “I think the critical one would be complete freedom of action, complete control and complete sovereignty over the facility.”

However, both ministers said there were currently no contingency plans being drawn up for Faslane or defence if Scotland votes for independence, because they do not envisage the scenario happening.

They said the Ministry of Defence needed to hear from the SNP about its plans, but there had been no discussions with the Scottish Government.

They also said the MoD didnot have the resources to look at all the options.

On who would meet the cost of dismantling Faslane, Mr Harvey said a “huge negotiation” would be required.

He added: “If the residual UK taxpayer had to pick up that bill, their ability to pick up any other bills would be proportionately diminished.”

Labour MP Iain McKenzie suggested decommissioning would be included in negotiations after a vote for independence, alongside the division of the national debt.

“A compromise would be made as to who pays for what so both sets of taxpayers would end up paying,” he said.

Mr Harvey replied: “That sounds to me like a sensible characterisation of what I think will probably happen.”

But last night the SNP said Faslane would be Scotland’s conventional naval base, with warships, post-independence.

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “Faslane has a tremendous future as a conventional naval base in Scotland after independence.

“For decades arrogant Westminster politicians have foisted nuclear submarines on Scotland,” he added.

“There is no reason to decommission Faslane; it will change its use to something altogether more constructive.”

He said there was a lack of conventional capability in Scotland, which he described as a “total disgrace”.

He said: “The advantage of making better decisions in Scotland is that we can prioritise a non-nuclear defence posture and protect jobs in the conventional military.

“This stands in stark contrast to the UK government, which has been running down conventional defence in Scotland.

“Majority Scottish opinion, our churches, the STUC and civic society all oppose Trident – and the Scottish Parliament has voted against its replacement – yet the UK government wants to use Scottish taxpayers’ money to pay for these weapons of mass destruction, while cutting conventional defence.”

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