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The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence - Defence Committee Contents

4  Scotland, the nuclear deterrent and NATO membership

88. The SNP has a long established policy in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Until 2012, the SNP also had a policy that an independent Scotland should not remain as a member of NATO, essentially because it is a nuclear weapons based alliance. However, at its annual conference in October 2012, the SNP agreed a Foreign, Security and Defence policy update which included a commitment to maintain membership of NATO.[75]

89. The Foreign, Security and Defence policy update stated:

    A long-standing national consensus has existed that Scotland should not host nuclear weapons and a sovereign SNP government will negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane which will be replaced by conventional naval forces.

    Security cooperation in our region functions primarily through NATO, which is regarded as the keystone defence organisation by Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the United Kingdom. The SNP wishes Scotland to fulfil its responsibilities to neighbours and allies. On independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations with NATO. An SNP government will maintain NATO membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN-sanctioned operations. In the absence of such an agreement, Scotland will work with NATO as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme like Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland. Scotland will be a full member of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).[76]

90. However, in his evidence to us, Scottish Government Minister Keith Brown MSP conceded that an independent Scotland would need to apply to join NATO rather than inheriting membership. We consider this issue in more detail later in this section of our report.

91. Following the 2012 conference decision, in a BBC interview, First Minister Alex Salmond MSP reiterated his Party's opposition to nuclear weapons:

    If Scotland, by majority, doesn't want nuclear weapons, the SNP proposition is to write that into the constitution of the state. So, that would make the possession of nuclear weapons illegal.[77]

92. In its paper Scotland's Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution, the Scottish Government has proposed that a written constitution should include "a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons being based in Scotland".[78]

Faslane and the nuclear deterrent

93. Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde - commonly known as Faslane - is the Royal Navy's main presence in Scotland. It is home to the core of the Submarine Service, including the nation's nuclear deterrent, and the new generation of Astute Class attack submarines. More than 6,500 civilians and Service personnel are employed on the site at present.[79]

94. In March 2013, we visited Faslane and the Royal Armaments Depot at nearby Coulport where key elements of the UK's Trident missile system are stored, processed and maintained. We were impressed by the extent and sophistication of the facilities and the professionalism of the personnel working there. We were told that the number of people directly employed at the base is projected to rise to around 8,200 by 2022 as the remaining Trafalgar Class submarines transfer from their present base at Devonport and additional Astute Class submarines are brought into service. Faslane will become the UK's Submarine Centre of Specialisation.


95. Professor Malcolm Chalmers told us that it would be a "very substantial venture indeed", in terms of time and money, to replicate elsewhere the facilities at Faslane and particularly those at Coulport. [80]

96. In its response to the Scottish Affairs Committee's report The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Terminating Trident-Days or Decades?, the Government stated that although it was not planning for Scottish independence or to move the strategic nuclear deterrent from HMNB Clyde:

    If the result of the referendum on Scottish independence were to lead to the current situation being challenged, then other options would be considered. Any alternative solution would come at huge cost. It would be an enormous exercise to reproduce the facilities elsewhere. It would cost billions of pounds and take many years. It is impossible to estimate how much it would cost to replicate the infrastructure, which would depend on many factors including timescales and the precise scope of the facilities that might be required.[81]

97. Giving evidence before us, Keith Brown MSP said:

    we have accepted the fact that the Trident nuclear missile system should not be removed ahead of any safe time scale for doing so [...] it is quite possible that it will be in Scotland for some time after we assume responsibility for defence forces, which will be in March 2016 [...][82]

98. In respect of the costs of relocating the deterrent, Mr Brown expressed the view that Scotland had "borne its share of the costs of the current nuclear deterrent, and borne disproportionately the risks attached to that".[83] He said that it would be "ridiculous to expect the Scottish Government and the Scottish people to bear the costs of [Trident] relocation, not least given the fact that it was the starting point of the Scottish Government that we did not want to have the weapons in the first place".[84]

99. By way of contrast, in relation to the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure in the North Sea, the Scottish Government has given a commitment that it would "assume responsibility for meeting all existing and future obligations stemming from the tax relief associated with decommissioning facilities in Scottish waters and will guarantee to underwrite these costs",[85] regardless of whether a contribution from the UK Government could be negotiated.

100. Asked which Government he believed should bear the costs of relocation, the Secretary of State for Defence repeated his view that there would need to be a negotiation, and it would cover a vast range of subjects. He continued:

    If we had to include in that negotiation the dismantling of the facilities at Faslane and Coulport and their reconstruction elsewhere, clearly, the cost of that would be a factor in the overall calculation of the settlement between the parties to that negotiation.[86]

101. In relation to the costs of decommissioning existing UK nuclear submarines, seven of which are stored at Rosyth, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

    Some of the words I have heard from some of our SNP colleagues have suggested that that is our problem; on the contrary, it is a UK problem, and would become a problem that, between us, we would have to work out how to resolve, as well as working out how to meet its enormous cost, in the event of a such a break-up.[87]

102. In an earlier exchange, Keith Brown MSP accepted that this would be "a matter for negotiation in discussions between the two Governments".[88]


103. If a sovereign Scottish Government insisted upon the removal of submarines and warheads from its territory in a short timeframe then the UK's continuous at sea deterrent would cease to operate.

104. The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has argued that there are no viable and practical alternative locations, outside Scotland, for the Trident nuclear force. It argued that the Trident nuclear weapon system could be deactivated within days, removed from Scotland within a period of two years and dismantled completely within four years.[89]

105. Rear Admiral Alabaster told us that "it would be very difficult—in fact, I would almost use the word "inconceivable"—to recreate the facilities necessary to mount the strategic deterrent, without the use of Faslane and Coulport, somewhere else in the UK".[90] He estimated that it would cost many billions to establish an alternative base elsewhere, if such a site could be found.[91]

106. The Secretary of State told us that it would take "in the order of a decade" for safe transition:

    Anything involving nuclear activity invariably has a long time cycle attached to it, because of the, quite properly, very stringent safety measures and the checking and certification procedures involved. The process could not begin until the negotiations across the board had been completed and until the financial arrangements for the very substantial cost of such a move had been finalised.[92]

107. Asked whether the rUK could find an alternative place to host the nuclear deterrent, the Secretary of State replied:

    It would be technically possible to do. If you throw enough money at a problem, you can solve most problems. I am confident that we would be able to solve this problem, but it would cost a significant amount of money.[93]

108. We consider that, in the event of a 'Yes' vote, a safe transition of the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde could not be achieved quickly. Even with political will on both sides, the replication of the facilities at Faslane and, crucially, Coulport, at another site in the UK would take several years and many billions of pounds to deliver. Options for basing the deterrent outside the UK, in the USA or France, even in the short term, may prove politically impossible or equally costly.

109. The implications of Scottish independence for the rUK's ability to provide the necessary security for the nuclear deterrent during any transition period will need very detailed and early consideration.

110. If the nuclear deterrent were moved from the Clyde the impact on levels of employment at Faslane and Coulport would be significant. Evidence we have received suggests that instead of an increase in people directly employed at the base to around 8,200 by 2022, as projected by the MoD, a conventional naval base and Joint Force Headquarters would employ considerably fewer people than the current workforce of 6,500.

NATO membership


111. Since it was founded in 1949, NATO's membership has grown from 12 to 28 countries. Most recently, Albania and Croatia became members when the accession process was completed on 1 April 2009.[94] NATO membership is open to "any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area" .[95]

112. The Membership Action Plan (MAP) is a NATO programme of advice, assistance and practical support tailored to the individual needs of countries wishing to join the Alliance. Participation in the MAP does not prejudge any decision by the Alliance on future membership. Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been participants in the MAP process since 2009 and 2010 respectively. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia commenced its MAP in 1999 but its full NATO membership has been blocked by Greece due to issues with its constitutional name.[96]


113. In its report on foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country, the Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that while the rUK would continue to be a member of NATO, "Scotland could expect to face robust negotiations and would not necessarily be in a position unilaterally to shape its membership terms in line with its domestic political commitments on nuclear weapons".[97]

114. Following discussions at a Ditchley Foundation conference in June 2013, on The future of Scotland: international implications and comparisons, Stuart Crawford reported that the view of the conference was that Scottish membership of NATO "was not inevitable". Before supporting Scotland's accession, prominent NATO members would "seek reassurance on the future of Trident, they would need to know that Scotland would not deny access to its ports to nuclear powered (and possibly nuclear armed) ships, and they would want to know where Scotland stood on the future of NATO as a global or European organisation"[98].

115. Stuart Crawford also reported that other NATO members "would expect Scotland to spend at least two per cent of its GDP on defence", well above the figure presently proposed by the SNP. He concluded:

    In layman's terms, should an independent Scotland continue to espouse the anti nuclear agenda then its accession to NATO would most likely be blocked or delayed.[99]

116. The Director's note of the Ditchley Foundation conference reflected more of the discussion regarding NATO membership. Participants considered that if other Member States were happy to see Scotland join, this could happen in theory relatively quickly and easily. The note continued:

    There was no reason in principle why other members would not want Scotland to join, particularly if the rest of the UK also wanted her to do so. Scotland's geographical location meant that her northern waters were important strategically.

    However the nuclear issue was a major complicating factor. While the question of the future basing of the current UK nuclear deterrent was essentially a matter between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, the underlying and deep-rooted anti-nuclear policy of the current Scottish Government and the SNP in general might pose wider problems. [100]

117. Key questions posed by conference participants included:

    Would Scotland accept the protection of the NATO nuclear umbrella, and could she be a full member of NATO if she did not? Would she be ready to accept the full collective defence implications of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty? Would she accept the Strategic Concept of NATO, about which there could not be negotiation? What assets would she be prepared to put at NATO's disposal? Would an independent Scotland want to insist that no ships which were or could be carrying nuclear weapons would be allowed in her waters - or even nuclear-powered ships? Either could pose major problems for the US in particular, with its policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships. The question mark which Scottish attitudes to Trident could place over the current UK deterrent could be seen as weakening NATO, which might again call into question Scotland's commitment to NATO in some eyes. There could also be questions about how far a neutrality-inclined Scotland would help NATO play the global role which some saw as its future.[101]

118. When he appeared before us, Keith Brown MSP acknowledged that Scotland would need to apply to join NATO. He said:

    There are fairly substantial processes to go through, but it has been done relatively quickly in the past [...] I do not want to give the impression that this is an automatic assumption. We do not assume that. We would go through the processes. In the past it has taken between about 18 and 24 months. Bear in mind, as I have said, that we would immediately start work on many of these things, in the event of a yes vote for independence.[102]

We noted that this differed from the assertion in the SNP policy update that Scotland would "inherit its treaty obligations with NATO" and that an SNP Government would "maintain" NATO membership subject to "an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons".[103] We further noted that this was in contrast to the Scottish Government's stance on EU membership which is that Scotland would continue to be a member of the European Union during the period between a yes vote and independence and that as a result, there would be no break in Scotland's membership of the EU.[104]

119. Asked about the likely attitude of the rUK Government to an application to join NATO from a newly independent Scotland, the Secretary of State for Defence replied:

    We would want to look at the defence posture being proposed by the Scottish Government; we would want to look at how much resource they were prepared to commit to the defence of Scotland and a Scottish contribution to NATO; and we would want to look at their attitude to sharing the burden of common defence platforms, including the UK nuclear deterrent, which is 100% declared to NATO as a resource to protect the NATO alliance. We would then reach a decision as to whether having Scotland inside NATO would enhance the UK's defence or detract from it.[105]

120. According to media reports, talks between Scottish Government officials and NATO's Assistant Secretary General were held in Brussels in early July 2013, facilitated by the UK's Joint Delegation to NATO. Scottish officials argued that in the event of independence, since Scotland was already within the alliance as part of the UK, it should not have to start from scratch in securing membership. However, Scottish officials were told that no new member would be allowed to join NATO if that state had unresolved military or territorial disputes with other countries.[106]

121. The change to SNP policy regarding NATO membership in October 2012 was a significant development in the debate on the defence implications of possible Scottish independence. We welcome the subsequent acknowledgement by the Scottish Government that an independent Scotland would need to apply to join NATO rather than inheriting membership. We note the contrast between the Scottish Government's position on this and its position on membership of the European Union. Scottish Ministers will need to make clear their rationale for this difference, and, if they wish the Scottish people to give it credence, should consider making publicly available the legal advice on which it is based.

122. The process of securing NATO membership is complex and time-consuming and the response to an application from an independent Scotland would be influenced by the Scottish Government's stance on nuclear weapons. NATO is a nuclear alliance and we believe that any action likely to disrupt the operation of the UK's strategic deterrent would undoubtedly influence NATO Member countries' attitudes towards an application from Scotland.

123. We note the reported recent engagement between NATO and Scottish Government officials, facilitated by the UK Joint Delegation to NATO. We welcome this co-operation between the two Governments and invite the UK Government to provide us with an update on the outcome of these and any subsequent discussions. Nonetheless, we conclude that the Scottish Government's view that NATO membership could be negotiated in a period of 18 to 24 months is optimistic unless issues surrounding the nuclear deterrent were resolved through negotiation.

75   "SNP members vote to ditch the party's anti-Nato policy", www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-19993694 Back

76   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

77   "Nuclear weapons 'outlawed' in an independent Scotland, says Salmond", www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-20020839  Back

78   The Scottish Government, Scotland's Future: from the Referendum to Independence and a Written Constitution, www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0041/00413757.pdf Back

79   Royal Navy, www.royalnavy.mod.uk/The-Fleet/Naval-Bases/Clyde  Back

80   Q 65 Back

81   Scottish Affairs Committee. First Special Report of Session 2012-13, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: Terminating Trident-Days or Decades? Government Response to the Committee's Fourth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 861 Back

82   Q 274 Back

83   Q 335 Back

84   Q 335 Back

85   The Scottish Government, Maximising the Return from Oil and Gas in an Independent Scotland, para 5.61, www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/07/5746/0  Back

86   Q 398 Back

87   Q 398 Back

88   Q 343 Back

89   Ev w11 Back

90   Q 119 Back

91   Q 121 Back

92   Q 395 Back

93   Q 397 Back

94   NATO enlargement,www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-2B0E24DA-59964641/natolive/topics_49212.htm  Back

95   NATO, www.nato.int/nato-welcome/index.html  Back

96   NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP), www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_37356.htm  Back

97   Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2012-13, Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country, HC 643, para 38 Back

98   Options for Scotland, Scotland: Nay or Yea to NATO? Available at: http://www.optionsforscotland.com/2013/06/25/nay-or-yay-to-nato/ Back

99   Ibid. Back

100   Ditchley Foundation. The future of Scotland: international implications and comparisons - A Note by the Director. www.ditchley.co.uk  Back

101   Ditchley Foundation. The future of Scotland: international implications and comparisons - A Note by the Director.www.ditchley.co.uk  Back

102   Q 350 Back

103   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

104   Foreign Affairs Committee. Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country, Sixth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 641. Para 42. Back

105   Q 402 Back

106   "Nato chiefs deal blow to SNP's anti-nuclear strategy", The Guardian, 14 August 2013 Back

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