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Defence Committee
Written evidence from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament


1. The Government should consider the future of Trident on the basis of real security needs, not in response to its potential eviction from Scotland. A full strategic review of UK possession of nuclear weapons is now essential.

2. It must acknowledge that nowhere in the UK is opposition to Trident stronger than in Scotland.

3. Its position of publicly discounting the likelihood of independence is not defensible, in light of the wider constitutional debate.

4. It should publicly discuss what it would seek to do with Trident in the event of Scottish independence.

5. It should acknowledge the difficulty of replicating the Clyde facilities, particularly Coulport, elsewhere in England or Wales and that it would encounter opposition to any such attempt.

6. It should be prepared to alter its stance in light of the Trident Alternatives Review and a full strategic review and countenance a non-replacement decision ahead of the referendum.

Trident Location—the Wider Context

7. The discussion on the future of the Trident nuclear weapons system has been thrown into sharp relief by its emergence as part of the Scottish independence debate. CND welcomes all opportunities to discuss the future of Trident and the complex issues surrounding the system, including its location, but our over-arching concern remains the inappropriateness of British possession of nuclear weapons, its drain on the public purse and the negative security implications of our continued possession of such weapons of mass destruction, both for Britain and the world as a whole.

8. The British government should be driving forward the debate about the future of Trident based on Britain’s real security needs—as indicated by the National Security Strategy—and on making real progress on its nuclear disarmament commitments. A partial recognition of the need for a reassessment exists in the form of the Trident Alternatives Review. This should be extended to include non-nuclear options and its outcomes be considered in the light of a full strategic review.

9. This process should not be determined by a response to the potential eviction of nuclear weapons from Scotland. Such a potential eviction should of course concentrate the minds of relevant government ministers and their staff, but this situation should trigger the comprehensive review of nuclear weapons possession that has not yet taken place, rather than a casting around for alternative locations which have already been ruled out on various grounds in the past. Leadership on nuclear disarmament, on the basis of our genuine security needs, is what is required from government today.

Trident in the Scottish Referendum Debate

10. Trident is certain to feature strongly in the referendum debate. Opinion polls show maintaining Trident is unpopular throughout the UK, but nowhere is it less popular than in Scotland. As the SNP’s Angus Robertson said in a recent debate, Trident replacement takes place,

“in the face of opposition in Scotland. The majority of MPs from Scotland and the majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament have voted against Trident renewal. The Scottish Government are opposed to Trident, the Scottish Trades Union Congress is opposed to Trident, the Church of Scotland is opposed, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland is opposed, the Episcopal Church of Scotland is opposed, the Muslim Council of Scotland is opposed, and, most important, the public of Scotland are overwhelmingly opposed to the renewal of Trident. A YouGov poll in 2010 showed 67% opposed, as against only 13%. There was majority opposition among the voters of all four mainstream parties in Scotland, including Conservative voters and Liberal Democrat voters. The Westminster Government are aware of the objections but are ploughing on regardless.1

11. The potential removal of Trident and the Vanguard submarines from Scotland will be debated throughout the referendum process. The strength of Scottish opposition to Trident suggests it will be a factor in favour of a “yes to independence vote.

12. However the Government and its representatives at the Ministry of Defence claim,

“The UK is not making plans for Scottish independence and is not making plans to move the nuclear deterrent or other submarines from HM Naval Base Clyde.2

13. The Joint Committee on National Security Strategy recently underlined concern within Parliament at the Government’s stance when it stated its belief that “the possibility that independence might actually happen is being neglected in strategic planning.3

14. This is despite the growth in public discourse on the matter. In addition to the Defence Committee Inquiry, a Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry, the recent report by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, discussion in the Welsh Assembly, and discussion at RUSI, CND’s own report, Trident: Nowhere To Go, published in February added to the discussion.

15. However realistic the possibility of Scottish independence, and it would be unwise to make a judgment two years prior to the referendum, the Government appears to be burying its head in the sand by refusing to countenance it or discuss its ability to maintain Trident without the Scottish naval base.

16. It is therefore not defensible for the Government to publicly state it is not preparing for the possibility it will be asked to remove the submarines from the Clyde following the referendum.

17. It should consider the possible alternatives, and those alternatives should include the option of not replacing but dismantling the existing fleet and weapons. The appropriate forum to consider these alternatives would be a comprehensive strategic review of our possession of nuclear weapons.

Building New Facilities or Holding out on the Clyde

18. In line with the Government’s position that it does not expect the Scottish people to support independence, the Ministry of Defence has stated in Written Answers to Parliamentary Question that, since it is not preparing to move Trident from the Clyde,

“The Department does not therefore hold cost estimates or other information that would relate to such changes.4

19. Since then, at the Scottish Affairs Committee, Nick Harvey gave more ground when stating on the same topic, that,

“It would be a very challenging project, which would take a very long time to complete and would cost a gargantuan sum of money. When the facilities there were upgraded for Astute and the previous upgrade of the nuclear deterrent, the cost of that upgrade in today’s prices was about £3.5 billion. That was upgrading an extant facility. If we were to replicate it somewhere else, that figure would be dwarfed by whatever that would cost. The costs would be absolutely immense.5

20. Adding significantly to the cost of maintaining a submarine-based nuclear weapon system would call into question how such developments would be funded and, as a result, call into question the entire project.

21. It is therefore not surprising that some in Government and the defence industry have sought to claim the UK could maintain Trident on the Clyde after potential Scottish independence.

22. At the Scottish Affairs Committee, Nick Harvey stated, “I would have thought that relocation would be just about the least favoured option that it would be possible to conjecture,6 whilst RUSI’s Malcolm Chalmers in his paper stated the future Government of the UK after Scottish separation would be “almost certain to press for a longer-term foreign basing guarantee.7

23. However, Francis Tusa said at another hearing of the Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry that, “Increasingly, one of the biggest red herrings is that Trident could not be moved from Scotland, 8 and argued the warheads at Coulport could be stored at Aldermaston and Burghfield and transferred by road to the new submarine berths. He has argued, “the number of options for moving the deterrent out of Scotland is huge.

Nowhere to Go

24. In our own report, Trident: Nowhere To Go, CND argued that “relocation is not a serious option for the Ministry of Defence in the event of an independent Scotland ordering the removal of nuclear weapon facilities and vessels from Scotland.

25. Malcolm Chalmers, in his paper for RUSI, has also argued that,

“relocation of these bases would be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement and that it would be “perhaps politically impossible to find a suitable alternative location for the warhead storage facility currently based in Coulport. 9

26. The current location of the UK’s submarine-based nuclear weapon system on the Clyde was made fifty years ago when the Ministry of Defence drew up a list of possible locations for Polaris in Scotland, England and Wales.

27. We believe it would be too difficult to replicate the Clyde facilities at each of those previously considered sites in England or Wales—Devonport, Falmouth, Milford Haven and Portland. Such a base would requires the two key components of the Clyde, one, the site to berth and support the submarines, and second, a depot to store and handle nuclear warheads and missiles. There are particular problems with finding a suitable site for the latter.

28. In 1963 each of these locations were rejected and as Trident was ordered, Frank Cooper, Permanent Secretary at the MoD in 1979, stated that

“while nothing is impossible, it is most unlikely that we would ever get agreement to a new ‘greenfield’ site in the UK’ for a nuclear submarine base.

29. Both Devonport and Falmouth would require the abandonment of villages to develop an armaments depot and in both cases major concerns would remain about its proximity to residential areas and the political difficulty of securing local support, should a location that meets safety requirements be found.

30. Siting Polaris at Milford Haven would have resulted in the closure of one oil refinery in 1963. The MoD concluded that Polaris and the refinery were incompatible, on safety grounds. Introducing Trident in this estuary today would end three major petrochemical facilities and cut off one of Britain’s main sources of gas. The grounds for dismissing Milford Haven, as with all the other sites, are even stronger today than they were fifty years ago.

31. The existing Portland naval base in 1963 was ruled out because of the lack of a suitable site for a nuclear armaments depot in the vicinity. The base has since closed.

32. The difficulty of developing a new armaments depot, such as that at Coulport, is often cited as the most difficult question the government would have to face.

Recent Discussions Have Demonstrated Opposition in Alternative Sites

33. On the 18 June at Question Time, Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales, stated “I did notice the Scottish government no longer wishes to have the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, it no longer wishes to house the UK naval nuclear fleet. There will be more than a welcome for that fleet and those jobs in Milford Haven.

34. His comments have since been condemned by Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood who called an opposition day debate in the Welsh Assembly, and where Plaid AMs were joined by Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams and Labour AMs Mark Antoniw, Mark Drakeford and Julie Morgan in opposing Trident.10

35. In Falmouth, the local Mayor Geoffrey Evans, has been reported as commenting “It is ridiculous, how could they ever dream of doing that? I cannot see how they would get plans for a nuclear weapons facility through.11

Scrap Trident

36. But whether or not there are alternative locations to the Clyde will be of little concern to the SNP and the Scottish people who wish to see Trident removed from Scotland. It is reckless to believe that, being strongly opposed to the UK’s submarine-based nuclear weapon system and having voted for independence, Scotland will agree to continue hosting such weapons.

37. The Trident Alternatives Review may encourage new thinking on nuclear weapons possession within Government and should be extended to include non-nuclear options. Its findings should be considered together with the findings of a full strategic review of the UK’s nuclear weapons possession.

38. The UK Government should be prepared to remove Trident from Scotland, but it should also not plan to impose it on any other location in the UK.

39. The best contribution the UK Government can make to any debate on the presence of nuclear weapons in Scotland is to announce the scrapping of Trident and the cancellation of its replacement.

July 2012

1 Angus Robertson, House of Commons Debate, 18 June 2012, c611

2 Peter Luff to Alison Seabeck, House of Commons Debate, 13 July 2012, c411W

3 Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, Planning for the next National Security Strategy: comments on the Government response to the Committee’s First Report of Session 2010–12, 11 July 2012, LHL Paper 27, HC 423

4 Peter Luff to Jeremy Corbyn, House of Commons Debate, 30 January 2012, c424W

5 Nick Harvey, Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence to be published as HC 139-iii, Scottish Affairs Committee, 13th June 2012

6 ibid

7 Malcolm Chalmers, “Kingdom’s End?, The RUSI Journal, 157:3, 6-11

8 Francis Tusa, Uncorrected Transcript of Oral Evidence to be published as HC 139-ii, Scottish Affairs Committee, 23rd May 2012

9 Malcolm Chalmers, “Kingdom’s End?, The RUSI Journal, 157:3, 6-11

10 Welsh Assembly, Record of Proceedings, 4 July 2012

11 Falmouth “nuclear store plans revealed, Falmouth Packet, 7 May 2012

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