Submarine base will surface as issue if Scotland votes Yes
Scottish National Party insists missiles and submarines would have to go
The Royal Navy’s Trident-class nuclear submarine Vanguard: moving the UK’s nuclear deterrent out of an independent Scotland is not impossible and would probably cost far less than the tens of billions of pounds previously predicted, experts have suggested. Photograph: PA Wire
Brightly coloured graffiti mark the caravans at the Faslane peace camp, which sits across the road from the Royal Navy’s Clyde naval base, the home of the UK’s nuclear missile submarine fleet.
The future of the base – and the heavily guarded Coulport missile storage depot 10 miles away – dominates much of the debate in Scotland’s independence referendum campaign.
The Scottish National Party, led by Alex Salmond, insists the submarines and missiles will be told to leave if Scots vote Yes to independence on September 18th.
The Faslane peace camp has existed for 32 years. It is “the world’s oldest”, says Collette McCaffrey, who lives in the camp with her children.
It has been argued for decades that the UK’s nuclear deterrent cannot be moved from Faslane and Coulport because of the expense and because nowhere else in Britain could, or would, want to take it.
Last week, the Royal United Services Institute, a British defence and security think tank, suggested, however, this might not be the case: the transfer, it suggested, could be managed for £3.5 billion (€4.38 billion).
Though a huge sum, it is trifling in the context of nuclear missiles – the planned replacement for Trident and the submarines would cost £100 billion and more if it is approved.
The submarines could go to Plymouth, while the warheads – which have to be stored separately – could be based outside Devonport, the institute argued.
However, it could not happen by 2020 – a deadline chosen by Salmond that would, if kept, let the SNP fight the next Holyrood election but one as the party that “got rid of Trident”. Instead, the Royal United Services Institute argued, an orderly transfer could happen by 2028, which would, coincidentally, chime with the arrival of the first of the replacement missiles and submarines.
Besides its deterrence value to the UK, supporters of Trident argue that Faslane is a major boon to the local economy, supporting thousands of jobs. Local Labour member of the Holyrood parliament Jackie Baillie puts the jobs in the region at 11,000 and says the SNP’s 1,800 is “out of touch”.
Under the SNP’s proposals, Faslane would become the Joint Force Headquarters for the new, 15,000-strong Scottish Defence Forces, which would have Tornado fighter-bomber jets and up-to-date frigates.
Local Yes Scotland campaigner Graeme McCormick, who ran for the SNP against Baillie in 2007, points to the fortunes of Helensburgh, the nearest town to the nuclear base. Helensburgh was once the favourite location of Glasgow’s wealthy. Today, its high street has a barren feel, it is full of charity shops and its Imperial hotel has closed. “Over 3,000 serving personnel are at Faslane, but 85 per cent of them don’t live here. They are a part of the community, but they live apart from us,” he says.