A report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think-tank has cast doubt on Scottish leader Alex Salmond’s 2020 deadline for a ‘nuclear Free Scotland’ and suggests a British enclave in Faslane could save the taxpayer up to £3.5 billion.
The paper, entitled ‘Relocation, Relocation, Relocation’ considers different options for the Rump United Kingdom’s Nuclear Trident submarine deterrent force in a future without Scotland.
A potential Crimean option, so named for the arrangement Russia maintained with Crimea over the strategically crucial Black Sea port of Sevastopol has been little discussed on the public stage, but is becoming a serious consideration in the minds of those seeking to solve the problem.
According to RUSI, the retention of HMNB Clyde and the submarine base at Faslane is not only the cheapest and simplest option, but is practically inevitable. As negotiation over the future of Faslane can’t begin until after the September referendum and is unlikely to take place until after the general election the process of relocation is unlikely to be completed until well into the 2020s. This is at odds with Alex Salmond’s 2020 target, which comes a little over two years after independence in autumn 2017.
With only five weeks to go until Scotland goes to the polls, support for the Union remains high at 46 percent, with only 38 percent intending to vote for secession. Although the ‘yes’ secessionist vote is slowly growing, it may not be enough in time to pip the unionists in time for the September 18th referendum.
The relocation of Britain’s submarine force to Plymouth is the most expensive option by far, which involves extensively developing the existing facilities there and building an entirely new nuclear weapons handling facility in Cornwall at a cost well in excess of £4 billion.
This is riven with potential difficulties; Plymouth is a large English city, and although it is already home to the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine repair facility moving the Trident fleet there permanently may trigger protests. Further, the only other suitable site in the UK for the weapons handling facility is the deep harbour at Falmouth in Cornwall, a popular and picturesque tourist destination.
In reality the UK already has it’s nuclear facilities in the best possible location in the country – Faslane on the Scottish west coast. Other options were considered in the 1960’s but none offer the same advantages of the present site; remoteness and fast access to deep water for the submarines. Modernising the site for the next generation of submarines would save the taxpayer up to £3.5 billion overall.
Alex Salmond the Scottish First Minister and Alistair darling went head to head last week in a Scotland-only televised debate over the question. Snap polls afterwards revealed over half of viewers believed pro-union Darling had won the bout. The BBC announced yesterday they would be hosting a second debate in two weeks, giving the rival politicians another chance to clash over independence in front of the whole country.