The U.K. government highlighted possible job losses for more than 8,000 workers in Scotland if the vote on Scottish independence leads to the closing of the shipyard that services Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.
The government published its response today to a report last October from lawmakers on the U.K. House of Commons cross-party Scottish Affairs Committee that suggested that Britain would effectively have unilateral nuclear disarmament for 20 years should Scotland become independent.
The British submarine-based nuclear arsenal is based in the Firth of Clyde in the west of Scotland, whose nationalist government is opposed to the Trident weapons system. A referendum on Scottish independence is due to be held in late 2014, and separation from the rest of the U.K. is opposed by the Britain’s three largest political parties.
The Clyde naval base “is the largest employment site in Scotland, with around 6,700 military and civilian jobs, and this is projected to increase to around 8,200 by 2022,” the government said in its response, published in London today. “It is for the Scottish government to explain how this quality and quantity of employment in the region would be matched if the enterprise had to be relocated.”
The U.K. government is seeking to emphasize problems associated with the Scottish National Party’s bid for independence in the hope this will sway Scottish voters concerned about the potential impact on jobs, their currency and national defense.
The Clyde base underwent a “significant investment program” to prepare it for the introduction of the Vanguard-class submarines that carry the warheads and Trident missile system, the British government said. That cost about 3.5 billion pounds ($5.5 billion) in today’s prices, and “built upon decades of investment in the base infrastructure and associated housing.” Any replication of facilities “would cost at least that much and probably more,” the government said.
Replying today to the government’s response, the Scottish Affairs Committee said it accepts that it is up to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s SNP to make the case for change. Even so, the lawmakers also said that by refusing to “pre-negotiate the consequences of Scottish independence,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government is denying information to voters.
The government called on the SNP to clarify whether it proposes to have Trident removed within days or years of independence, how it intends to compensate for the loss of existing jobs and how it believes any costs of relocation and cleaning up would be shared if the base were shut down.
“One of the biggest benefits of an independent Scotland will be the ability to remove Trident from the Clyde,” the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, Angus Robertson, said in an e-mail. “Scottish public opinion and a majority of the members of Scotland’s Parliament are strongly opposed to nuclear weapons being based in Scotland and only a ‘yes’ vote in 2014 can guarantee Trident’s removal.”
Robertson pointed to a statement by Defense Equipment Minister Philip Dunne on Dec. 11 that there is “capacity” at a base in Devonport, southwest England “for further nuclear-powered submarines.”
The SNP reversed its long-standing opposition to membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization last year on condition that all nuclear weapons currently stationed on Scottish soil are removed.
An Ipsos Mori opinion poll published in the London-based Times newspaper Oct. 18 showed the proportion of Scottish voters wanting to remain in the U.K. increased to 58 percent, while backing for independence fell to 30 percent of respondents. The 28 percentage-point gap compared with 20 points in June.