The removal of Britain’s nuclear arsenal from Scotland if the country splits from the rest of the U.K. would be the focus of a “long and protracted negotiation,” Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.
The government in London, which has kept its nuclear deterrent at the Faslane submarine base in western Scotland for more than four decades, might be faced with having to remove the missiles from what would be a foreign country. The Scottish National Party, which is campaigning for independence ahead of a Sept. 18 referendum, opposes nuclear weapons.
SNP leader Alex Salmond “wants to dictate the timescales for removing our nuclear deterrent within the first term of parliament following independence,” Hammond said in Glasgow today, according to excerpts of his speech released by his office. “If they insist that it has to go, there would have to be complex talks about the costs and timescales involved. Any notion that it would be quick and easy is just plain wrong.”
While opinion polls show more Scots want to keep the status quo than create Europe’s newest sovereign state, enough are undecided to make the outcome uncertain. Bookmakers have slashed the odds on a “yes” vote in recent months as momentum shifted toward the independence campaign, with William Hill Plc predicting last week it might be a “photo finish.”
Scottish First Minister Salmond’s administration in Edinburgh opposes having what he calls weapons of mass destruction in Scotland, though it plans to retain the pound as the currency and the monarchy.
Seeking to convince voters in Scotland to remain in the U.K., Hammond said that the economic argument for independence “rests upon trying to dictate to the rest of the U.K. that Scotland could keep the pound, when the U.K. government has already made it absolutely clear: it’s not an item up for negotiation.”
Salmond has called that position “bluff and bluster” and said at the SNP party conference in Aberdeen last weekend that the “more the people of Scotland hear the case for no, the more likely they are to vote yes.”
SNP defense spokesman Angus Robertson today blamed the U.K. government in Westminster for underspending in Scotland and the reduction in military personnel in the country. Instead of nuclear weapons, Scotland needs naval vessels and marine defense, he said in a statement e-mailed by his party.
“Instead of another flying visit and lecture to Scotland, Philip Hammond should be prepared to debate independence with the Yes campaign but he clearly doesn’t have enough confidence in his case,” Robertson said.
Carving up the U.K. would be detrimental to the Royal Navy, making it less efficient and jeopardizing its international standing, according to First Sea Lord George Zambellas, who is chief of Britain’s maritime defense. “The two components would not add up to the sum of the whole,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp.
The comments by Hammond on nuclear weapons are at odds with those of Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the only lawmaker in Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party to represent a Scottish district.
Mundell told Scotland’s Herald newspaper April 11 that there is “no deal to be done” over Trident and the program would be expelled from Scotland in the event of independence.