05 July 2012
The US is likely to put "immense pressure" on an independent Scotland not to force the UK's nuclear deterrent out of the country quickly should it separate from the United Kingdom, a committee of MPs has heard.
The Scottish National Party opposes hosting the UK's nuclear deterrent in Scotland and has vowed to remove the system from the country if it succeeds in gaining a "yes" vote in 2014's independence referendum.
The Defence Select Committee, in its first evidence session on the possible implications of Scottish independence, has now been told that the US would also be likely to oppose any moves to quickly remove the deterrent from Scottish soil.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Crawford told the inquiry that "it would be likely that immense pressure would be brought on Scotland from Washington not to pursue that course of action".
A compromise would have to be reached, he said, adding that he could see Trident remaining in Scotland until the next generation of nuclear submarines was introduced.
Malcolm Chalmers, of the Royal United Service Institute, said that Scottish communities overseas were likely to oppose any rejection of nuclear weapons and NATO.
"An independent Scotland will need, like any small state, to have friends. There are large Scottish diasporas around the world, not least in the United States, who will be asking whether this is the sort of Scotland that they support. And they will not understand if an independent Scotland as one of its first acts decides it wants to throw out nuclear weapons and leave NATO. They will ask 'what sort of Scotland is this?'"
While a non-nuclear state might not be problematic in the long-run, any moves to hurry the expulsion of Trident would be questioned and strongly opposed, Chalmers said.
"In the very long term, over decades, the UK might become increasingly uncomfortable about basing its only operational nuclear system in a foreign country and might actually decide of its own volition that it would prefer to base it on its own territory."
While moving the deterrent submarines and nuclear weapons facilities would be difficult and costly, "nothing is impossible", he added.
"It would be a very substantial venture in terms of time and money to try to replicate those facilities elsewhere, particularly in relation to the Coulport facility," he said, "guesstimating" that it would take at least 15 years for the move to take place due to the complexity of the planning and appeals process.
"It would be a very long time before ground was even broken."
Chalmers also said that an independent Scotland would be unlikely to spend the NATO recommendation of 2 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence, would have to "beg and borrow" military hardware, and would be unlikely to be able to patrol its own airspace without assistance.
"This is not going to be a matter of simply inheriting some assets and putting them straight out into the field," said Chalmers. "I imagine in this scenario in an independent Scotland it would be begging and borrowing and leasing assets all over the place."