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Independence 'could leave British Isles with no nuclear base for 20 years'

A committee of Westminster MPs says the future of the Trident submarines needs to be decided before 2014.

HMS Vanguard Royal Navy Trident missile submarine quality image
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Independence could leave the British Isles without a nuclear deterrent for 20 years if the SNP gets its way on banning nuclear submarines from Scottish waters, Westminster MPs have cautioned.

In a report on the consequences for Trident, the Scottish Affairs Committee said voters needed to be made aware of the effect of a "yes" vote in the 2014 referendum on the UK's nuclear deterrent.

Committee members said that nuclear warheads could be safely removed from Scottish waters within two years, but it would take upwards of 20 years to build a replacement facility elsewhere.

The SNP has committed itself to negotiating the "speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane" if the country votes for independence.

The committee said the UK's alternatives were to store Trident in French or American waters or negotiate an interim deal with the Scottish government to lease the Clyde base until a new facility was ready.

Former UK armed forces minister Nick Harvey said the UK had no contingency plan to relocate Trident from Faslane.

He told the committee: "The UK Government are not making plans for independence, as I explained, and hence we are not making plans to move the nuclear deterrent or indeed the submarines from HM Naval Base Clyde."

He added that rehousing would cost a "gargantuan amount of money" and the sheer cost would have "an implication" for the rest of the independence negotiations.

Professor Malcolm Chambers, research director of UK defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute, told the committee the Trident submarines were likely to become a key bargaining chip if the two governments entered talks.

"If a Scottish Government were to accept that for a significant period of time, perhaps indefinitely but certainly a long period of time, Trident would have to remain because there simply is not anywhere else to put it, that in itself would be a significant bargaining card for Scotland," he said.

"Scotland could say, 'We’ve given you this, but in return we want a reasonable negotiation that leaves Scotland with a defence force that is small but does the job, and a Scotland in NATO that therefore does not have to rely entirely on itself for its own security.'"

Labour MP Ian Davidson, the committee's chairman, said: "With all these variables flowing from the apparent commitment of the Scottish government to the ‘speediest safe’ removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland, it is clear that the Scottish people must know exactly what is involved before any vote is put to them.

"The full details of how and when Trident would be removed from Scotland and the full consequences of that plan must be worked out before any referendum is held."

SNP MSP Bill Kidd said the report enhanced the case for independence.

He said: "The vast majority of MSPs, as well as the churches, trade unions and civic society across the nation, totally oppose Trident nuclear weapons being based in Scotland.

"A key advantage of independence is that it is the only constitutional option which gives Scotland the powers to have Trident removed from Scottish waters. And the SNP also propose a specific ban on basing nuclear weapons in Scotland in the written constitution of an independent Scotland."

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