By a Newsnet reporter
Following publication last week by the Ministry of Defence published details of how it will equip the Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force over the next 10 years, Liberal Democrats and Labour have been challenged to clarify their positions on Trident and its replacement.
The report shows that £35.8 billion has been allocated to submarines and the nuclear deterrent, including a total of 7 Astute Class attack submarines, and developing a replacement for Vanguard Class ballistic missile submarines, despite the Trident replacement contract having been placed under review until after the 2015 general election.
The call for clarification of the parties’ positions on the future of Trident, which has been led by SNP Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP, follows a series of contradictory and misleading statements by senior members of both parties.
In an interview with the Guardian last week, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander made reference to the on-going review of Trident and claimed there is no need to replace the current system with a “like-for-like” fleet of nuclear submarines as the Treasury could not meet the costs.
Alexander said MPs from all parties and senior officers in the military should accept there are “credible and compelling alternatives” to continuous at-sea deterrence, and he warned that the Treasury did not have “a magic pot of money” to pay for a new generation of Successor submarines.
Alexander’s stance was reinforced by former leader of the Scottish Lib Dems Tavish Scott, who wrote in the Scotsman in January:
“Last year, the UK spent £62.7 billion on the military – the fourth highest across the globe. We are not the fourth biggest country or have the fourth largest economy. Time for realism among politicians and the Ministry
However, Alexander’s position has been contradicted by his own party colleagues, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Alan Reid MP, who have supported Trident at Faslane.
Moore welcomed the current level of jobs at Faslane, which are based on the deployment of nuclear submarines:
“Faslane is currently Scotland’s largest single site employer, with a combined workforce of over 6,000 people, and this is set to bring further economic benefits to the local area and beyond. Today’s arrival is a firm signal of our clear commitment to a strong defence footprint in Scotland.”
His colleague Alan Reid, Lib Dem MP for Argyll and Bute has also welcomed nuclear investment in the Scottish Affairs Committee claiming it to be “necessary for the construction of the last of the Astute-class submarines, all of which will be based at Faslane”
Alexander was further undermined by the MoD Defence Equipment plan which commits the UK government to spending £35.8 billion on the Trident Successor and Astute submarines despite the review process still being underway.
Meanwhile, former Labour Defence Secretary Des Browne has widened splits within the Labour party by calling for a change in weapon type or platform.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph this week he said:
“Given the range of challenges before us and the limited resources at our disposal, if the Government’s Trident Alternatives Review reveals an effective alternative to like-for-like renewal of Trident, such as stepping down from continuous at-sea deterrence and the building of fewer submarines, we should pursue it.”
As recently as last October, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie claimed removing Trident from HM Naval Base Clyde would lead to massive job losses in Scotland. Baillie, the Labour MSP for Dumbarton, said:
“To remove nuclear weapons from HM Naval Base Clyde would wipe out the 11,000 jobs that are dependent on the base.”
Other colleagues, including Labour MP Ian Davidson, have claimed that over 19,000 jobs are reliant on the base.
But figures released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under freedom of information law reveal that only 520 civilian jobs at Faslane and Coulport near Helensburgh are directly dependent on Trident.
This discrepancy led to numerous complaints that Labour were deliberately exaggerating the scale of potential job losses, whilst ignoring the employment implications of the Scottish government’s plans to expand the conventional footprint at Faslane by making it the headquarters of the Scottish Defence Force.
Angus Robertson MP said:
“Labour and the Liberal Democrats have proven themselves to be in total disarray over Trident, and are misleading Scots in the process.
“Danny Alexander’s comments on his own review show just how disjointed the LibDems are. While Mr Alexander is claiming there is no need to replace Trident, simultaneously an MoD spending plan is released by his government that commits to billions of pounds being spent on these weapons of mass destruction, and Michael Moore and Alan Reid are welcoming basing these weapons at Faslane.
“Moore and Reid were clearly too busy scaremongering to tell their colleague they have pre-empted the publication of their Trident Review. Danny Alexander wants a different type of nuclear weapons system but Michael Moore is telling Scots that the full Trident system is a good thing. The Liberal Democrats need to get their act together.
“Labour are scaremongering about Trident being removed from the Clyde, while their own former Defence Secretary is calling for a change.
“Opposition in Scotland to Trident is clear, with the Liberal Democrats and Labour both in support of multilateral disarmament, yet only the SNP is committed to banishing nuclear weapons from our shores in favour of Faslane becoming a successful, conventional naval base.
“Only a Yes vote in 2014 will rid Trident from our shores and stop billions of taxpayers’ pounds being wasted on unusable and immoral weapons of mass destruction.”