TRIDENT – WHAT THE PAPERS DIDN’T SAY
On what was a very busy news day in Scotland, little attention was given to Defence Secretary Liam Fox’s announcement that the Coalition Government would now start spending £3 billion on the programme to replace Trident.
Dr Fox also announced that the cost of the overall programme would be £20 billion to £25 billion, somewhat in excess of the last Labour Government’s estimate.
In addition, experts are to be paid £millions in order to determine whether or not an alternative nuclear deterrent can be found – a demand by the Liberal Democrats.
The announcement was broadly welcomed by shadow defence secretary, East Renfrewshire Labour MP Jim Murphy, but Angus Robertson of the SNP tackled Dr Fox from a more relevant Scottish viewpoint.
Mr Robertson said: “He is well aware that majority opinion in Scotland is opposed to Trident, yet the UK Government are planning to spend billions of pounds of Scottish taxpayers’ money on it. Scotland’s Churches, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and Scottish civic society are also opposed to Trident, but the MOD wants to base these weapons of mass destruction in Scotland while cutting conventional defence.
“Scotland’s parliamentarians have not voted for this. What kind of respect agenda is this from the London Government, who totally ignore Scottish opinion and go ahead anyway? The Secretary of State is making the most eloquent case for Scottish independence.”
Dr Fox replied with a statement that might well come back to haunt him: “It would be hard to make a less eloquent case for Scottish independence!” (Hansard included the exclamation mark, it should be said.)
The lad raised in a council house some 40 miles as the crow flies from Faslane and Coulport has grown up to be a Nationalist-hating Conservative hawk. He continued: “It is important that we recognise that defence was retained in the UK Parliament in the devolution settlement and that decisions about national security are taken by this House of Commons. Given the attitudes of the Scottish National party, the whole of the United Kingdom should be grateful.”
Tory backbenchers did not mutter their usual ‘hear hears’ but instead tore into Dr Fox for even considering alternatives to Trident as a sop to the LibDems. Dr Julian Lewis, Conservative member for New Forest East, compared the Liberal Democrat conference to “a CND revivalist meeting” – how very coalitional.
It can only be presumed that the people who arrange the order of business in the Commons possess a sense of irony, if not sick humour, as the debate immediately prior to Trident was on ‘Nuclear Industry Safety.’
This debate followed the announcement by Energy and Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne that the post-Fukushima review of British nuclear installations’ safety carried out by Dr Mike Weightman had concluded that while earthquakes and tsunamis were unlikely to cause damage, there should be a review of arrangements to deal with other possible causes of disaster such as extreme climate or terrorism.
Angus Robertson again: “Will the Secretary of State acknowledge and respect the fact that planning consent on nuclear issues is devolved, and that under the newly re-elected Scottish National party Government, there will be no new nuclear power stations in Scotland?”
The Minister replied with a single word: “Yes.”
At least someone in the Coalition Government has got the message from the Holyrood elections. What a pity it seems that Mr Huhne might not be in his job for very much longer.