By Martin Kelly
The SNP has welcomed what it claims is a “U-turn” in UK government policy regarding a contingency plan for nuclear weapons in the event of a Yes vote in the independence referendum.
The nationalists were responding to a statement from Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in which the UK minister confirmed that major future contingencies were being planned by the MoD.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday, the Defence Secretary said that negotiations on the relocation of Trident would begin on day one following a Yes vote whilst Scotland was still technically part of the Union.
Mr Hammond also confirmed that the MoD were already planning “for a huge range of contingencies” and refused to rule out Trident from the plans adding: “For reasons of national security we do not comment publicly on plans relating to the nuclear deterrent.”
The Conservative minister was responding to a question relating to a recent House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee report that revealed a newly independent Scotland would not be allowed to house nuclear weapons.
According to the committee report, under international law:
… an independent Scottish state would not be recognised as a state entitled to possess a nuclear deterrent. A forthcoming paper in the Scotland analysis programme will examine the specific issues relating to the UK’s current provision of defence and security for all its citizens, and the potential implications of Scottish independence.
The admission that negotiations on Trident would begin on day one follows criticism of the MoD by the House of Lords after UK Ministers claimed that the MoD was not planning for a Yes vote in relation to Trident.
Tory peer Michael Forsyth said: “They should stop sitting there thinking that it is not going to happen. We have a duty to ensure that the voters know exactly what the consequences of voting for independence would be.”
Recent comments from senior Unionist MPs have suggested that contingencies are being planned for in private.
In a BBC interview earlier this year Sir Menzies Campbell said: “I think it is very sensible indeed not to indulge in the kind of negotiations which have been suggested but I also think that somewhere within the Ministry of Defence there will be a group of people looking at the implications of independence.
“But it will be being done in a very private way and certainly not a way which will be susceptible to publicity.”
The statement from Mr Hammond has been welcomed by SNP Westminster Leader and Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson who claimed it represented a U-turn by the Westminster government.
Mr Robertson said:
“The paper published by the UK Government in February said that nuclear weapons won’t be allowed in an independent Scotland – which is music to the ears of the Scottish people – and the SNP already propose to make weapons of mass destruction illegal in a written constitution. Scotland’s Parliament and people overwhelmingly want to get rid of Trident.
“Mr Hammond’s welcome U-turn on contingency planning to remove Trident from Scotland reflects the fact that the Tory-led Government’s anti-independence case is falling down about their ears – how on earth could they talk about keeping nuclear weapons in a country that isn’t allowed to have them?
“This underlines that the way to get rid of Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland as quickly as possible, and ensure that Faslane has a secure future as Scotland’s naval base, is to vote Yes for independence in September 2014.”
Mr Hammond’s statement comes one day after Labour’s Shadow Defence spokeman Jim Murphy admitted that there was no requirement for NATO members to possess nuclear weapons.
The SNP has pledged to remove Trident from Scottish soil should Scots vote Yes in September 2014. The party has also insisted it wants Scotland to remain a part of NATO, joining the majority of nations who are nuclear free members of the organisation.
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