Westminster threatens annexation of Clyde nuclear bases

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   By a Newsnet reporter

Despite recent promises that the anti-independence campaign would present a positive message, the UK Government is now threatening that if Scotland votes for independence Westminster could annexe the Faslane and Coulport bases on the Clyde.

Although officially the MoD claims that it is not making contingency plans for Scottish independence, it has been reported that Westminster is considering “sovereign base” status for the Trident bases, similar to that of the UK bases in Cyprus.

The SNP have condemned the plan as an “extraordinary attempt to bully Scotland” into voting against independence. 

Speaking to the Guardian newspaper, Nick Harvey MP, former Liberal Democrat armed forces minister, said that said retaining Faslane and Coulport as sovereign UK territory would be the only way to ensure that Westminster kept its nuclear arsenal after Scottish independence. 

The North Devon MP said:

“If the Scots were to insist on us leaving it would sour the relationship on the broader canvas .  I think the most practical and likely outcome would be a Cyprus-type arrangement.

“No doubt they [the Scottish government] would extract a financial price for that. But at the point the UK and Scottish government sit across the table looking at eachother the UK government will only have a certain amount of money at its disposal. If the Scots demand a high price for satisfaction on the nuclear front there would be that much less money in the UK government’s pocket for all the other items which will be on the agenda.”

According to the Guardian newspaper, the MoD is examining a proposal to desginate Faslane and Coulport as sovereign territory legally outwith Scotland, not subject to Scots law and under the direct administration of Whitehall. 

The Westminster Government proposes using the enormous costs of decommissioning Faslane and building a replacement base as a bargaining counter in future independence negotiations, in a bid to persuade an independent Scotland to agree to cede the bases.  However Westminster would still have to negotiate access to the bases through Scottish territory, including access via Scottish territorial waters, and land access via road or rail for nuclear materials.

The UK Government hopes that the Scottish representatives in independence negotiations will accept their costings, and will concede sovereignty of the nuclear bases and the necessary access.

However last year when UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond broached the topic of an independent Scotland being forced to pay for the removal of Trident and Westminster’s relocation costs, his intervention was widely ridiculed.  Legal experts pointed out that it was against international law for one sovereign nation to pay towards the costs of another sovereign nation’s nuclear weaponary. 

Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell warned that announcing a plan to annexe the Clyde bases might provoke a backlash against the anti-independence campaign, which has recently come under severe criticism for its constant scaremongering.  Mr Campbell said:

“To seek to impose a financial penalty on an independent Scotland in relation to the decommissioning of Faslane might be seen as undue pressure and could easily play into the hands of the SNP.

“The straightforward answer to all of these issues is to ensure that the referendum is won by those who believe that the United Kingdom should be preserved.”

When the Crown Colony of Cyprus was granted independence in 1960, its newly independent government agreed to cede sovereignty of the military bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia to the UK.  The bases remain sovereign UK territory and are not subject to Cypriot law.  They are directly administered by the MoD in Whitehall.

The Cypriot independence campaign was riven by ethnic and sectarian violence between the island’s Greek and Turkish populations.  Both sides feared the other might call for assistance from Greece or Turkey, and many saw the retention of UK military bases as a means of ensuring that Cyprus would not be absorbed by either of its neighbours.  This made Westminster’s annexation of the bases less unpalatable to local public opinion.

Despite this, when violence again broke out between the island’s communities, leading to the threat of annexation by Greece, followed by an invasion from Turkey and the partition of Cyprus, the UK refrained from involvement.

But a similar plan for sovereign bases – an effective partition of Scotland – would meet with massive public opposition in Scotland.  Scotland’s independence campaign is not riven by communal violence, leaving the legally dubious financial threat of Trident decommissioning and relocation costs as the sole card Westminster has to play. 

Commenting on the news that the Westminster Government is examining plans to designate Trident as sovereign UK territory in the hope of keeping its weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde, SNP Westminster Leader and Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson said:

“This is an extraordinary attempt by Westminster to bully Scotland. Neither the people nor parliament of Scotland want nuclear weapons dumped here, and we are clear that Trident would have to be removed as quickly as possible – only a Yes vote next September will empower Scotland to get rid of Trident, and the money saved help build a fairer society and stronger economy.

“A key argument for independence is that Scotland will no longer have to pay for nuclear weapons that we do not want. A No vote, by contrast, means a new generation of nuclear weapons on the Clyde for another 50 years.

“Last October, Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee report said that Trident ‘could be disarmed within days and removed within months’.

“Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has urged the UK Government to scrap Trident. It is a matter for Westminster what to do with Trident after a Yes vote and to pay for it – but rather than dump it elsewhere it may well be that most people in the rest of the UK would regard Scottish independence as an opportunity to follow Mr Blix’s wise advice and get rid of nuclear weapons altogether, saving £100 billion in the process.”