Is Scotland’s relationship with Westminster about to go nuclear?

Ed Jacobs looks at whether the next row to erupt between Westminster and Holyrood will be over the future of the UK nuclear deterrent.

Could the next row to erupt between Westminster and Holyrood be over the future of the UK nuclear deterrent? Just days after defence secretary Liam Fox announced the government was giving the green light for work to begin on designing a new generation of submarines to carry nuclear weapons, Scotland on Sunday has reported that the Scottish Parliament will “soon” be asked to back a motion calling for the removal on nuclear submarines from Scottish bases such as Faslane.

The move is the latest area of potential tension between first minister Alex Salmond and Westminster following the election of a majority SNP administration, which in its manifesto for the Holyrood elections said (page 29):

“Our opposition to the Trident nuclear missile system and its planned replacement remains firm – there is no place for these weapons in Scotland and we will continue to press the UK government to scrap Trident and cancel its replacement.”

The news comes after 10 protestors were arrested earlier in the month at an anti-nuclear rally at Faslane following the election of the SNP government, and follows the news that campaigners plan to hold a “peace camp” on July 2nd to wish Trident goodbye from the base.

A spokeswoman for tha camp put pressure on the first minister, saying:

“As first minister Salmond steps up to the plate, so will many other Scots who want to reclaim their right to a nuclear-free Scotland. Let’s ensure he and the others know we mean business by gathering, in traditional dress, to create music and show the new face of Scotland.

“Scotland has a great opportunity to lead the way in many things by putting the wishes of the people first. We want our children and grandchildren to grow up in safety, without the fear of nuclear accidents, pollution or war. So we’ll celebrate the new beginnings of Scotland and let our voices be heard.”

Over the weekend, a spokesman for the SNP said:

“Nearly 60 per cent of MSPs oppose Trident – reflecting the views of the people of Scotland as a whole – and it is appropriate that this is expressed by resolution of the Scottish Parliament.”

Whilst the Scottish Parliament has no powers over defence issues, any vote against the nuclear deterrent at Holyrood could further ratchet tension in the Ministry of Defence itself where military officials are thought to be more sceptical about a replacement for trident. In 2009 for example, a group of retired, senior military officers used a letter in the Times to dub trident “irrelevant”.

Not everyone in the SNP, however is quite so convinced. Writing in the Scotsman last week, long time champion for independence and former SNP MP Jim Sillars challenged his party:

“Leasing the Trident base? Jings, crivvens, help ma Boab. Never! is likely to be the first reaction of party members. But this is serious stuff we are now engaged in. Policies made in the Cold War have to be rethought, and what we are facing has to be understood.

“Let me put it in football parlance. Alex Salmond is no longer taking on Stranraer (Iain Gray and Scottish Labour) but Manchester United (Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Clarke, Rifkind, Forsyth, Ming, Charlie Kennedy, Gordon Brown, Alexander and Brian Wilson, with the Treasury and Foreign Office Mandarins on the subs’ bench but engaged in the game plan).

“We must, if we are serious, look through the English end of the telescope. Scottish independence, in the old model and old policies, threatens English state interests, and if so threatened, they will fight to keep us in the Union, because they must do so.

“There is a vital link between Trident and London’s veto seat on the UN Security Council, because shorn of it, it becomes more difficult to justify retention at a time when India, Japan and Brazil are pressing their case.”

And speaking after the announcement the UK government will proceed with plans for a replacement for Trident, shadow defence secretary and Scottish Labour MP Jim Murphy argued:

“Britain’s independent deterrent has been the cornerstone of our peace and security over half a century. As long as there are other countries with such capability, it is right the UK retains an independent nuclear deterrent.”

Avote by Holyrood to reject Trident in Scotland is legally not going to lead to dramatic changes, though it will be used by Alex Salmond to argue that Westminster is ignoring the will of Scotland and its voice in the Scottish Parliament. It could prove the first of a series of votes over the next parliament that the SNP use as the basis of their campaign for independence, premised on the idea that with independence the ‘nasty Westminster government’ would no longer interfere in its matters.

It will be just one of many issues that could prove testing when Salmond this week holds a series of meetings with UK cabinet ministers.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.