Tony Rinna, PNA Fellow
In September 2014, Scotland will vote on independence from the UK. If Scotland votes “yes” for independence, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which currently holds the majority in Scotland’s parliament, plans to remove all nuclear weapons from the country. At the same time, the SNP wants Scotland to join NATO.
The UK’s nuclear forces, known as Trident, are based at Faslane and Coulport in Western Scotland, and consist of four nuclear submarines. Faslane has a deep-water port, which allows nuclear naval forces quick access to the Atlantic. The Trident Alternatives Review carried out by the British Parliament states there are no other feasible areas to re-locate the nukes. Thus, the British government would prefer to keep its nuclear arsenal in Scotland even if it were to become independent. According to The Guardian, if Scotland gained independence and ordered Trident to be removed, the British government would reduce Scotland’s severance package to cover the removal costs. Yet despite the complaints from London that removing the weapons would be too expensive, the UK government plans to replace Trident with a new nuclear submarine system based in Scotland which would cost an estimated ₤65 billion (USD $100 billion). A poll taken in March, 2013 by TNS BMRB shows that 60% of Scots oppose the plan to replace the nukes with an upgraded system, and only 14% approve of it.
Regardless, public policy analysts in the UK are currently debating contingency plans to deal with the issue of where to store the British nuclear forces in case of a victory for the Scottish independence, either by finding an alternate location or working out a deal with Scotland to keep them there.
NATO has stated that Scotland would not be able to join if it has disputes with the government in London over the location of UK nuclear weapons. George Robertson, a former NATO Secretary General, emphasized that nuclear operations are a major part of NATO strategy, and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that Scotland cannot join NATO and then “disregard the fact that it’s a nuclear alliance”.
Scotland may opt to remain outside NATO, yet participate in its political structures and other missions. This is what France did when it was outside NATO from 1966-2009. Ireland, while not a NATO member, is a member of its Partnership for Peace. Membership in NATO may also represent a financial burden that an independent Scotland is not willing to shoulder. Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) believes that an independent Scotland’s defense spending would not exceed ₤2 billion, or 1.4% of GDP,and may even be significantly lower. Thus, Scotland may be able to participate with NATO within defense budget constraints without being a full member, perhaps until differences between the Scottish and UK governments over the placement of nuclear weapons are reconciled.