Thursday, 14 August 2014

#indyref: The cost of Trident and the sad capitulation of Scottish CND

Tomorrow the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is due to publish a paper analysing the future of the UK's Trident nuclear deterrent. In it, it is expected to claim that the true cost of relocating the base at Faslane to an alternative site in England or Wales would be a fraction of the previously suggested "eye-wateringly high" £30 billion figure provided by an MOD spokesperson in 2013.

RUSI suggests that the provision of a new base would add between £2.5 and £3.5 billion to existing costs. It also suggests that in the event of a Yes vote, negotiations between the Scottish and rUK governments would be likely to result in an agreement for Scotland to continue to host the nuclear deterrent until such time as rUK had completed its replacement base.

Readers with long memories might recall that this likely outcome is what I described in a blog post a year ago, in which I argued that "Vote Yes to disarm Trident" was not only a dishonest campaign, but also the opposite of what would likely happen.

For a long-time supporter of nuclear disarmament like myself, the separatist position adopted by Scottish CND in 2012 has long been both a disappointment and evidence of a self-defeating loss of focus. Instead of continuing its long and admirable fight for disarmament, in 2012 Scottish CND became a campaign for a nuclear-free Scotland, no longer caring about the existence of nuclear weapons, merely their location.

Scottish CND relied heavily on the MOD's "eye-wateringly high" cost of relocation to argue that delivering a nuclear-free Scotland by voting Yes would perforce result in unilateral nuclear disarmament by the rUK. The RUSI analysis holes this argument below the waterline.

It's not too late for Scottish CND to rescue its reputation. It can, and should, reverse its policy on independence and acknowledge that we need to retain our political influence over the UK's nuclear deterrent, not wash our hands of it and walk away.

Trident renewal would be a mistake. If, like me, you want to retain your democratic influence over the UK government to try to stop this mistake from happening, I urge you to vote No on 18th September.


  1. Surely the logical position to achieve your stated aims is to support a Yes vote? Regardless of the Faslane issue, you can then argue that an iScotland can assert its claims over 9% of the warheads and (give or take) half a submarine. iScotland could then unilaterally disarm as a powerful international statement. Now you can argue that this isn't the Scottish Governments position, but I'd suggest there's a better chance of success with that than convincing any of the Westminster parties.

    I fail to see how a No vote does anything to advance the cause of disarmament.

    1. Hi David, thanks for the comment. I explain why I think a No vote is the only logical position for anyone who actually wants to influence the future of our nuclear deterrent in my previous blog on the subject, here:

      Public opinion against Trident renewal is at pretty much the same level across the UK. Our challenge is to turn that into public policy for the UK. Walking away reduces the chances of that happening as it completely removes our influence over UK policy.

  2. Thanks Duncan, I had a read of that. Although I can accept that Scots are no more against Trident than those in the rest of the UK, unfortunately the parties they vote for are almost entirely pro-Trident (and its successor). Unless and until one of the major UK parties take an anti-Trident stand the SNP and the referendum are the only game in town. And I'm not holding my breath.

    On a more general note, I've enjoyed following your blog/tweets and they've mostly just reinforced my wider thoughts on indyref. Most Yes/No voters want largely the same things - a fairer, more equal society with a desire for social justice and opportunities. No voters believe this is still achievable in the UK. Those of us voting Yes have simply come to the conclusion that the battle for a progressive UK has been lost. We have a chance to save ourselves in the liferaft of an iScotland and must take it. I regret leaving our progressive friends in the south to what inevitably awaits them, but they are always welcome to join us.

  3. I've not found the report online, only articles about it in the Guardian etc, so my comments below are based on that.

    The RUSI report puts the cost of relocation at £3.5Bn, IF it's included as part of the £80Bn cost of building the Trident replacement in 2028. I haven't seen any indication of the costs should the existing Trident system be forced to leave before then, as is the policy of the Scottish government (and I presume that of Scottish CND).

    But anyway, your focus on costs misses out the political difficulties of relocating the UK's submarine-based nuclear deterrent. The RUSI report also seems to rather gloss over the problems of persuading a local population that it should take on the risk of hosting these facilities, implying that the Ministry of Defence will waive safety requirements and the Secretary of State will simply steamroller over any planning issues.

    Do you really believe, given the examples of HS2 and a 3rd runway at Heathrow that a UK government would be able to persuade the people of Plymouth and Falmouth to quietly accept this, or that CND in the rUK wouldn't be mobilised and motivated to fight this tooth and nail?

    For this reason as well as the financial one, CND Scotland are entirely correct to see Scottish Independence as the most likely vehicle to lead to nuclear disarmament of the UK.

  4. retain a democratic influence by voting for a pro-trident party? right?

  5. A Yes vote in Scotland would not see anyone who cares about the aims of CND washing their hands, it would however highlight the ludicrous cost of maintaining Trident in any shape or form and put it firmly back on the agenda. For any country to be free of nuclear weapons surely has to be a laudable aim; waiting until such a time as the world announces ending support might be the end game but highly unlikely.
    If moving Trident from Scotland becomes prohibitively expensive this will surely be a reason for at least one political party to use this to gain the leverage of what will be public outcry and look at scrapping Trident
    A Yes vote in Scotland sees the only hope the UK currently has of positive movement towards reduction in nuclear arms, admittedly they will then be rUK