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Britain's Trident upgrade may encourage Scoxit

A Trident submarine leaving its base on the Clyde, Scotland
A Trident submarine leaving its base on the Clyde, Scotland bodgerbrooks/Wikimedia Commons

On Monday British MPs voted 472-117 to replace the ageing Trident submarines that carry Britain's nuclear arsenal. But most of the MPs voting against were Scottish, opposed to what theysee as dictates from London and that could mean trouble later on.


New British Prime Minister Theresa May won a resounding first parliamentary victory. 

The UK’s nuclear arsenal is regulated by the Trident programme of four submarines, each capable of carrying 16 missiles with 12 nuclear warheads.

It is “a necessity for us, having a nuclear deterrent, which has been an insurance policy for this country for nearly fifty years and I believe should remain so,” May said during the parliamentary debate.

One of the reasons she gave was Russia.

“In the last two years there has been a disturbing increase in both Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the frequency of snap nuclear exercises,” she says.

“As we've seen with the illegal annexation of Crimea, there is no question about President [Vladimir] Putin's willingness to undermine the rules based on the international system in order to advance his own interests. And he's already threatened to base nuclear forces in the Crimea and in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea, that neighbours Poland and Lithuania.”

But critics condemned the result.

“We know that in terms of the security challenges that Britain faces today, which our own government says are things like terrorism, climate change, cyber warfare, pandemics, flooding and natural hazards and so on, nuclear weapons do absolutely nothing to meet those challenges, and our politicians all recognize that that is the case,” commented Kate Hudson, general director of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).  “Yet they are determined to spend 205 billion pound which is the lifetime cost for this system, on the system which doesn't meet the security challenges.”

..a nuclear deterrent has been an insurance policy for this country for nearly fifty years and I believe should remain so

UK upgrades nuclear arsenal


But there is another reason that some MPs were against Trident. The programme is based in Faslane, onthe west Coast of Scotland.

Scots don’t like this kind of decisions being taken for them, Hudson says.

Every single Member of Parliament from Scotland voted against the replacement of Trident,” says Hudson. “The current Trident system is located in Scotland. The submarines are based in Scotland. And under the Union agreement with Scotland, the Scottish parliament doesn't have control over foreign policy, so at the moment those nuclear weapons remain there.”

“There is huge outcry in Scotland against the Westminster parliament, effectively non-Scottish people, voting to impose a further generation of nuclear weapons on Scotland.”

Some Scots have mixed feelings, and some are afraid that giving in to the protests and moving Trident elsehwere in the UK may have bad consequences for the local economy:

“It would move a lot of heavy industry from the west coast of Scotland which would bring its own problems,” says Tom Walker, a former Brexit campaigner who wants Scotland to remain within the UK.

“And it would be a major problem if the government chooses to do that. Would it feel compelled to try and make up for that loss of employment and heavy industry in the area?”

But opponents say the number of jobs involved is insignificant

“You can't have a decision about whether or not we have weapons of mass destruction and what's in the interest of our security on the basis of a relatively small number of jobs,” says Hudson.

But she points out that “there was a huge surge towards the SNP, the Scottish National Party, which stands for an independent Scotland and there was an overwhelming vote, all but one of the Scottish MPs come from that party, including the MP for the area where Faslane is located.”

The Scottish nationalists say that the vote to leave the EU in the recent Brexit referendum could mean a rerun of Scotland's vote on independence.

If it comes to that, the issue of national nuclear defence dictated by London may just tip the balance.

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