The Houses of Parliament will return from Easter Recess on Monday. They will sit for three days before rising again for May Day Recess from 1 May to 6 May.
The Scotsman.com reports that RAF Typhoons were scrambled this week to investigate two Russian bomber aircraft which flew close to the coast of Scotland. The MOD confirmed that two aircraft were dispatched from RAF Leuchars after the Russian presence was detected. The incident comes after it emerged that a Royal Navy warship met and tracked a Russian naval vessel after it approached Scottish waters. The MOD confirmed that in the case of the military aircraft, the Russian planes remained within international airspace. Defence experts say that Russia uses such surveillance flights to “test” air defence systems and response times. In 2013 there were eight recorded similar incidents.
Trident and Scottish independence debate continues
The Times reports that Alex Salmond has sparked a fresh row over defence in an independent Scotland by claiming that a missile testing range in the Outer Hebrides is more important to the security of NATO than the Trident nuclear weapons system. During a trip to Lewis, Salmond said the Hebrides Range was of greater value than the submarines on the Clyde, which he wants to expel from Scotland. The Times says the statement has prompted accusations that SNP policy was based on what voters wanted to hear rather than strategic sense.
Mr Salmond has told reporters that Scotland’s position in the northwest corner of Europe meant that the missile facilities would be “absolutely required” and “of fundamentally more importance to the defence of Scotland and the NATO alliance” than Trident. The range is run by defence contractor QinetiQ and offers the largest area in the UK for the live-firing of rockets and missiles, with 200 staff working there. Fears were raised about the future of the site in 2009, but UK ministers chose not to close it after learning of concerns about the effect on the local economy.
Salmond says that the missile range will enjoy a prosperous future in an independent Scotland and guaranteed the future of the Clyde shipbuilding yards, saying the Royal Navy would continue to place orders there after separation. The SNP remains adamant that it would expel Trident in the first parliamentary term of an independent Scotland, and would enshrine a ban on nuclear weapons in a written constitution. Salmond’s comments on defence after Scottish separation have been queried by experts, including George Grant, who conducted an in-depth analysis of the SNPs defence policy for the Henry Jackson Society think-tank said that the SNP’s defence policy was populist rather than strategically sound. Grant said the SNP had form when it came to “implausible promises over the retention of defence jobs in an independent Scotland”.
In reaction to Salmond’s comments, an MOD official said that the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent “underpinned UK and NATO collective security, providing the ultimate assurance against current and future threats”. The MOD said it was inconsistent for those advocating independence to both oppose nuclear weapons and wish to join NATO.
This week, The Herald Scotland also reports that influential senior Conservatives believe Trident should be housed in the US as a “stop gap” measure in the event of Scottish independence. The newspaper says that if separated from Scotland, the UK could rely on its major allies to provide a home for its nuclear deterrent in the event of a Yes vote in September, with other potential options including a deal with the French. The Herald says the thought of Trident being based in another country, even one with which the UK already co-operates on defence, will horrify many Conservative backbenchers. However, it says that there are some within the party who believe it is a realistic option should the Scottish back independence.
Last week, Conservative Minister David Mundell said there was “no deal to be done” on Trident after independence because of the SNP’s determined stance on the issue – and that the UK would have to accept it leaving Scotland. However, the Defence Secretary Philip Hammond added that the prospect of a quick removal of Trident was “just plain wrong” and that “long and complex negotiations” would be required should Scotland separate.
The Herald says that some senior Conservatives believe the UK’s allies could provide the answer for accommodating Trident while a new base could be built for the weapon system south of the Border. However, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has warned that this may in contravention of Article I of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which obligates states to not transfer nuclear weapons to “any recipient whatsoever”.
The MOD has insisted that it is not making any contingency plans for an independent Scotland and among the potential locations that have been suggested included Milford Haven in Wales and Devonport in Plymouth. However, both are likely to lead to safety fears and will almost certainly run into local opposition.
These developments show that the SNP is taking a firm approach on removing Trident from Scotland if the country becomes independent. The reports that senior Conservatives are discussing the future of Trident in the event of independence highlights that politicians are taking the situation more seriously, including the MOD who will be making contingency plans, albeit privately. The current polls in the Scottish independence vote show a single figure margin between Yes and No votes. We are currently preparing a bespoke briefing on the implications of Scottish independence on the MDP.