The UK’s serious-minded and capable Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond told Andrew Marr on Sunday that he “didn’t think” it was he who had told the Guardian, a couple of days beforehand, that Scotland would be able to currency-share with the rUK. You can take that any way you like, but he also pointed out that he’d just spent the week in Washington DC. There, however fascinating the state department would find the intricacies and putative negotiations around part of the UK becoming independent, the only high-order issue is what will happen to those nuclear assets in the event of a Yes vote.
The SNP is committed to removing Trident from Scotland, of course. But building a facility elsewhere would take years. In the meantime, the United States, what would remain of the UK (clumsily known as rUK, for ‘rest of the UK’) and every other significant body in the world would insist upon rUK retaining complete, unambiguous control over its nuclear assets. There could be various legalistic models for this, of course – some reports refer to the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) – but in the end rUK would demand full control over an area located inside a foreign state.
Politicians don’t like to talk this issue up. It’s kind of alarming if there’s the slightest hint of an issue around your control of your nuclear assets, and the SNP will not be suckered into appearing to stoop to using nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip. And of course journalists don’t express its significance much because it shoots the fox of the daft daily stories about border posts and the UK refusing to currency-share. But the central fact is unavoidable – the Pentagon, and the US president, will have already demanded and received a detailed categorical assurance about exactly what will happen in the entirely possible event of Scotland’s secession from the UK.
Consider this: independence would be immediately followed by a Scottish general election. No-one has any idea what kind of government would emerge from that, nor can anyone be sure who would lead it or what demands a minority party (led perhaps by a Tommy Sheridan figure?) would be able to extract in terms of the the removal of rUK assets from Scotland. Whatever else happened, there could be a significant period of time when rUK’s nuclear assets (and the thousands of personnel required to service and defend it) would be present in Scotland even against the wishes of the sovereign government.
Now think about the following – EU commissioners making life hard for Scotland? NATO mucking Scotland about? rUK putting up border posts? rUK refusing currency-sharing? No, all of these things are the smallest of beer next to securing one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals. A Scottish government wouldn’t need to demand anything; rUK would be over a barrel. Moreover, all the Scottish government would be asking for is a cordial and mutually constructive relationship with its neighbour – an ‘ask’ few citizens in rUK, and certainly not the US, would disagree with.
The bookies are giving 3-1 odds on a ‘Yes’ vote. That’s 3-1 that an enormous nuclear arsenal, and very real delivery mechanism, will be detached from its ‘owners’. And what happens when such a situation isn’t properly managed? At the *very* minimum, Crimea is what happens. There is therefore no question of Norwegian, Portugese or any other minor nation politicians having a say in all of this, however much they may like to act it up. There is no doubt, and nor should there be, that six months ahead of the referendum and with the Yes vote already projected to exceed 40%, that the US and UK have already agreed a ‘nuclear’ plan. So whenever politicians or ‘experts’ suggest some petty bureaucratic nonsense as a ‘price’ for independence, think about nuclear bombs and whatever they say sounds like arse.