UK government backtracking furiously on reported interest in annexing Faslane

Yesterday’s Guardian, 10th July 2p13, reported that Government officials in the Ministry of Defence are exploring the possibility of making Faslane – and presumably Coulport – UK sovereign territory.

This is supposed to be a potential protection against the need to move nuclear weapons, including submarine-launched Trident missiles, out of Scotland were this country to vote for separation from the United Kingdom in September 2014.

The only place in the world where there are designated British Sovereign Base areas is Cyprus, where there ate two: Akrotiri and Dhekelia, with Cyprus a former British Crown colony.

Everything about this move is damagingly cack-handed in the context of Scotland’s upcoming Independence Referendum.

The fact that the only previous British Sovereign Base areas were in a former ‘British colony’ could not be more inflammatory. Even the possibility of imperialist stunts like this is enough to drive many into voting for a separation they would  not otherwise support.

Then there is the issue of nuclear arms themselves.

This move, which would represent a way of compelling a potentially sort-of-sovereign nation to host a form of arms it has nationally declared it does not want on its soil, is a potent recruiting serjeant for independence.

The anti-nuclear movement in Scotland is a strong one.

So following yesterday’s floating of the story, today is seeing  – rightly – a speedy retreat from Westminster.

It is no surprise than the Prime Minister has dismissed the possibility in an announcement from Downing Street, saying it is ‘neither credible nor sensible’.

A Defence Minister also told the House of Commons this morning that ‘the government has not commissioned any contingency plans’ to designate Faslane in this way.

The Guardian quoted ‘one defence source’ as saying: ‘ “It would cost a huge amount of money, running into tens of billions of pounds, to decommission Faslane. Those costs would be factored into any negotiations on an independence settlement. The sovereign base area is an option. It is an interesting idea because the costs of moving out of Faslane are eye-wateringly high.” ‘

It said: ‘These costs would have to be factored into severance payments negotiated with the Scottish government before full independence is declared around two years after the referendum.’

It described the consequent MoD argument as being: ‘As an alternative, the Scottish government would be told it could reduce the costs to Edinburgh if it agreed to allow Faslane to be designated as sovereign UK territory along the lines of the Akrotiri and Dhekelia sovereign base areas (SBAs) in Cyprus.

‘The base could be designated an SBA for an initial period of 10 years – to allow for decommissioning – if the Scottish government rejects out of hand calls to allow Trident to be based in Faslane. If the Scottish government were to accept that Trident should remain in Scotland then a longer lease would be negotiated.’

It is undoubtedly correct that the costs of decommissioning Faslane and Coulport would indeed be ‘eye wateringly high’. It could, however, be argued strongly that this would be a cost that the continuing UK would have to bear alone rather than attempt to pass on to an independent Scotland. These weapons have never been welcome in Scotland as the presence of the long standing peace camp outside Faslane testifies.

It is also reasonable to expect that every possible option is being considered, as contingencies, by MoD officials, with no regard to the political consequences of some of them – like this one.

It is not unreasonable to assume that the Scottish Government would be flexible to some degree on the issue; and indeed the Deputy First Minister has recently publicly accepted that it would be a very long time before nuclear weapons were out of Scotland.

For the Scottish Government the pressure to which it would be most responsive would come from NATO, which could not contemplate the loss of the nuclear deterrent from the UK. There is no serious alternative to Faslane as a base for it.

However, the very notion of declaring the area a British Sovereign Base could not be more incendiary; and is an issue the SNP, whose case for independence has been progressively seen as threadbare, will seize upon with vigour.

The SNP has been dismissed as ‘clueless’ on defence. There could not, though, have been anything more clueless than floating this particular notion.

The remaining issue is this: MoD officials would, responsibly, have to consider and plan for, all theoretical possibilities post-September 2014. This solution may, for now, not be ‘credible’; but it is certainly credible that it has been formulated as one of many.

While the Prime Minister has now dismissed it as ‘not credible’, the issue is now whether, in the increasingly unlikely event of a ‘Yes’ vote to independence, this is the action that the UK Government might attempt to take to retain Faslane as the base for the British nuclear deterrent.

We now know they might.

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25 Responses to UK government backtracking furiously on reported interest in annexing Faslane

  1. If the Westminster lot continue in this vein regarding nuclear weapons I for one will have to, albeit reluctantly, vote for independence. I

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 8

  2. The news sources say that it came from a ‘MOD spokesperson’ which suggests it was perhaps an off the record briefing. Could be that some junior civil servant got carried away. It does not sound as if it came from anyone in authority.

    Also from the Grauniad so not the most reliable of newspapers.

    I would have thought it might suit SNP. They could bitch and moan about Faslane still being owned by the UK government but still get all the income from it and not lose the many thousands of jobs associated with the base.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

    • The Guardian has some irritating faults, but as a regular reader for over fifty years I would prefer to describe it as Britain’s Least Worst Newspaper.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  3. Good point Lundavra.

    Some SNP bods have already confirmed that ‘everything is negotiable’, meaning this could be conceded in return for a low or zero share of the national debt, for example…

    It would all get very grubby… except that it won’t come to that because I believe the polls, and that we’ll witness a decisive rejection of the SNP proposition.

    This ‘story’ has all the hallmarks of some military folk idly musing about every conceivable scenario. Just as they do in battle and combat scenario planning. And what was mooted in a meeting room then gets touted as a possible policy. Except that it isn’t. It’s just a flip-chart fantasy. Not even a bargaining chip.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 6

  4. Is it really that surprising that turning Faslane into a local version of Guantanamo Bay, Akrotiri & Dhekelia should be mooted as one option? The investment at Faslane is colossal, the employment there is substantial, and if you throw in Glen Douglas and associated bits and pieces there are some very hard financial questions attached to getting rid of it all.
    Unless, of course, it really is redundant and wouldn’t need to be re-established elsewhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

    • The investment is a massive waste of money. The people I fear most in this world already control our nuclear deterrent. While it sits there on our doorstep we are open to threats and blackmail to make us do their bidding. Why do you think Germany started phasing out its nuclear power plants right after the Japanese “accident”.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

    • Yes … there’s a huge financial investment in the Fsslane
      Base, but many very senior military people think that the UK’s nuclear deterrent is both unusable and a diversion of resources from other defence priorities. The big questions revolve around alternative uses for the workforce. I can remember the Vickers Report, which was the trade union proposals for alternative employment other than weaponry. That was quickly trashed by the Estblishment. Maybe we now need a Faslane Report

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  5. To be fair if I don’t see a problem with the idea IF the wards in and around Faslane vote to stay in the UK, even if the rest of Scotland votes to leave.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 8

  6. The biggest problem here is that too many folks think the MOD is the government.

    Ultimately, it’s not. Once people realise that, they’ll stop with the dramatic scare stories. And i’m talking about the Yes people. Nicola took the bate with this and looked a right donkey!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

    • These leaks don’t happen by accident. They’re released at a low level to give the government deniability but you can be certain that this is intended as a shot across the bows.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

      • i’m sure they don’t happen by accident, but Nicola Sturgeon looks a right isiot, accusing Westminster of bullying when Westminster never said anything in the first place. She must feel like a bit of a trolley. All over the place

        Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 8 Thumb down 9

  7. Let none of us forget that post-independence, it may not be up to the SNP or Salmond to decide on these issues, it will be the elected Scottish government, be it SNP, Labour, Greens or whoever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  8. Let none of us forget that pre-independence there is also a “No” vote. “it will be the elected Scottish government” again a wee bit presumptuous eh no?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  9. The UK is already preparing for a YES vote.

    So are many Scottish MPs of Unionist parties.
    Some have put out feelers to stand in English seats, Others are beginning to challenge to be their parties’ candidate in the first post Independence Scottish parliament. Tensions are rising. Mrs Lamont is clearing the decks of her experienced front row and putting young lightweights in their stead in preparation to blow them away with Westminster refugees like Douglas Alexander. He’s being teed up to replace the caretaker Lamont as leader post Independence

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    • “The UK is already preparing for a YES vote.”

      Hmm, that has to be one of the more optimistic pieces of wishful thinking I’ve read in a long time!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

        • Thanks, Sokay. I always try to be polite and sometimes wish all respondents to For Argyll would do likewise. Both the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ supporters are guilty of less than polite responses which get them nowhere except to switch me, and I have to suspect, many (?most) readers off.
          I have to confess that I still wonder why the independence (or, if one is allowed to say the word, separation)campaign had to be quite so long!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

          • Ahhh the Neverendum

            David Cameron’s reply when he was questioned on the length of time we must wait for to have an in/out referendum on EU membership was something along the lines of “We must give the people of the UK time to decide” This supposed in/out referendum will take place in 2017, four years away if it appears at all.
            Point being, his party, contributors to the Better Together/No Vision campaign were amongst those who bleated on about bringing our independence referendum forward, “It’s harming foreign investment” we were told.
            Oh the duplicity, the short memories, the complete and utter unashamed hypocrisy of that lot in Wasteminster.
            Geez me the dry boak so it does.

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

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