Removing Trident will be one of the most important tasks of an independent Scotland

In the run-up to the 2014 independence referendum, UK civil servants were expressly forbidden from drawing up plans for the removal of Trident in the event of a Yes vote.

Now, with one eye on the increasing and sustained support for independence among the Scottish electorate, and still nursing the wounds from their catastrophic handling of Brexit, the UK Government has begun to take stock of its options for when Scotland votes Yes.
The plans revealed in the Financial Times are a sign that the UK Government recognises the unwavering opposition to nuclear weapons that’s found not just within the SNP, but across Scottish political and civic life.

With a clear cross-party majority of Scotland’s elected politicians in Holyrood and Westminster who are committed to a world without nuclear weapons, there is no possible parliamentary arithmetic that would allow these weapons to remain at Faslane after a Yes vote.

The idea that Faslane could be leased to the UK Government by an independent Scotland is a fantasy that would make even the most fervent Brexiteer blush: it would be so politically unpalatable to both parties that it will only ever exist on a screen in Whitehall.

Negotiating Trident’s removal will be one of the most important tasks a newly independent Scotland will face, and capitals across Europe – indeed the world – will be looking to Edinburgh for assurance that we will be a reliable and trustworthy partner in this and in future international negotiations.

How we handle Trident’s removal will be our first big test on the international stage.

Building and maintaining strong international relationships is about more than stability, shared values and shared interests. It also relies on each state recognising and respecting the national interests of other states, even when they might diverge from their own.

Our closest allies – which will include the rest of the United Kingdom – respect Scotland’s democratically expressed opposition to nuclear weapons. But, in the same vein, they need to be reassured that we will go about the process of removing Trident from Scotland in way which will respect their interests too.

That means a process that is underpinned by a commitment to safety and security above all else. Berlin, Paris, Washington and, yes, London are all have a stake in the removal of Trident from Scotland. To wilfully ignore that or cast it aside would benefit no-one – not least Scotland.

As Capitals across Europe – and across the Atlantic – look to Edinburgh, it’s in our interests that they see a Scotland that is committed to acting as a responsible North Atlantic neighbour and good global citizen. In the countless meetings I’ve had with politicians, diplomats, and defence attaches, this is always uppermost in our discussions.

We have spent the past few years watching the United Kingdom run its international reputation into the ground, alienating its allies and receding into itself. Independence offers us a different path – it gives us the opportunity to diverge from a UK that has become a maverick, untrustworthy neighbour. We can be the stable alternative alongside friends such as Norway, Denmark or Ireland.

Trust is a vital aspect of every relationship and being trusted is central to Scotland’s own interests. We must build on our reputation as a good-faith negotiator, especially so on Tridents departure from Scotland, as it will set the mood music for future relationships in capitals around the world – including when it comes to the EU accession process.

The public disclosure that these MoD plans exist is a huge moment. If Scotland votes for independence, Trident will go, and it will go at pace.

So, there must – and will – be an agreement made between the UK and Scottish Governments to remove Trident from the Clyde. And while the MoD’s plans might still be at the drawing board stage, I’m glad that the UK Government is already preparing for the inevitable. 

This article originally appeared in The National