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Scots Seek Legal Ban on Nuclear Weapons

Marcus Taylor

The Scottish National Party (SNP) will seek a constitutional ban on nuclear weapons if a scheduled 2014 referendum on Scottish independence is successful, Scottish First Minister and leader of the SNP Alex Salmond said last month.

In an Oct. 6 statement directed at SNP members, Salmond said the Scottish Constitution that would be drafted if the country gains its independence “should include an explicit ban on nuclear weapons being based on Scottish territory.” He said that the legal ban on nuclear weapons in Scotland would be included in the 2013 Scottish government “white paper” detailing the SNP’s proposals for independence.

On Oct. 19, during its annual conference, the SNP voted 426-332 in favor of pursuing membership in NATO on the condition of “an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons.” The SNP also approved an amendment declaring that Scotland would remain in the alliance only if NATO “takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament.”

The vote was criticized from within the party, with John Finnie, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament, stating, “Joining a first-strike nuclear alliance is not how we’re going to rid ourselves of the obscenity of hosting” the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal. Finnie has since resigned from the SNP, saying that he could no longer be a member of a party that seeks to remove nuclear weapons from Scotland while joining an alliance based on a nuclear deterrent.

According to a report by the British Parliament’s Scottish Affairs Committee, a Scottish ban on nuclear weapons that would take effect in 2016 would mean the United Kingdom “would lose the ability to operate its nuclear deterrent and inevitably create the prospect of unilateral nuclear disarmament being imposed” on the British navy and government. The British nuclear arsenal consists entirely of Trident ballistic missiles, which are borne by four submarines that are housed at the Clyde naval base in Scotland.

The report said it could take up to 20 years to relocate the submarines to a site outside Scotland. The United Kingdom also would need to find an alternative to the Coulport depot, the Scottish site where Trident missiles are assembled, housed, and loaded onto the submarines, but there currently are no viable options, the report said.

On Oct. 29, British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said, “We are confident that the Scottish people will choose to remain part of the United Kingdom.” He also announced a $560 million contract for initial design work for a replacement for the Trident submarine, which would cost an estimated $30 billion. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Hammond was “jumping the gun” on the issue. “The final decision on Trident replacement will not be taken until 2016, however much other people may not like it that way,” he said. An analysis of program alternatives is due next year.

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