Voters in Scotland rejected independence in a Sept. 18 referendum that threatened to break up the United Kingdom and force relocation of UK nuclear forces. By a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent, the electorate voted against abandoning Scotland’s 307-year-old union with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The vote spared the UK government the expensive prospect of having to move its only nuclear submarine base, at Faslane, Scotland, and nuclear arms depot, in nearby Coulport. The Scottish National Party (SNP), sponsor of the referendum, had touted independence as a way to make the country free of nuclear weapons by 2020. Relocating the two facilities to England would have cost 2.5 billion to 4 billion pounds, according to a study by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).
The Faslane base is home port for the UK’s four Trident nuclear-armed submarines, each of which is equipped with as many as 40 thermonuclear warheads on U.S.-designed and -built ballistic missiles. “Trident” technically refers to the missile, but the term is used in the UK to mean the entire system.
The SNP sought to outlaw such weapons on Scottish territory.
“Trident is an affront to basic decency with its indiscriminate and inhumane destructive power,” the Scottish government declared in a November 2013 brief for independence.
The UK Ministry of Defence, which plans to replace the Trident fleet in the next decade, contended in an October 2013 analysis of Scottish independence that “the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent plays an essential part in the UK’s and NATO’s overall strategy and provides the ultimate assurance against current and future threats.”
During the referendum campaign, the UK government promised to “devolve” more powers to the Scottish government. But defense will remain a “reserved” matter controlled by the government in London, and the Trident submarines will remain at Faslane, Malcolm Chalmers, a RUSI analyst, said in Sept. 19 e-mail.