11 Jul 2013 By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political Editor, Faslane - telegraph.co.uk
The British Government denies reports it is examining plans to designate Faslane as sovereign UK territory in case Scots back independence next year.
David Cameron today strongly denied reports the Government is considering a plan to ensure that Britain’s nuclear deterrent would remain in Scotland after independence despite SNP promises to remove it.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was said to be considering designating the Faslane base that houses Trident nuclear submarines as sovereign UK territory, giving it the same legal status as British bases in foreign countries like Cyprus.
Alex Salmond would be presented with a choice of accepting this status, it was claimed, or a separate Scotland having to pay a substantial part of the multi-billion pound bill for removing Trident.
A deal over Faslane would ensure the Trident fleet would have access to the open seas via the Firth of Clyde and the continuation of Britain’s round-the-clock deterrent. At least one nuclear-armed submarine is on patrol at sea at any one time.
The Scottish Nationalists seized on the reports as evidence of the UK attempting to strong-arm Scotland into keeping nuclear weapons and said they would not agree to such an arrangement.
But Downing Street and the MoD attempted to head off a public backlash in Scotland by insisting they did not recognise the proposal, which was outlined in the Guardian, describing it as not “credible”.
They said they were not drawing up contingency plans for Trident in case Scots back independence next year despite expert warnings that there may be nowhere else suitable in the UK for the deterrent.
Mr Salmond has repeatedly insisted that nuclear weapons would be removed from the Clyde if Scots back independence, promising that a ban would be included in a written constitution.
He has claimed Faslane could be turned into a conventional naval base. But experts have warned it would cost many billions of pounds and take decades for Trident to be removed from the Clyde despite the SNP claiming it could be done very quickly.
Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond’s deputy, told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "This seems to me to be an outrageous attempt at bullying by the UK Government.
"I can't see how they could do that without the agreement of the Scottish Government and speaking for my party that is not an agreement that would be forthcoming."
She said it was a "preposterous threat from the UK Government" and said that Coalition ministers should instead start talks now on how to remove Trident as quickly as possible in the event of a ‘yes’ vote next year.
But a Number 10 spokesman said: “This Government has not commissioned contingency plans over Faslane. No such ideas have come to the Secretary of State or the Prime Minister.
“They would not support them if they did. It’s not a credible or sensible idea.”
An MoD spokesman said: "No contingency plans are being made to move Trident out of Scotland. The scale and cost of any potential relocation away from Faslane would be enormous."
According to the Guardian report, MoD civil servants are starting to examine a two-stage process whereby the British Government would initially emphasise the huge expense and logistical difficulties of moving Trident.
These costs would be factored into the ‘divorce settlement’ between Scotland and the UK, reducing the sum to which the former is entitled.
However, it is claimed they are examining an alternative whereby Scotland would get a much better deal in return for allowing Faslane to become sovereign UK territory, along the lines of the Akrotiri and Dhekelia naval bases in Cyprus.
A defence source was quoted as stating: “The sovereign base area is an option. It is an interesting idea because the costs of moving out of Faslane are eye-wateringly high.”
Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader, warned of a backlash. He said: “To seek to impose a financial penalty on an independent Scotland in relation to the decommissioning of Faslane might be seen as undue pressure and could easily play into the hands of the SNP.”
However, he pointed out that a separate Scotland might have to agree to keep Trident anyway under Mr Salmond’s plans to apply for Nato membership.