Strategic Divergence: The Scottish case for Trident
Only a few days ago, the leader of the Inverclyde SNP council group tweeted a picture of a submarine on the Clyde with the caption: “Nothing to see here. Just dozens of nuclear warheads floating past Gourock”, not forgetting to include the hashtag term, ‘ScrapTrident’. (1) He is in no way alone with his views; a quick search of the term on twitter will provide hordes of similar tweets from -not only- but very much so in particular, likeminded Scottish nationalists. According to their own website, the SNP would argue that Trident is a weapons system which only proved itself fit for function during the period of the Cold War. Unsurprisingly, they will therefore go further to claim that there is no legitimate case for its renewal in 2019- and in the case of Scotland becoming an independent country, assure their members and voters that Trident would be scrapped immediately. (2) This begs a simple question: why?
This historical relationship involving the removal of Trident and SNP leaders has not been one of complexity or secrecy. Onwards from their establishment, they as a party have been famously committed in an extroverted manner to removing all nuclear weapons from Scottish territory- and arguably this stance was a main pushing factor in their rise to electoral success during the 60s and 70s. Amongst other high profile SNP politicians, the First Minister noticeably continues to join and support nuclear disarmament rallies, famously addressing crowds in 2016 at Trafalgar Square on behalf of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), whereby Sturgeon discussed how she had joined the CND before even thinking of joining the SNP. In the same speech, she argued that there is no public desire, and likewise, no need for nuclear weapons- owing to the fact that most countries do not have them, so therefore there is no sufficient reasoning for having access to a nuclear system ourselves. (3) Sturgeon’s opinions regarding the removal of Trident have clearly neither been tainted nor weakened over time, despite formulating them early before her political career. Likewise, neither have the views of her SNP colleagues and current day leaders of the party, of whom also spent their youth marching and campaigning for nuclear disarmament, changed. Dangerously, these individuals have brought what they wanted to achieve through protest into what could be potential policy.
Similar to the relationship between the SNP and Trident, their stance regarding nuclear weapons is, unsurprisingly, not hard to grasp and easy to infer: no nuclear weapons in Scotland. Turning to their designated webpage regarding their anti-Trident renewal stance, last updated in March 2019, they list main points regarding why as a party they stand united against future renewals of the weapons system. (4) Among these arguments, they would state that it is financially unjustifiable. While I think it is ironic of the SNP to use ‘financially unjustifiable’ as an argument to render something as important as a nuclear deterrent completely useless, especially when given the state of Scottish services and levels of taxation, (5) it would be naïve to negate the fact that the operation of the system does impose a cost upon the taxpayer. However, to surrender access to nuclear weapons is to not only surrender a sense of security and capability to stand as a force for good; as this will equally surrender our influence on the world stage. Therefore, choosing to abandon the British place, and thus a Scottish input, on the international table- and lose the ability to partake in policy decisions which will impact the world. These combined undoubtedly amount to a price worth paying.
Aside from addressing the monetary value of the system, the party states that the existence of Trident is worthless as it doesn’t address modern threats. (6) However, I would be led to believe that having access to a sophisticated weapons system such as Trident available to use at any moment is the answer to modern threats more so now than ever before. It is somewhat baffling how an individual could observe, for example, the recent chemical attacks on our own soil- and believe that we will be better off without having a strong weapons system to act as a deterrent from attack. Given the current state of affairs when countries throughout the world such as Iran are still trying to pursue their own nuclear independence, scrapping our powerful deterrent should simply not be an option. Whether or not Trident stands as an effective weapons system as it is currently is another debate: but to defend scrapping it completely is ludicrous. If anything, within the union we should aim to adapt and improve the system. Aid in its modernisation. Not write it off. Most importantly, whilst to some its relevance may have deceased following the de-escalation of Cold War tensions, and regardless of arguments surrounding the shift in nuclear power, the premise of the theory of Mutually Assured Destruction still remains to be real, and it works.
Nevertheless, if Scotland were to become an independent state, what would replace the existence of Trident, and would there be any form of sufficient military deterrent from attack at all? For a party to be adamant upon its removal, one would perhaps find it safe to assume there would be a well thought out alternative to provide security for the country- but the reality is much the opposite. Before the independence referendum in 2014, the SNP publications regarding future defence policies, or lack thereof, were laughable. The publications released did not detail how international objectives would be achieved, nor were indications provided regarding potential involvement in humanitarian operations, according to the Henry Jackson society. (7) Further, one of the main issues with these publications was an apparent assumption that removing Trident from Scottish territory and disassociating from what the SNP would describe as aggressive foreign policy on behalf of the UK would make Scotland less vulnerable to threat from hostile attack. As a modern state, it should be expected that Scotland would be just as likely to be confronted and affected by, for example, cyberattacks and international terrorism. Thus, the lack of risk assessment provided is nothing but dangerous. Without Trident or reliance upon the UK MoD, what was proposed by the SNP was the establishment of a Scottish Defence Force, proposing that £2.5 billion per annum would go towards this. They had also envisioned an army centric defence force of 15,000 personnel. Importantly, there was consistently very limited detail given regarding what equipment would be required. (8) The SNP failed, and still fail, to give defence the attention that it deserves. Removing Trident from Scotland will not create world peace- and Scotland is not equipped with the personnel, finances, and equipment to establish a Defence Force to provide a deterrent even close to the success of Trident within the UK.
The relationship between the SNP and Trident is completely emotional and politically motivated, and not one based on reason and an observation of the state of world affairs. Emotional, as the SNP would like to think that after the creation of an independent Scotland, there would be no terror- nor any threat from hostile attack. Political, as to see Royal Navy vessels and submarines on Scottish waters only but solidifies a lack of Scottish sovereignty and control for the SNP. Where I may see these vessels as an excellent display of collective British maritime power, and likewise feel a sense of protection and security due to our Royal Navy- the SNP see this only as a continuation of Westminster influence on Scotland, and nothing more. The level of protection that a system like Trident can provide UK citizens is absolutely unrivalled, and claims such as that of the leader of the Inverclyde SNP group to #ScrapTrident are nothing but dangerous.
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At the time of writing, Madeleine Murphy is a second year student at the University of Strathclyde. She is studying Politics with International Relations. Areas that interest her the most are UK politics and foreign policy.