Relocating Trident: Hobson’s Choice

Trident damned as 'deadly farce' after costs rise £1bn
Image: The Ferret

By Alasdair Galloway

In a recent letter to the Herald, Gavin Weir comments on the report “that the Ministry of Defence could keep Trident within an independent Scotland by creating a new British Overseas Territory.” He questions, however, “Who would exercise sovereignty, and for how long?” He also doubts whether “any Scottish government would agree to a long-term lease, though a decade might work, if oversight could be “fudged”.”

While I agree with him about the view of an independent Scottish Government, we need to keep in mind that there are two involved in this particular matter – Westminster as well. I have serious reservations whether the niceties referred to by Mr Weir would matter all that much to them.

As an illustration, let’s take the most notorious example of a British Overseas Territory – specifically the British Indian Ocean Territory. This was created in 1965 from islands which historically belonged to Mauritius and the Seychelles, both then part of the British Empire. The islands which had belonged to the Seychelles were returned to them  on independence in 1976. However, on their independence in 1968, no islands were returned to Mauritius (though the UK promised to return them “when they are no longer needed”)

The retained islands are widely known as the Chagos Islands, and the UK’s position on their retention as part of the UK is instructive. The reason for their retention, given by Westminster to the Permanent Court of Arbitration, was that Diego Garcia (one of the Chagos Islands) was needed “to accommodate the United States’ desire to use certain islands in the Indian Ocean for defence purposes”.

Mauritius has brought actions for the return of the Chagos Islands against the UK in about every international forum that you can think of. A vote at the UN, brought by Mauritius, resulted in a vote of 116-6 against the UK. As well as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, rulings have been granted against the UK at the International Court of Justice, and most recently by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), yet the UK continues to insist “The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory”, describing the ICJ ruling as an “advisory opinion, not a judgment”.

This is despite the fact that at the ICJ, its president, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the detachment of the Chagos archipelago in 1965 from Mauritius had not been based on a “free and genuine expression of the people concerned”.” He went on “The UK has an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos archipelago as rapidly as possible and that all member states must co-operate with the United Nations to complete the decolonization of Mauritius.” Note especially the reference to “decolonization”, and that Mauritius claims it was forced to give up the Chagos Islands in exchange for independence – “if you want your independence, then this is the cost”.

How did the UK respond? “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.” Note the reference to defence.

This may be no more than a bit of whimsy, but the fact that the UN postal agency banned British stamps from being used on the Chagos archipelago in its own little way tells a story.

Therefore, I would suggest that an Overseas Territory is not something Westminster would have any qualms about creating, defending and maintaining quite shamelessly, justifying their actions on arguments about defence and security. They’ve done it before!

Another example, though known as a “Sovereign Base Area” is the RAF base at Akrotiri in Cyprus. According to the MoD, SBAs are “primarily required as military bases and not ordinary dependent territories”, being “in a region of geo-political importance and high priority for the United Kingdom’s long-term national security interests”, according to a 2010 review by Lord Ashcroft. Sound familiar?

The Cypriot view is that the base is a “remnant of colonialism”, but unlike Mauritius they are prepared to grant the UK “as much sovereignty as is necessary for military reasons”, however Westminster does not recognise any such claims that the UK’s sovereignty in the areas is limited.

What both these examples demonstrate is that the issue of sovereignty in such enclaves is clear – sovereignty is for Westminster. If we revert to the Cypriot case again, we find that the Cypriots did negotiate the continued presence of the airbase before independence – the London and Zurich Agreements – though Cyprus argues that the UK is not meeting the financial obligations of these agreements. However, what was their alternative? To say “no”? How might this have affected their independence? Presented with the determination of the UK not to give up the bases what were the Cypriots to do? Would they not have agreed to their own independence unless the SBA reverted to Cyprus and the British left?

Might this not be a parable for our own independence? Let’s suppose there has been an agreed referendum, which has been won by c.60%+ (i.e. it’s conclusive for everyone but the hardest core of Unionism) and negotiations have been started. There are plenty of bones of contention – for instance how much debt will Scotland take from the UK? What assets will be made available for Scotland? Lots there to fall out about, but we get near enough to a conclusion – even if it means parking a few issues and kicking some along the road (or into deep rough) – BUT HMNB and its future are still to be settled. The MoD have investigated in depth the main alternatives and found none of them suitable

  • Barrow – the tidal patterns mean boats could only come and go once a week.
  • Devonport – not a lot of room, lots of local opposition because they’re not safe and will do terrible things to tourism and many local constituencies are held by Tory MPs
  • Milford Haven – deep water and its in Wales, but there is also a gas plant there with a pipe running right across the bay. An accident would take the place beyond Kingdom come
  • Sending them to the US – possible but expensive and with several complexities, not least that crew would have to be located there (think Helensburgh)
  • Sending them to France – are you **///???.>>>>>>>>>>> kidding?

Therefore the negotiators are told to advise their Scottish counterparts that the talks will not continue unless they are prepared to accept an SBA in Gareloch and Loch Long as far as Portincaple (passports just after Rhu corner). Navigation rights will be negotiated but are expected to be like now. What do we do?

On the basis of the Chagos Islanders the UK won’t be kidding – there is a good likelihood the US will be cheering Westminster on from the sidelines as it will maintain the North Atlantic nuclear presence.

On the basis of Cyprus we can accept it and move forward to independence with that atrocity still at the end of the Clyde? It is of course possible we could charge them a good screw in rent (though it will never ever be enough), and securing various advantages in the independence agreement (just not this part of it).

The poverty about saying “no” is that however it works out we still have the base

  1. We are independent with an SBA, or
  2. We remain in the UK with HMNB.

Like I said, “Hobson’s Choice”.

The debate about the future of HMNB Clyde has been handicapped by two things. One is that the UK has established ways of dealing with this problem. Do we really expect them to act differently? The other is the assumption that we are dealing with an honourable partner!

17 thoughts on “Relocating Trident: Hobson’s Choice

  1. The various UK Overseas Territory suggestions, ignore a key point: Scotland owns part of the nuclear fleet, by virtue of being part of the UK (as do Wales and NI), so Scotland and whatever remains of the UK, will have to agree on what is to be done. If England and any other part decides it wishes to retain the nuclear fleet, then, there would have to be a payment for Scotland’s ‘share’ as well as an agreement about the short and long term future of Faslane.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Simples
    A totally responsible and legal response by any Scot or group
    Blockading roads and sea entrances outwith Westminster declared territory
    Making the whole base unserviceable in a secure manner
    All in full view of the world
    And do not forget the recently passed UN
    Resolution which on day 1 Scotland can sign up for
    That prohibits Nuclear weapons being held or transported through another Nations sovereign lands,air and waters
    Such brings China and Russia into the equation
    Kick by all legal means possible this nuclear apple cart over and over at every oppurtunity
    Westminster says Yes
    We the people say No

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like the idea of sinking Jackie Baillie, but as one of her constituents (sadly) I suspect with her survival instinct, she would probably float.
      I suspect there would be a navigation “agreement” – voluntary or otherwise, but all the rest could be done, to what effect?
      I understand your point about international opinion too, but that hasnt done much for the Chagos Islands.
      I doubt that SBA or BOT is where the UK would want to go, given the choice The issue, though is whether they have a realistic choice. If there is nowhere in the rUK that is able or willing to have them are they not better coercing Scotland to do it for them?
      The main problem with what you say though is that you assume we are dealing with an honourable opponent – we are not. We are dealing with the UK which will lie and cheat and thrown its weight about and drag in its pals (eg the US) to get its own way.


    1. James
      Houston we have a problem
      S**t akin The said J.Baillie unfortunately
      Can’t be sunk
      But in this instance can be voted out


  3. The elephant in the room with this article is the issue of legal jurisdiction. English law was supreme across all of the empire and therefore the English parliament was competent in law to enforce its will. The fly in the ointment is Scotland, English law does not and never has had supremacy in Scotland. The English parliament does not have the necessary legal competence to create a sovereign enclave within Scotland’s boundaries. A countries boundaries are defined in law by legal jurisdiction. It would in effect be an Act of war by England to use force of arms to secure the base and indeed would require the annexation of the whole of Ayrshire and Arran, parts of Kintyre and Argyle, and a huge amount of Scotland’s territorial waters to ensure the security of the base. That would require England parking half it’s army and military assets in Scotland. Which is why the MOD made it crystal clear that it wasn’t an option.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Legal jurisdiction? Two things to start off
      1. the UK where the Chagos Islands isnt that bothered with the law – it has lost in every forum Mauritius has taken them to and it just doesnt care
      2. as with the Chagos Islands but also Cyprus, setting up whatever they set up and whatever they call it, BEFORE independence is an established fact, and at that point HoC sovereignty – re-emphasised twice now by the Supreme Court – will still apply. I suspect they will try to secure some sort of agreement on the Cypriot model, but if that fails I think they will get their friends in the court of world opinion (a good deal of NATO – even the states that will not have nuclear weapons on their territory will be glad to have these weapons here if they have to go anywhere) and simply give us “Hobsons Choice”.


      1. I think my comment was pretty explicit with regards legal jurisdiction and shouldn’t really require further explanation. Legal jurisdiction makes Scotland a defacto equal partner in the UK, that westminster spends an inordinate amount time effort and money trying to convince Scots that were not is perhaps telling. No court, supreme or otherwise can rule on a non existent law.
        That doesn’t in anyway preclude the issue of westminster using strong arm tactics, my point is they wouldn’t be legal, which opens a can of worms the establishment won’t want opened.


  4. Faslane and the subs is not the real issue as the subs can,in theory,be parked just about anywhere.
    Coulport and it’s nuclear weapons storage depot is the real problem.
    Who is going to accept a huge nuclear weapons storage facility on their doorstep?
    Imagine the outcry from English voters if the MoW announced that they were going to relocate the depot to the Bristol channel.
    Scottish independence will force England to recognise it’s true place in the world of the 21st Century and that they are no longer a world power with need for global reach/threat.
    The obvious path for them to take will be to get rid of nuclear weapons and invest in stuff which will be of practical military value to the defence of their much reduced sea border.
    They will need to get real,which of course,they are desperate not to have to.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. “Coulport and it’s nuclear weapons storage depot is the real problem.
      Who is going to accept …. ?” Agree! But then there is dealing with and replacing nearby ‘Defence Munitions (DM) Glen Douglas’:

      ‘Hidden in the hills to the east of Loch Long is DM Glen Douglas, constructed in 1966 and covering 650 acres it employs around 120 people and is the largest weapons storage site in Western Europe.

      ‘There are 56 storage bunkers built into the hillsides, and a number of weapons processing and engineering workshops. The site serves all three armed forces and has the capacity for almost 40,000 cubic metres of munitions, most of which are transported to the site by rail and sea.

      ‘A new Road/Rail Transfer Point (RRTP) was completed in September 2016 and Glen Douglas maintains a fleet of lorries that travel up to 400,000 miles a year transporting munitions across the UK.

      ‘Glen Douglas stores a high volume of bombs, ammunition, explosives and pyrotechnics but does not routinely deal with complex weapons. At Glen Mallen on Loch Long, there is a deepwater Jetty that can accommodate large warships and RFAs where they can load or unload munitions delivered by road from Glen Douglas. The jetty was refurbished in November 2014 and is licenced to handle up to 440 tonnes of munitions at a time.’

      The same website reminds us of the seven nuclear powered submarines awaiting full disposal at Rosyth. Another legacy to be sorted during negotiations to dissolve the Union. We learn that:

      ‘The first Royal Navy nuclear submarine, HMS Dreadnought decommissioned in 1980, has now been tied up in Rosyth awaiting disposal longer than she was in active service.’

      There are already 13 subs stored at Devonport, many still with nuclear fuel on board. According to “Navy Lookout’ the ‘capacity to store more boats at Devonport is limited’.

      Liked by 4 people

  5. Kind of Alasdair to reference me. If I could flesh out some thoughts. I served in the RN and was based at Faslane twice, so have some concept of the enormity of the investment involved in setting up a nuclear base. I would wish the removal of the Trident system as quickly as possible, and we should absolutely not allow “sovereign” foreign bases within an independent Scotland. I would allow some time ( decade at most) for “flitting” the weapons system, but with a leasing arrangement in place.
    Scotland is not a colony ( unlike Cyprus and Mauritious, even though we are sometimes treated as such), and international law would apply to the ending of the Union as it did to the USSR. Like Russia, rUK wishes to be the “continueator” State, taking on the Treaty obligations, debts and assets of the U.K.
    Scotland would therefore start debt-free, but all “fixed assets” would acrue to us–that includes Faslane/Coulport (it’s how Ukraine became a nuclear power), which would be an asset to negotiate away, as Ukraine did.
    Scotland, as quickly as possible, needs to internationalise the whole independence issue: preferably with an “honest broker” like the EU. We need to involve the UN, and we require oversight for indyref2: media scrutiny; funding of players and so forth.
    It may be the US plays fair with Biden in charge, but we cannot depend on that.
    We have the advantage of recognised borders, with a settled population. No need for disputes on ethnicity, religion or anything else.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. You make a good point when you mention the Ukraine Gavin. You are right that Ukraine inherited a share of the USSR’s nuclear arsenal, which prompted the west to almost have kittens, as they were concerned about the Ukraine’s capacity to deal with the security of these weapons. Thus there were negotiations between Ukraine, Russia and the US. This resulted in Ukraine agreeing to remove all nuclear weapons from its soil in exchange for assurances that Russia would respect its sovereignty. The Ukrainians turned the warheads over to the Russians and with American assistance destroyed the missiles.
    Applying this to Scotland, I am not sure of our negotiating position. We clearly dont want 8% so how much would the UK give us not to take it?
    I think there are two things that make the outcome we all want difficult to achieve – ie getting rid of these things. One is that for the UK the nuclear deterrent is almost totemic. Some say they are worried about losing the UN Permanent Seat – final proof the UK is not a world power any more. The other four permanent members – US, Russia, China and France are.
    The other thing is that if there really is nowhere else, do they go for the possible loss of status (and remember we have just blown a big hole in the UK by leaving – could they take any more?) or just throw their weight about? In the final analysis could they just say that if you dont go along with this then we will not agree to your independence?


    1. Iamsoccerdoc wrote “This resulted in Ukraine agreeing to remove all nuclear weapons from its soil in exchange for assurances that Russia would respect its sovereignty. The Ukrainians turned the warheads over to the Russians and with American assistance destroyed the missiles.”
      After that, Russia shafted the Ukraine big-time: they annexed Crimea and supported and/or participated in an orchestrated insurrection in Eastern Ukraine. Protests were uttered by the international community but Russia still holds Crimea and foments trouble in Eastern Ukraine. Nobody should imagine that the UK wouldn’t resort to similar tactics and interference to hang on to the whole Faslane/Coulport/Loch Long/Glen Douglas complex and nobody should imagine that the international community would be any more successful at protecting Scotland’s interests than they were with Ukraine.


  7. Tory McMillian illegally dumped nuclear on Scotland without a mandate. Illegally and secretly. In the 1960’s. Kennedy did not want Britain to have Polaris but McMillian insisted. Kept secret under the Official Secrets Act. Illegal under international Law. To dump nuclear waste in any place without a mandate.

    Take it down to the Thames or Devenport. They dump the waste in Scotland. Dump it beside London. There would soon be an uproar. Not beside one of the biggest City in Scotland, without a mandate and against International Law. A total waste of time, space and public monies. A threat to humanity.

    Greenham Common shut down in 1992. After protest. 40mins from London. The Westminster cabal do not want a nuclear arsenal close to their backyard or to interfere in shipping. They dump it in Scotland. Several rotting shells at Rosyth illegally dumped in Scotland. The Ministry of Defence (attack) do not know what to do with the dangerous contamination. A public disgrace.

    The illegal Westminster wars are a blot on humanity. They have illegally killed and mained millions of people. They are a disgrace. Killed and mained millions of people and ruined the world economy, They are an international disgrace. Still keeping up the nuclear arsenal. Against International opinion and International reduction Treaties.

    The US military spend $740Billion. The highest in the world. Nearly a third of all world military spend. 340million pop. Dumping nuclear waste worldwide and causing conflict around the world with redundant weaponry. A treat to humanity. A colossal waste that could be better spent. Improving the world not destroying it.

    Westminster has been illegally and secretly selling military weapons to the Saudis and Qatar since the 1960’s. (Harold Wilson). Kept secret under the Official Secrets Act. For illegal funding and political donations. To politicians and Royalty. Bribes and corruption against International Law. Saudi Arabia military spend $69Billion. Pop 33 million (11 million migrants). One of the highest pro rata spends worldwide. Killing and maiming Millions and ruining the world economy. Against International Law and incurring human rights abuse. Oil and blood monies. Non democratic.


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