On the 18 September of this year Scotland will decide whether or not to remain within the United Kingdom. The pro-Union campaign retain the lead but this has shrunk steadily over time so that now the result will be a close one. Should Scotland leave, it would likely be led by the Scottish National Party, who strongly advocate for the removal of Britain’s nuclear weapons from Scottish soil.
Britain’s nuclear weapons capability is based solely on Trident, an American nuclear weapon, which for Britain can be delivered solely by means of its fleet of four Vanguard-class submarines. These submarines are based in Faslane, Scotland. No other port within the UK is capable of hosting this fleet. Creating one would take a very long time and be very costly. And so Britain’s nuclear weapons capability, at least in the short-term, is now dependent upon an uncertain referendum and how the post-independence negotiations between a newly independent Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom go.
Whilst a plurality of Scots believe the submarines should continue to be based in Scotland, this is quite close with 41% supporting whilst 37% are against. The SNP are committed to removing these weapons from Scotland and wish to include this in a codified constitution for the new country. And so either the likely new Scottish Government would remove them, or hold a referendum. The chances of a favourable outcome would be uncomfortably narrow for Britain, especially given the SNP’s proven ability to turn public opinion around to suit their preferences as shown by the very question of independence.
But whilst the Scottish people have an undisputed right to decide their own fate which the British Government cannot very well ignore, we must not forget that the 55 million plus citizens inhabiting the remaining portions of the United Kingdom also possess rights. Amongst the most important is security. Whether or not nuclear weapons do in fact enhance Britain’s national security is irrelevant here; the British people on the whole believe that they do.
Clearly this right to security does not extend to Britain, for instance, invading other countries already established for the purposes of security in the style of, say, the Kaiser’s Germany with regards Belgium. But whilst Scotland has a right to independence, Britain likewise had a right to install on its own soil, as it was at that time, bases for the purposes of security. These bases are part of Britain’s national defence and, given the British people have a right to such national defence, the Scottish people do not have an overwhelming right in their quest for independence to overrule this.
Should Scotland go independent, Britain should respect their wishes but must stand firm in safeguarding its own citizens’ legitimate right to security. Scotland has as much right in dissolving the Union and harming Britain’s legitimate interests by closing down integral military bases as a pilot does quitting his job mid-flight and parachuting out of the aircraft. The pilot is not a slave to the airline company, but having taken on certain responsibilities and commitments at least in the short-term he is obliged to behave accordingly because other people have rights as well.
Practically, as Faslane is connected to the sea resupply should be relatively straight forward (assuming the Scottish do not escalate the situation massively) so the British Government could in theory simply refuse to vacate the base and there would be little any Scottish Government could do. Evacuating would be a question at that point of Britain’s national security interests and not the wishes of the Scottish people whose rights do not extend to stripping other citizens of their rights to security.