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Scottish independence could leave UK nuclear weapons homeless via Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

On September 18, the residents of Scotland will determine whether to remain in the United Kingdom or become independent for the first time since 1707. On the surface, this referendum seems to only affect those living in the United Kingdom, but a more detailed look reveals an issue of significant international importance—the future of Great Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The Scottish independence debate has been fiercely fought on both sides since First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond and his Scottish National Party won the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2011 on a platform that promised to hold an independence referendum. Accepting the democratic legitimacy of the election, British Prime Minister David Cameron and his government said they would allow the referendum to occur, pledging to respect the vote regardless of outcome.

Cameron and his Conservative Party are opposed to Scottish independence, as are the two other major UK political parties, Labor and the Liberal Democrats. The three political parties formed a coalition—Better Together—that is united in its opposition to Scottish independence, even though they have divergent views on other issues. Another policy all three parties agree upon, albeit with extreme hesitance from the Liberal Democrats, is the need for a nuclear deterrent in Britain. This is where the independence vote gets tricky.

Since the mid-1990s, the UK Trident program has been the only nuclear deterrent in Britain’s arsenal and its successor is scheduled to enter service in 2028. Here’s the issue: All active Vanguard submarines and accompanying Trident nuclear weapons are stationed at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde in Scotland. The Scottish government, led by Salmond, has pledged to safely remove and permanently ban nuclear weapons from Scottish territory within the first term of a newly independent parliament.

To be sure, the polls are not currently in favor of independence.

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If moving Trident nuclear weapons to England would be that much of an ordeal, only one realistic alternative exists. That would be to place them in Kings Bay, Georgia, in the United States, where Britain already stores and maintains some nuclear warheads, thereby disarming the British Isles altogether. But this situation wouldn’t really be necessary. Multiple analysts—including Malcolm Chalmers of the respected think tank the Royal United Services Institute and Francis Tusa of the newsletter Defence Analysis—have suggested that the entire Trident system could be moved to England relatively quickly and at an affordable cost. So why is the Ministry of Defence arguing that any move would be catastrophic? The answer is simple: politics.

Read more at Scottish independence could leave UK nuclear weapons homeless

Related article: Scots taxpayers face multi-billion pound bill for nuclear weapons if plans to renew Trident are backed warns minister via The Daily Record

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