The locally governing separatist Scottish National Party has been wooing voters with its promise to use North Sea oil royalties to expand social services, pursue a more Europe-focused foreign policy than that of David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition government in London and expel the British nuclear deterrent from its base in Scotland.
The pro-independence “Yes” campaign has been gaining momentum after trailing in the public opinion surveys for months, with most recent polls showing a virtual dead heat – with a bloc of undecided voters big enough to swing the referendum either way.
The growing recognition that Scottish voters might really choose to annul their 307-year political union with England and Wales is raising concerns on both sides of the Atlantic about the fate of the “special relationship” that Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt forged to wage World War II.
A particularly contentious point is the future of the submarine fleet that constitutes British independent nuclear strategic deterrent. The four Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines are based at Faslane in southwestern Scotland and their nuclear-tipped Trident missiles are stored and maintained at the nearby Coulport armaments depot. The Scottish National Party has pledged that the submarines and nuclear weapons would be fully removed from an independent Scotland by 2020.
Throughout the buildup to the Scottish referendum, the British government has maintained that it is not preparing contingency plans for the future basing of its nuclear arms because it did not expect Scots to secede. London says there is no other port in the country that is prepared to take over the nuclear basing mission.
If the weapons were ordered out of Scotland, the two most likely interim destinations for the fleet would be France or the U.S. Naval Submarine Base at Kings Bay in Georgia, where they would share space with American Ohio-class submarines. Converting an English port to accommodate the fleet would be an enormous expense.
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