from Sunday Herald, 12 April 2015
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has begun work on stationing new Trident submarines on the Clyde before the UK parliament has decided whether or not to give them the go-ahead, the Sunday Herald can reveal.
The MoD has launched a series of studies into how the Faslane and Coulport naval bases can accommodate larger “successor” submarines to replace the four existing Trident boats. But the decision on whether they will be needed is not due to be taken until next year by the MPs that will be elected next month.
The revelation has sparked outrage from the Scottish National Party (SNP), the Scottish Greens and anti-nuclear campaigners, who accuse the MoD of pre-empting a democratic decision. It comes on the eve of a mass ‘scrap Trident’ blockade that aims to close down Faslane on Monday.
The SNP’s defence spokesman, Angus Robertson, is writing to the Conservative Defence Minister, Michael Fallon, demanding to know what is being spent on preparing the Clyde for new Trident submarines. “The MoD has been caught out again,” he said.
“This raises some very serious questions for the MoD, as costs are being incurred before there has been any democratic scrutiny, debate or even approval,” he said. Spending money at Faslane to get ready for the next generation of Trident before a single parliamentary vote “would be completely unacceptable”, he argued.
“Scotland could well be in a powerful position in the next Westminster parliament by electing a strong team of SNP MPs - making scrapping the renewal of Trident entirely achievable. There could be an historic opportunity in the next parliament to end Trident once and for all.”
The Sunday Herald received information last week suggesting that assessments had secretly been started into how the Clyde bases could accommodate new Trident submarines. According to Fallon, they are expected to be the largest submarines ever built in the UK.
When pressed on Friday, the MoD accepted that work had begun. “MoD is conducting a series of studies examining the infrastructure that will be required to support the successor submarines,” said an MoD spokesman at Faslane.
“Only when the studies have been completed, and the results analysed, will the MoD be in a position to determine what changes will be necessary to the infrastructure at HM Naval Base Clyde, including the Royal Naval Armament Depot, Coulport, and to estimate the cost of any such changes.”
The spokesman stressed that a decision on Trident successor submarines was “yet to be taken”. The majority of the large-scale investment currently under way on the Clyde was aimed at upgrading ageing facilities so that it could become the centre for existing UK nuclear submarine operations by 2020, he said.
The Scottish Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, demanded full explanations from the MoD. “Any work to prepare for Trident’s replacement at Faslane is pre-empting the decision of the next Parliament,” he said.
“There is a growing voice against renewal of Trident so any planning being done now by military bosses is premature, bordering on the arrogant. The MoD has already been caught out spending millions in preparation for Trident's successor before a democratic choice has been made by the voters or by Parliament.”
The Sunday Herald reported in February that the MoD was planning to spend a total of £4.2 billion on replacing the Trident nuclear weapons system before the UK parliament had given it the go-ahead. The money was for designing new submarines, reactors and missile compartments.
According to John Ainslie, the coordinator of the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, £1.5 million was being spent on adjusting the shore infrastructure on the Clyde for replacing Trident. “But they have failed to disclose their plans for the shiplift at Faslane and the explosive handling jetty at Coulport,” he said.
“The MoD should come clean and tell the public exactly what is going on. They should not pre-empt any decision on replacing Trident by commissioning studies into how to fit the new submarines into the Clyde base.”
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, director of UK defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies in London and a former UK government defence adviser, said it would be surprising if the MoD were not making preparations for new submarines on the Clyde.
“Making sure that Faslane and Coulport will be able to accommodate a new generation of submarines will be essential to their successful introduction into service,” he said.