A defence analyst has claimed that Scotland could generate £1.1 billion a year leasing Faslane back to the United Kingdom.
Trevor Royle has argued Scotland could follow what Iceland done for 50 years and lease the naval base back to the UK. Iceland leased an airbase to the United States for decades after becoming independent from Denmark.
In an article in the Sunday Times at the weekend, Royle said:
“Faslane is an extraordinary asset, but it will be the elephant in the room should Scotland gain independence in the immediate future.
This represents a challenge and an opportunity. Given the strategic importance of Faslane and the undoubted importance of submarines in modern naval operations, not least in intelligence gathering, why doesn’t Scotland follow Iceland’s example and lease the base to Nato, just as our northern neighbour did with the air force base at Keflavik — a crucial asset from 1949 until 2006? Under a bilateral agreement with America, Iceland provided the alliance with land and facilities as its main contribution. Operating under the title of the Iceland Defense Force — the host country does not possess an army — Keflavik emerged as a key asset in the Cold War. There were winners all round. For a country with a modest financial sector, Iceland benefited from the boom created by the US connection.
The nuclear issue could still prove a sticking point for all that the SNP did a U-turn over Nato membership in 2012 and for all that political parties have not been unknown to trim policy when it suits changed circumstances. I am opposed to nuclear weapons on grounds of cost, morality and lack of effectiveness, but an independent Scotland will not be so awash with cash that it can ignore an asset such as Faslane, which could attract a rental of £1.1bn a year. The SNP promises Faslane will be ‘a vibrant and sustainable conventional naval base’ but it makes no sense to house conventional naval forces in a modern, purpose-built base designed to operate nuclear submarines — and which newly independent country needs such an elaborate facility? Iceland makes do with three patrol vessels and smaller boats operated by 200 sailors.”
What about moving the base if Scotland leaves the UK?
If you’re reading this and are asking ‘Why not just move the base?’ then I’m sorry to say, it’s not that simple. Moving the base quickly isn’t an option, the facilities required don’t presently exist elsewhere in the UK.
Stuart Crawford, a retired regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment and former SNP defence spokesman had previously said the lack of an alternative sites means Trident carrying submarines based at Faslane would take 20 to 25 years to remove.
“An independent Scotland cannot really sensibly insist on removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from its waters in the short to medium term. Therefore some pragmatic solution has to be adopted. The pragmatic solution is, in my opinion, to rent the Faslane nuclear facilities to the rest of the UK until such time as some other arrangement can be brought about.
If there is any chance of Scotland becoming an independent country in 2021, it would take the UK government at least 20 years to build the equivalent to the Faslane/Coulport facilities elsewhere in the UK.”
Mr Crawford added:
“It is the most emotive defence-related issue in the whole independence debate. The difficult thing for the SNP leadership would be selling this to the foot soldiers. The broad base of the independence movement is very much grounded in the CND movement. I am completely sympathetic to that. The SNP Government might look at this plan and say it doesn’t deliver our promise to remove Trident, but it would be the biggest bargaining chip that an independent Scotland could have.”
An SNP spokesperson said:
“The SNP does not support Trident either as part of the UK or in an independent Scotland. We have continually opposed the renewal of Trident at the cost of conventional and cyber defences and continue to do so. In 2014 the Scottish Government set out a responsible approach to the removal of Trident from Scotland and in the event of independence securing the speediest and safest withdrawal of nuclear weapons would be a priority for an SNP Scottish Government.”