As far as the first of these is concerned, the current Scottish nationalist line was made less unclear by Alex Salmond when interviewed by Andrew Marr recently (The Marr Show, BBC1, October 20):
ANDREW MARR: What happens to the submarines at Faslane? Are they- do you order them to sail south and do you know where they would sail to?
ALEX SALMOND: Well they should be safely removed. The time period for the removal once Scotland becomes independent - and after of course people have elected their first government in an independent Scotland - but if it were to be an SNP government, then we would ask the submarines to be removed from Scotland as soon as was safely possible. And the emphasis obviously on the safety because nobody would want to compromise that in any way. But of course a country has the right to say we don’t want to … possess nuclear weapons - either our own or anyone else’s.
ANDREW MARR: When you talk to defence ministers in London, they say oh well we might have some kind of leaseback arrangement a bit like the base in Cyprus. That is for the birds as far as you’re concerned, isn’t it?
ALEX SALMOND: Well yes it is for the birds. I think the Ministry of Defence actually briefed quite recently - I know they did - that they were going to annexe Faslane, but that particular ridiculous scare story just lasted overnight before Downing Street tried to … well did dismiss it. So you know I think the reality is that if Scotland becomes an independent country, if they choose the SNP to be the government, then we would want to see Scotland as a non-nuclear country. Part of the NATO Alliance certainly, part of the defence structures, cooperating on defence, but cooperating from the basis of being … a non-nuclear country.Since any independent Scottish government would be elected in 2016, the removal would be “as soon as was safely possible” after this, presumably. The costs and practicalities of Trident relocation as a consequence were the subject of a post here most recently in July. I am not aware of anything particularly interesting having come up since.
The Liberal Democrats
The evolution of the Liberal Democrat position relevant to any Labour/Lib Dem coalition in 2015 has been more convoluted. The Lib Dems were for some time advocating a system other than Trident as being more appropriate for the UK. For example, in January Danny Alexander gave an exclusive interview to the Guardian which reported:
The Liberal Democrats demanded a review into alternatives to replacing Trident as part of the coalition agreement, and it was initially led by the then armed forces minister, Nick Harvey. When Harvey was moved from the MoD last September, Alexander took charge of the detailed study, which is due to be completed and published by June this year. In his first interview since taking charge of the review, Alexander said nothing he had seen or heard in the last four months had challenged his view that replacing the Trident fleet was unnecessary – and unnecessarily expensive. He said he doubted it would meet the UK's 21st-century defence requirements either, with experts estimating the whole-life costs of replacing Trident could exceed well over £100bn.The Trident Alternatives Review was published on Tuesday 16 July. Two days earlier, the Independent on Sunday had run a story, Trident fleet may be cut to two submarines in new Lib Dem plan:
Britain’s fleet of four Trident submarines could be cut to two vessels under plans to be put to the Liberal Democrat conference this autumn. Danny Alexander, the Liberal Democrat Chief Treasury Secretary, will set out the proposal on Tuesday after heading a review of the alternative options to the £25bn “like-for-like” successor to Trident fleet favoured by the Conservatives.
… Mr Alexander has concluded there is no practical alternative to Trident, party sources told The Independent. But he will detail alternatives for downgrading it, making clear the leadership’s preference is for a two-submarine replacement.However, on 16 July in a speech to the RUSI about the Trident Alternatives Review, Alexander indicated no such preference:
… We can adapt our nuclear deterrence to the threats in the 21st century by ending 24 hour patrols when we don't need them, and buying fewer submarines. … a replacement nuclear deterrent based on the current Trident system is the most cost-effective in the period we are considering.but
[A] Four-boat successor operating continuous at sea deterrence [CASD} is not the only viable approach available to the UK. … The option of non-continuous deterrence does not threaten current security. And by changing postures we can reduce cost at the same time. For instance, ending CAS-D [sic] and procuring one less Successor submarine would make a savings of about £4 billion pounds over the life of the system.The Trident Alternatives Review had concluded:
32. The analysis has shown that there are alternatives to Trident that would enable the UK to be capable of inflicting significant damage such that most potential adversaries around the world would be deterred. It also shows that there are alternative non-continuous postures (akin to how we operate conventional military assets) that could be adopted, including by SSBNs, which would aim to be at reduced readiness only when the UK assesses the threat of a no-notice pre-emptive attack to be low. None of these alternative systems and postures offers the same degree of resilience as the current posture of Continuous at Sea Deterrence, nor could they guarantee a prompt response in all circumstances. …and the analysis of Postures had pointed out that:
3.36 Classified analysis about attempting to maintain continuous at sea deterrence with a 3-boat SSBN option showed that the risk of unplanned breaks relates directly to the number of submarines available for operational deployment, which in turn relates directly to the total number in the fleet. The modelling suggests that, over a 20 year period, a 3-boat fleet would risk multiple unplanned breaks in continuous covert patrolling as well as requiring regular planned breaks for maintenance and/or training. Experience to date with the Resolution-class and Vanguard-class SSBNs is that no such breaks have occurred or been required with a 4-boat fleet.In a Commons debate on an unrelated defence topic later that day, the then shadow defence minister, Jim Murphy, took the opportunity to point out that:
… what we have learnt today is that the Lib Dem part of the Government has taken two years to review a policy and spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, only to conclude that the Lib Dems’ past policy was unachievable. Today they appear to have managed to advocate both a Trident-based system and part-time unilateralism simultaneously. That is a real achievement. The British people will marvel at the incompetence of suggesting that we should pay tens of billions of pounds to send boats to sea, while the media are now being briefed that on occasion they will not even carry missiles. That is like someone having a new, expensive burglar alarm at their home with no batteries and a sign above the door saying, “Come on in—no one’s at home”. (Hansard 16 July 2013 : Column 970)The Commons debated the Trident Alternatives Review on 17 July, with Danny Alexander providing the Lib Dem interpretation of its conclusions. He told the Commons that:
… ending CASD and procuring one fewer successor submarine would make a saving of about £4 billion over the life of the system. (Hansard 17 July 2013 : Column 1225)which would appear consistent with Chart 1 of the Review (below).
If changes in technology make the nuclear submarines more reliable, meaning that we can go down to three, we will consider that. (Column 1227)Parliament went into recess shortly after the debate. The next articulation of the Lib Dem view of the UK’s nuclear deterrent was in a paper for their Autumn Conference, Defending the Future UK Defence in the 21st Century, Policy Paper 112. This recommended adopting a “Contingency Posture” which among other things would:
• End CASD but exercise the submarine capability regularly to maintain relevant skills, including weapons handling and nuclear command and control.
• Issue a declaratory policy of going to sea only with unarmed missiles and store a reduced stockpile of warheads at RNAD Coulport for redeployment within a specified timeframe. (6.3.6)Of the four non-CASD postures identified in the Review: Focused, Sustained, Responsive, and Preserved, the last seems most similar to the Contingency Posture. The Conference passed the Defending the Future policy on 17 September.
On 7 October, Ed Miliband reshuffled the opposition front bench, and Jim Murphy’s move away from defence drew the attention of the commentariat. Gary Gibbon remarked on his Channel 4 News blog:
Ed Miliband is said to rue the decision to continue with continuous at-sea deterrence (CASD) and four Trident submarines, and there’s bound to be suspicion that the removal of Jim Murphy from defence is part of a plan to move the party to a different place on this (even though the commitment to CASD was only signed up to this summer). In the past, Vernon Coaker, the new shadow defence secretary, has voted in favour of Trident renewal, but I wonder where he stands now and whether it came up in the chat in the leader’s office this afternoon.Polly Toynbee was even sharper in the Guardian the next day:
Removals may say more than promotions. Jim Murphy, smoothly dangerous, evicted from defence, frees up that policy for changes he would have blocked. Suspected of serial disloyalty, turning this war tiger into a peace-loving pussycat at international development is condign punishment that raises a smile among colleagues.But Dan Hodges in his Daily Telegraph blog knew better:
Vernon Coaker is determined to ensure that there's no backsliding on Trident renewal.and on 16 October this News item appeared on the website of John Woodcock, Labour MP for Barrow and Furness:
THOUSANDS of submarine design and construction jobs in Barrow will be safe under an incoming Labour administration, the new shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker MP said this afternoon (Wednesday). Mr Coaker gave the commitment to replace the Vanguard-class nuclear deterrent boats when accompanying John on a visit to BAE Systems' giant submarine-building complex in the town. Labour's pledge will also protect work carried out by supply-chain companies across the UK and maintain the nation's security.
John said afterwards: "It's so important that the new shadow defence secretary chose Barrow over all the places in the UK to come first. He's been impressed by the capability he's seen today and the clear signal he's given is that Labour will continue with the programme that we started in government - to maintain the continuous at-sea deterrent by replacing the Vanguard submarines. That's absolutely right, but it's really good to hear it on his first outing.”
Mr Coaker said: "The important thing is we're maintaining our commitment to an independent, nuclear deterrent. We believe that should be a continuous at-sea deterrent and the Main Gate decision for that will be made in 2016. The workers and management I've spoken to here today are reassured by that."
Around 5,500 BAE Systems personnel are engaged in submarine design and construction at the Barrow yard with thousands more involved in supply-chain manufacturing and services throughout the UK.So, in October 2013, about 18 months before the election, the Labour and Liberal Democrat positions on the deterrent are no longer differentiated by choices as to the most appropriate delivery system but by the appropriate “posture” for the Trident submarine force and hence the number of Successor submarines required. My view is that the current Lib Dem position can be regarded as quasi-unilateralist and intended to attract a particular left constituency which would otherwise vote Labour (or Green, or not at all). Labour’s position remains one of avoiding any hint of unilateralism, which the Tories would be certain to capitalise on, and also has an eye to the jobs at Barrow and in the supply chain referred to by John Woodcock. Whether Trident CASD would prove to be a “red line” if a Labour/Lib Dem coalition had to be formed remains to be seen, perhaps not until the possibility of one being unavoidable seems likely.
UPDATE 24 NOVEMBER
It is probably worth recording the following exchange at PMQs on 20 November (Hansard Column 1229):
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): If he will rule out the removal of continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence for as long as he is in office.
The Prime Minister: As I told my hon. Friend when he last asked about this issue, if we want a proper, functioning deterrent, we need to have the best. That means a permanent, at-sea, submarine-based posture, and that is what a Conservative-only Government after the next election will deliver.
Dr Lewis: May I reassure my right hon. Friend that that excellent answer will remain on my website for as long as it takes for the pledge to be fulfilled? I notice that he used the words “Conservative-only Government”. Will he reassure the House that never again will Liberal Democrats be allowed to obstruct or delay the signing of the main gate contracts, and will he undertake to sign those contracts at the earliest possible opportunity?
The Prime Minister: I would say a couple of things to my hon. Friend. First, investment in our nuclear deterrent has not ceased. Actually, we are taking all the necessary steps to make that main gate decision possible. Also, we have had the alternative study, which I do not think came up with a convincing answer. I have to say, however, that I do not feel that I would satisfy him even if I gave him a nuclear submarine to park off the coast of his New Forest constituency. [Laughter].