31 Aug 15. In announcing an important £500 million infrastructure investment at the Royal Navy submarine base on the Clyde at Faslane, Scotland, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne quite rightly stressed the importance of this investment not only to UK defence but also to Scotland based jobs.
Work in connection with the planned new Faslane investment is due to begin sometime during 2017. It will include building of ship lifts, sea walls, jetties and other intentions for the site including significant re-wiring and modernisation over a period of ten years. We are told that the work will secure 6,700 jobs and create a large number of new jobs as well. This is excellent news and, as Mr. Osborne said himself earlier today, it is a massive boost for Scotland and UK defence.
The Faslane naval base which is operated by Babcock International is eventually intended to become the home base for all Royal Navy submarines. Faslane is currently the home base for the Royal Navy fleet of Vanguard class SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear) fleet and that are perhaps more generally termed as Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent capability.
The Government had previously announced an intention that from 2020 the Faslane base would become the Royal Navy’s “Submarine Centre of Specialisation” meaning that from that point on it would be the home base for all Royal Navy submarines.
Given the large reshaping of the House of Commons since the General Election with 56 members of the Scottish National Party now sitting on its benches and with the Labour Party now in all but complete disarray as it attempts to find a way of stopping left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn from becoming leader perhaps the timing of this announcement by the Chancellor today should not have entirely surprised. Given the long standing opposition to Trident replacement and also to the basing of the UK’s nuclear deterrent capability at the Faslane Royal Navy submarine base the now dominant Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) have continued to voice strong opposition to any investment at Faslane.
My own view is that the SNP needs to get real and understand and not only begin to understand the reason and purpose of why the UK has and needs to have strong nuclear deterrent capability but also that with the UK offshore oil industry now in seeming disarray and the impact this has already had on the Scottish economy due to the collapse in the price of oil, Scotland will need all the new jobs and investment that it can get.
The arguments for and against retention of an independent nuclear deterrent capability have been running for many years although until now this was one of the very few areas of common agreement and ground between Conservative and Labour parties. As the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown had been responsible for initiating the current plan to replace the existing Trident nuclear deterrent capability.
Conservative Party policy has continued to be almost rock solid in support of the Trident nuclear deterrent submarine replacement programme. To that end and during the period of Coalition Government which they had led since 2012 BAE Systems has been awarded three stages of funding on various occasions. The company which has also recently announced large scale infrastructure work will be taking place at its Barrow-in-Furness submarine yard, together with other large companies such as Rolls-Royce that are all involved in what is known as ‘Successor’ programme are well into the second half of an intended five-year design and development process.
On the subject of nuclear deterrent capability retention the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon said earlier this year that “the UK has been committed to having a continuous at-sea deterrent for over 45 years. This is because it is the responsibility of the British Government to protect its citizens and provide this vital line of defence”. I share that view and would add that having an independent nuclear deterrent capability guards against potential threats made against us. The fact that we never have and hopefully never will use the capability that we have is testament to why we had it and why we must retain it.
The UK submarine based nuclear deterrent capability is the last line of defence against attack and long may that be so. For responsible nations such as the UK nuclear deterrent capability is always seen as defensive as opposed to offensive capability. It is held to deter but it should also be seen as being an ultimate insurance policy against aggression. The very fact that we have it and that it is known that we have it by our would-be aggressors makes it far less likely that we might ever be attacked or ever have need to use it. That the UK having retained strong nuclear deterrent capability for the best part of sixty years now and that its record of success in deterring would-be aggressors is as far as I am concerned testament to why it must be retained.
Nevertheless, while the SNP may have lost the Scottish independence vote the debate and argument over Trident replacement is unlikely to go away. Indeed, in light of the anticipated election as party leader of the left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn next month and having made his views on both withdrawing Britain from membership of NATO and his opposition to retaining and replacing Trident we must of necessity be concerned that Labour might well withdraw its support for Trident replacement soon. Left-wing looney Corbyn may well be when it comes to his view on UK defence but in gathering support of biased left wing media he spells great danger.
If there is a plus side to all of this it is that having met many Labour MP’s over the past couple of years that genuinely fully support the need for the UK to both retain and replace its independent nuclear deterrent capability the hope is that there will be sufficient members of that party that really do understand the importance and that if Labour does withdraw support officially that when it comes to a final vote are prepared to defy the party whip.
The last remark is not to suggest that I am complacent in any way or that I consider the situation that we face in getting ‘Successor’ through to the build stage will be easy. There are a great many new Labour MP’s and one is unclear where they might stand. Whilst I can recognise that there remains fairly strong political consensus of support for Trident replacement I also recognise that events, meaning the result of the General Election in Scotland and the potential election as Labour Party leader of Jeremy Corbyn, have brought about the potential of a more negative view emerging. We should all worry about this and as Mr Osborne wrote in a Sun Newspaper article today, recognise the prospect that has emerged of “an unholy alliance of Labour left-wing insurgents and Scottish Nationalists”. Adding that “new unilateralists of British politics are a threat to our future national security and that the world is getting more dangerous” we should see words such as these as being ones that no-one ever uses lightly.
Mr. Osborne is certainly right to be concerned that what those of us have long believed is the right policy for the UK to have in terms of nuclear deterrent capability retention could well be shattered by those that care not for proper defence and even less in terms of understanding the intentions of those that would oppose us given the chance. Indeed, there is a real chance that very soon we might throw away our ultimate insurance policy against potential aggression. I hope such fears really do prove to be wrong and that next year, whenever the vote is taken in the House of Commons, that a deal of common sense combined with proper understanding of what retention of an independent nuclear deterrent capability has given us for so long prevails.
I make no apology whatsoever for my absolute and utter belief that Britain must retain independent nuclear deterrent capability and that the current fleet of Trident submarines must now be replaced. The sooner we move the process forward the better. The battle ahead and the persuasion required to ensure that the status quo of nuclear deterrent capability continues to exist will be harder than before. Those of the same view as me must then redouble their efforts to ensure that we do succeed in the objective that has been set.
CHW (London – 31st August 2015)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS