Trident: political football, folly, or matter of principle? - Spectator Blogs

29 October 2012

Philip Hammond is one of those ministers who seems to be held in greater esteem by those inside the Westminster hamlet than those of us who live beyond its boundaries. Westminster’s natives may, of course, be right, but it is striking how often the Secretary of State for Defence prefers to cast his arguments in terms of economics rather than, well, defence.

He’s at it again today. Mr Hammond is popping in to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane where he will “announce” that the government is splashing another £350m on the next phase of the mission to replace Britain’s Trident nuclear missiles. For reasons best known to himself, the Secretary of State seems to think this will make some difference to the arguments about Scotland’s constitutional future. After all, he says, some 6,500 jobs in Scotland depend upon the presence of nuclear submarines on the Clyde.

Well maybe they do though this figure, like many such pronouncements, has more than a whiff of the fag packet about it. But even if Hammond is right who does he think he is trying to impress? Are there really folk so dim to think that these 6,500 jobs (to take the minister at his word) are enough to matter? Would the calculations be any different if there were only, say, 2,500 jobs associated with the nukes? By his own logic one would  think this might be so.

It is true that defence has been seen as an SNP weakness but, in truth, I think Unionist arguments on that front have always been overplayed. In any case and whatever one’s own views on the nuclear deterrent there’s little doubt – in my mind anyway – that the SNP’s disinclination to harbour these submarines is a perfectly respectable and honestly-held conviction.


It’s true that the subs would not sail south the day after independence and that, whatever is said in public, and independent Scotland (should it ever arrive) would use the base as a bargaining chip in the independence negotiations. This seems to upset some people though I cannot for the life of me understand why. Indeed it would be an act of some negligence not to use the Faslane base as a means of extracting more favourable terms from London. (Which is also why, in the end, a lease-arrangement until alternative arrangements can be made would seem the most likely, and logical, outcome).

But, hark, up pipes Con Coughlin at the Telegraph demanding that someone call “Alex Salmond’s bluff over his threat to close the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane”. Fine! But what if, you know, it’s not a bluff?

Con, of course, sees it differently and considers any negotiations on these matters “pretty tawdry”. Doubtless using workers presently employed by the Ministry of Defence as political pawns counts as a noble enterprise…

Anyway, Con concludes:

The Trident issue is simply too important to be used as a political football.

Perhaps so but if this is the case then perhaps someone should tell the Secretary of State for Defence?


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  • rndtechnologies786

    Good think.

  • Virgin Submarines LTD

    Phil Hammond thinks he can buy the Scottish people and the country. I would rather be free and poor than eat the bread of British sorrow and slavery.


    • Wessex Man

      You and the 25% of the Scottish who still believe in “big Eck” or as we call him “the big fat bloke”

  • dercavalier

    A good sensible article Alex Massie.

    I too read the article in the Telegraph by I quote “… Con Coughlin who is the Telegraph’s Defence Editor and a world-renowned expert on global security and terrorism issues …”. Really? His article reads more like the mewlings of a petulant Bitter Together No-man. So I agree very much with your strictures about his article.
    One thing you could have enlarged upon, because I am sure you are well aware of it, is the FOI figures obtained from the Ministry at Westminster, which show that only some 520 jobs are dependent on the nuclear facilities at Faslane. And as the Scottish Government quite rightly states these would be retained to serve Scotland’s naval facilities there in the event of Independence.
    But it is not only in defence that the Bitter Together crowd exaggerate and overplay their hand. They are doing it vis a vis ALL aspects of the Independence debate and frankly Scots are fed up with the nasty nonsense.

  • Karl Naylor

    I simply cannot see the relence or point of renewing Trident, except for the usual idiotic and vain cant connected to the lines of “Preserving Jobs”, “Punching Above Our Weight” and 2Maintaining the UK as a Global Player”. £25bn on a futile project at a time when public services are being axed. This is why the political classes are detested.

  • Watcher

    Surely the reason the subs are in Faslane is because it is the best located base for an operational UK deterrent? Did this ever ocurr to you Mr Massie? Irrelevant Blether on an important subject.

    • Alex Massie

      Why, yes, Watcher, I am aware that Faslane was considered the most suitable spot for the base. And I’m fine with that. But that, my friend, is a different matter to the one being discussed here.

    • dercavalier

      “… the subs are in Faslane is because it is the best located base for an operational UK deterrent …”

      And what has that got to do with the price of sliced bread? Methinks the blether is all on your side.

      • Wessex Man

        Well Mr decavalier, we don’t want them anywhere near civilisation do we?

  • MichtyMe

    In addition to Hammond’s “fag packet figure” we have the HM Government figure. FOI answer from MOD disclose that 520 jobs dependent on Trident in Scotland. As a job creation exercise seems very poor value.

  • Iain Hill

    It is good of him to garner so many Yes votes for us. His time is much appreciated!

    • Wessex Man

      Why you just can’t trust any politician nowadays can you? I heard that some pompous halfwit politician had lied on a Politics show that he had taken legal advice about an Independent Scotland being part of the EU. People like him and Hammond, Well really they are just not credible are they?

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