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?