IT says a lot about the changed political situation in Scotland that what would normally be a red-letter day for the Westminster Government and the armed forces was allowed to pass with barely a peep yesterday.

Usually there would have been a huge fuss about the 50th anniversary of any naval base being celebrated with politicians, falling over themselves to be seen alongside all those uniforms. Not yesterday, however, because the base reaching its half-century is HM Clyde Naval Base, aka HMS Neptune, the home of Britain’s nuclear deterrent at Faslane in Argyll and Bute. It’s been a source of controversy ever since it opened, its chief naval officer admitted yesterday.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Jones said: “I’m really pleased to attend this event and to share in the celebrations as we mark an important milestone in the life of HMS Neptune. Nuclear weapons have always been, in some people’s eyes, a controversial thing, and the Peace Camp has been here as part of the furniture, as it were, next to the Clyde submarine base since it existed.”

IT was done by a Scot – the late Queen Mother did the honours. She arrived on the Royal Yacht Britannia, now berthed in Leith, and was her usual gracious self as she met naval personnel, workers and local people.

The National:

She was not, however, allowed aboard the nuclear submarines because the first Polaris missile-carrying sub, HMS Resolution, wasn’t ready. She did, though, make her maiden voyage from Faslane some months later. Resolution was joined by Revenge, Renown and Repulse, one of which was always on duty with enough nuclear firepower aboard to kill millions of Soviet Union citizens – and back then there was no doubt where the missiles were aimed.

FASLANE is on the Gare Loch, an inlet of the Firth of Clyde north of Helensburgh. The Loch is deep enough for the submarines to get in and out of the Firth, and Faslane has always been seen as a good anchorage for large naval surface ships and submarines.

It is adjacent to the Royal Naval Armaments Depot at Coulport on Loch Long, home of the Trident missiles and the whole complex is the largest nuclear base in Western Europe.

The National:

From fairly humble beginnings as an emergency landing place built in World War I, Faslane had grew massively during World War II and when the UK Government was looking for a base for its newly-acquired – from America – ‘independent’ nuclear deterrent force, they plumped for Faslane.

From 1963 the preparations for hosting the Polaris fleet were massive as Faslane grew jetties, docks and giant repair and maintenance sheds. There were also living quarters for the naval personnel who staff the base, which later became the headquarters of the Royal Navy in Scotland.

FROM the start, the purchase of Polaris infuriated those who thought that Britain should not possess nuclear weapons. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had mounted plenty of protests from its foundation in 1958 onwards, especially over the decision to allow the USA to anchor its Polaris nuclear submarines at its giant base in the Holy Loch.

The National:

When the UK Government said it would buy Polaris and base submarines at Faslane, CND went into overdrive and mounted protests and marches near and around Faslane, but all to no avail as Harold Wilson’s Labour government pressed on with the Polaris project.

FOR a supposedly top secret base, Faslane was happy to be used as a location for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me. Exterior shots were filmed in and around the base with Roger Moore as Bond preparing to be briefed on his latest mission.

IN 1980, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher secretly arranged with president Jimmy Carter of the USA to acquire Polaris’s replacement, the much bigger Trident system. We now know there were huge rows in Cabinet before Thatcher went ahead with the deal anyway. The location of the base for Trident was top secret until the local newspaper, the Lennox Herald, got the scoop that the Royal Navy was enquiring about buying 2000 acres of land around Coulport. The Ministry of Defence called an urgent press conference and confirmed that Faslane and Coulport would host Trident.

The National:

Cue massive outrage by all the opponents of nuclear weapons. The base was in the news the following year when HMS Conqueror returned from the Falklands War – it was supposed to be a secret that she had sunk the Argentine Navy’s General Belgrano, but nobody had told captain Christopher Wreford Brown, who sailed up the Gare Loch with the Jolly Roger flying, the traditional sign that a Royal Navy submarine had sunk an enemy ship.

As work to prepare for Trident began in 1983, CND and plenty other organisations organised protests around Faslane and these continued for years even as HMS Neptune and RNAD Coulport were expanded.

At one point Thatcher is alleged to have said that any protesters getting into the bases should be shot, but thankfully that never happened.

Shortly after the news broke about the Trident expansion, a Peace Camp was established across the road from Faslane’s front door and it is still there, not least because the then Labour-controlled Dumbarton District Council gave it planning permission.

AS announced by former Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, all the Royal Navy’s submarines will be based at Faslane by 2020 with the seven Dreadnought nuclear “hunter” submarines joining the four Trident subs.

The base is to be further expanded at a cost of £1.3bn, and the number of jobs will be increased to 8200 from the current 6800. The majority are civilian personnel employed by contractors Babcock International.