LAST Friday, The National ran a story about defence plans for Scotland after independence. It was based on an article in the UK Defence Journal which appeared to consist of two separate interviews, one with MP Stewart McDonald, who is the SNP defence spokesperson, and the other with Inverclyde councillor Chris McEleny.

It covered a wide range of issues, but I will focus on one aspect: what was said, and not, about Scottish National Party policy on the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland and in particular what was said by Mr McEleny about how SNP policy on nuclear weapons might change.

Mr McEleny was quoted as saying: “Therefore, a pragmatic, and unpopular political approach may be to set the deadline for removal

of the Trident fleet at the end of its lifespan.”

Mr McEleny is correct at least when he says that such a significant change in the SNP’s stance on nuclear weapons would be unpopular. Indeed, I’d say it’s a bit of an understatement, too, in my view. As someone who has spoken on behalf of the Scottish Government at nuclear conferences organised by the UN at its HQ in New York and in Geneva and Vienna, I can say it would be unpopular not only in Scotland but in at least the 84 member states of the UN that brought the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) into life.

Mr McEleny says that such a move would be pragmatic. This is not so and this is why. Firstly, Mr McEleny thinks that if an independent Scotland was to accept Trident on the Clyde for its lifetime it would be gone by 2032. This is not so.

The first of the new Dreadnought class submarines is already under construction in Barrow-in-Furness. As the timescales for the Dreadnought class entering service moves further and further into the future – it was originally 2028 and is now an unspecified time in the 2030s – consequently the timescales for the lifespan of the Vanguard fleet increase.

There is a misunderstanding – and it appears from Mr McEleny’s comments that he shares this – that the Trident-carrying Vanguard fleet of four subs will be replaced all at once by the Trident-carrying Dreadnought fleet of four subs. This is not how the Royal Navy, indeed how any navy, replaces its fleets. They do it piecemeal. So, the end date of the Vanguard fleet might well be nearer 2040 than the timescale Mr McEleny proposed.

Mr McEleny’s 10-year timescale would actually turn out to be a nuclear Trojan Horse, something I would have thought the rUK might itself suggest. However, if the rUK can get the Scots to suggest it, all the better.

THERE are other issues around retaining Trident well into the future. If Mr McEleny’s expanded navy was to go ahead, while at the same time retaining Trident, the current SNP policy pledge to turn Faslane into the HQ hub of an independent Scotland’s defence force would be difficult to sustain.

On the international stage, the reputational damage to a new sovereign Scottish state’s diplomatic standing would be significant. To switch from “the speediest, safe removal of the nuclear weapons stored at HMNB Clyde”, would be a signal Scotland would not be serious about its pledge to sign the Treaty on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons.

The vision that Scotland would be joining a range of small progressive northern European states would be in tatters. Rather, Scotland would immediately establish a reputation of a vote for hire at the UN.

No-one, as far as I am aware, is suggesting that Trident goes from the Clyde on day one. However, any figure beyond a five-year period slips into very dangerous waters where the technicalities of removal and, crucially, serious pressure on the rUK to work up alternative basing arrangements for its submarines would be removed.

We should remember why SNP policy talks about “speedy” removal. It’s to ensure the rUK is under no misunderstanding that it will need to work up alternative arrangements for its nuclear bombs, rather than work up a diplomatic Trojan Horse to keep Trident on the Clyde.

Above all, however, we should remember why the SNP believe nuclear weapons should be removed from the Clyde. Scotland today, along with dozens of other countries, promotes the reduction and removal of nuclear weapons through the framework of the TPNW. This is not as an exercise in moralistic grandstanding but because their governments have come to the conclusion nuclear weapons threaten the survival of the human race.

A chilling prediction by former Clinton-era US defence secretary William Perry is worth noting. Nuclear accidents and misunderstandings have brought us close to nuclear annihilation on a number of occasions. The inevitable advent of artificial intelligence or systems not far removed from AI make the likelihood of accidental nuclear war more likely.