The National:

I HAVE been watching Vigil, the new BBC thriller about murder and political skulduggery on board a Trident nuclear submarine. Cue dead Scottish fishermen, the machinations of the British deep state and copious Whitehall duplicity.  

It’s closer to reality than even BBC scriptwriters can imagine. When I was an MP at Westminster, I got to chat to the then First Sea Lord and navy boss, George Zambellas. He is notorious for openly calling for a No vote to Scottish indy during the 2014 referendum – the first open intervention in British politics by the military since the Curragh army mutiny in 1914, against Irish Home Rule.

Zambellas is a realist. He told me he was scared witless that the introduction of autonomous weapons (including robot subs) would lead to an all-out nuclear exchange. When the guy who was responsible for the Trident nukes tells you to worry, then start worrying.

The National:

Martin Compston in Vigil

The Financial Times has just regurgitated a story from “senior officials” suggesting that – in the event of Scottish independence – the UK Trident submarine fleet would have to relocate to either the United States or France. Any alternative English naval base would be too expensive to build and likely located in too shallow waters (thus making it easy for Russian attack subs to locate and follow Trident boats). France’s four nuclear deterrent subs are based at L’Ile Longue, near Brest. The US Navy’s Trident submarine base is at Kings Bay, Georgia.

However, as in the BBC Vigil drama, all is not as it seems – especially when secret Whitehall sources start briefing the Financial Times. The last thing the Navy and the defence establishment want is to relocate Trident boats to America. That would give the Pentagon even more control over the UK’s so-called “independent deterrent”. Remember, we only lease the missiles from America. As for the French hosting our nukes, just think of the diplomatic complications that could result in.

READ MORE: SNP and Greens welcome Tory plans to remove Trident from independent Scotland

The preferred option of the British military – if they can’t deflect Scottish independence – is to keep control of their facilities at Faslane (subs) and Coulport (warheads). This could be achieved through leasing these locations or declaring them sovereign British territory, like the base area retained in Cyprus. Media references to retaining sovereignty at Faslane and Coulport are probably designed to put pressure on the SNP government while dangling the prospect of a hefty rental payment for leasing the base. Or, more likely, rUK would offer a softer deal on Scots’ debt repayments to the UK (even if, technically, indy Scotland is not responsible for any UK Treasury financial obligations).

So, the FT “leak” is likely part of a softening-up process prior to any independence negotiations, assuming these ever take place. Note also we are witnessing internal Whitehall power games here. The Navy and Ministry of Defence (always hopelessly over-budget) want to keep Faslane regardless. By publicising the threat of kowtowing to the US or France for a replacement base, the admirals want to pressure Boris & Co. into retaining control over the Scottish bases after independence.

Back in April this year, Ciaran Martin (the Cabinet Office staffer responsible for running the 2014 referendum) publicly suggested there was no practical alternative to keeping the Trident boats at Faslane, given the “costs, security and safety issues around nuclear submarines”. He implied the subs would stay in Scotland subject to some deal.

READ MORE: Can we find a new home for Trident in England with deep enough water?

Of course, no one is saying the FM and SNP government will give into such pressure. But we should be aware from this orchestrated media campaign that Faslane and Coulport will be key bargaining chips in any eventual indy negotiations. Which is why it is important that the SNP and Green administration make clear now that British nuclear subs will have to vacate Scotland immediately after independence – no ifs, no buts. The latter position is being debated at the first Alba Party conference later this month, with a proposal to turn the former navy facilities into Europe’s largest wind farm.

Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see how the BBC’s Vigil thriller turns out. But knowing Her Majesty’s BBC as I do, I’m not getting my hopes up.