CLAIM: “An independent Scotland would have to accept keeping Trident for more than 10 years if it wanted to join Nato, a leading defence expert has warned” – Herald on Sunday, May 22.

DOORSTEP ANSWER: The FM has pledged that an indy Scotland will be a good Nato member, helping to defend the whole alliance. Keeping Scotland out of Nato would only help Putin.


Professor Malcolm Chalmers is the respected deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Britain’s main defence think-tank. He was recently quoted in The Herald newspaper as saying that if the SNP pressed ahead after independence with removing nuclear weapons from Scotland within five years, (the party’s current timetable) then the UK would veto Nato membership.

Chalmers concluded that while Scotland would eventually join Nato, it might have to accept British nuclear submarines for at least a decade or until such time as the UK could make alternative arrangements.

A former Foreign Office civil servant, Chalmers is now a part-time professor at the privately funded London Institute of Social Studies, specialising in military matters. He is a former special adviser to Labour foreign secretaries Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett. He has no particular connection to Scotland or Scottish academia. Nevertheless, Chalmers has written extensively on the impact of Scottish independence on UK defence, mostly from a negative point of view.

In the run-up to the 2014 indyref, Chalmers had an article in The Guardian arguing a Yes vote would lead to “thousands of job losses”. He also said “an attempt by Scottish negotiators to force the UK’s denuclearisation could poison relations between the two countries for years”.

This latter was a curious view, as asking England to remove its nuclear submarine fleet from Scotland is hardly the same thing as demanding “denuclearisation”.

Also, during the referendum campaign, Chalmers made several interventions claiming that an indy Scotland would not be able to afford critical elements of a defence infrastructure, particularly air defence. As a supposed defence expert, he was criticised at the time for failing to explain how countries with a smaller economy that Scotland, including Hungary and the Czech Republic, were able to afford modern jet fighters.


Chalmers is correct to say that in theory any existing Nato member can veto the accession of a new member. Under Nato rules, all 30 member states have to approve new applicants, and this must be ratified by their parliaments.

As a case in point, Turkey has threatened to veto Nato membership applications from Finland and Sweden unless it gets assurances the latter will not offer continuing support to local Kurdish dissidents.

However, Turkey is coming under heavy pressure from the United States and the rest of Nato to modify its stance. It seems inconceivable that England would be allowed to veto membership of what is a key existing component of the defence of Nato’s Atlantic air and sea space. The United States, Canada and the Scandinavian bloc would be opposed to any such move, especially given the present tensions with Russia. If anything, England’s economic and defence ties with America are far closer than those of the US and Turkey. As we have seen over the Northern Ireland Protocol, US politicians are willing to play hardball with the UK if they feel American interests are threatened.


The nub of the problem facing England after Scottish independence is where to redeploy the base(s) for maintaining the Royal Navy’s nuclear deterrent submarines and their warheads. At present this is done at Faslane (submarines) and Coulport (warheads).

However, there seems no logical or logistical reason why UK nuclear missile subs cannot be based at the Royal Navy’s massive port complex at Devonport, though there are safety considerations given the amount of naval traffic in the Channel. Yet those same safety considerations apply to all Royal Navy ships using Devonport. As for warheads, this could be carried out at a floating dock as it already does at Coulport. Again, there seems no insurmountable reason why a facility for a floating dock cannot be found elsewhere on the English coast.

Indeed, the floating dock itself (which was built at Hunterston) is moveable. Alternatively, the Royal Navy could share existing facilities used by the US navy for its nuclear deterrent fleet. Certainly, this would be a cheap, interim solution as it does not require new secure facilities for the atomic warheads.

Against this background, there seems no practical reason why it should take an English government more than a parliamentary term (five years) to move its nuclear fleet elsewhere. Chalmers’s reference to a decade or more is unsupported. More likely, the resistance of the UK Government to moving its nuclear fleet out of Scotland is more to do with cost than anything else.

Clearly the UK Treasury would want to avoid any costs involved in redeploying the submarines. But is the UK willing to risk the ire of the United States and its Nato allies by blocking Scottish membership just to save cash? And surely any new investment in English port facilities would benefit English jobs?


A number of commentators – for instance Michael O’Hanlon, director of foreign policy at the prestigious Brookings Institution in Washington – have joined Chalmers in asserting that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned the geopolitical situation against Scottish independence on the grounds it would weaken the West.

However, the First Minister gave a powerful speech to the institution arguing that Nato and EU memberships were the bedrock of a post-independence foreign policy for Scotland – especially in the light of Moscow’s aggression: “We are clearer than ever that membership of Nato would not only be vital to Scotland’s security, it would also be the principal way in which an independent Scotland in an interdependent world would contribute to the collective security of our neighbours and allies.”

FACT CHECK RATING: Zero points. Dr Chalmers is letting his bias show again.