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Scottish independence, nuclear weapons and reflections on a road trip

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Chris Mason Chris Mason | 23:18 UK time, Saturday, 28 January 2012

The Scottish hills in snow.

It's a stunning approach. The surrounding hills have a thin veneer of snow carpeting their upper reaches. Below us, Gare Loch. The sort of view that has you instinctively reaching for your camera. Loch Lomond and the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park are close by, the Argyll Forest Park just to the west. But as the road begins its descent into Garelochhead, you get a sense this is no typically stunning Scottish vista.

We are about 30 miles north west of Glasgow and looking down on the base that is home to the UK's nuclear arsenal.

There is what is perhaps best described as a huge floating concrete shed, ships, buoys, warehouses and what feels like mile after mile of perimeter fences with barbed wire. A military police boat patrols the middle of the loch. There are four submarines based here, each armed with nuclear missiles capable of being fired from one continent and hitting a target in another.

Roughly 11,000 people depend on the bases here for a job. So what's this got to do with Scottish independence? Well, the Scottish National Party are anti nuclear, and want rid of the nuclear subs if Scotland becomes independent.

Anne in the Faslane post office

Faslane post office worker Anne

Little wonder Anne, who works in the local post office, is apprehensive about the coming referendum campaign. "Faslane would become a ghost town" she tells us. The SNP, for their part, say Faslane wouldn't close in an independent Scotland, it just wouldn't be home to anything nuclear. Labour, and the other parties campaigning to keep the UK as it is, readily argue independence would mean big job losses here. But they are more reticent about what they would do if they ran an independent Scotland. Then what would happen to the nuclear warheads?

A couple of miles down the road from the post office, we drop in on the peace camp. It's been here for almost 30 years. Yards away from the road, it's a ramshackle and colourful collection of caravans and makeshift corrigated iron constructions.

Peace camp resident Leonna

Peace camp resident Leonna

Leonna is welcoming. This has been home for her for nearly a year. Our question to her is simple. You want rid of these nuclear weapons, but if Scotland became independent, they would just be moved to Portsmouth, or Plymouth wouldn't they? But for Leonna, the debate on Scottish independence, with the knock on debate about the nuclear question, is a crucial opportunity. Would the rest of the UK want to keep the weapons, faced with the massive costs and inconvenience involved in moving them?

Our conversations with Leonna, Anne, two local politicians and a defence analyst complete, and our live reports for 5live Drive done, our road trip was over. Well, apart from the slog along the motorway to get home. 1400 miles done. About 400 to go.

So what are our reflections? We have looked at five of the big themes and issues surrounding the Scottish independence question. We looked at what it means to be Scottish - in Corby. We looked at the practicalities of the border in Cornhill on Tweed and Coldstream. We looked at oil in Aberdeen. We looked at maximum devolution in Guernsey. And we looked at defence here in Faslane.

So, we started off with five questions and themes. Let's end with five words, in no particular order, we heard again and again all week.


Big concepts. Some driven by the heart. Some by the head. Some by both. Of course, it depends who you ask. What is absolutely clear is now the debate is really getting going, people are asking loads of questions - and we mean loads - about what independence would mean, both in Scotland, and the rest of the UK.

And this is just the start. It's looking like the referendum won't be for another two and a half years. 5 live will be following the story every step of the way.

Chris Mason is 5 live's Political Reporter. You can follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisMasonBBC

5 live producer Chris Brindley was travelling with Chris all week.


  • Comment number 1.

    Re the employment at the bases. Des Browne, a Minister with Defense responsibility in the previous Labour administration, in answer to a Commons question, revealed that 859 jobs in Scotland were directly related to Trident. A lot of stuff at the Gare Loch in not nuclear.
    It would be almost impossible to relocate Trident elsewhere. It would cost billions to replicate the sophisticated infrastructure and take many years.

  • Comment number 2.

    Rochcarlie-cheers for that, I will have to look those quotes up. And yes, it is widely accepted that the cost of moving the nuclear side of Faslane somewhere else would be one hell of a job, logistically,financially, politically.


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