The UK is a nuclear-armed state which has not yet signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. It has 115 operationally available nuclear warheads as part of a larger stockpile of around 180. There are four Vanguard class submarines which carry eight ICBM missiles and 40 warheads, each with a yield of 100 kilotons. The warheads are manufactured and serviced in England and transported by road to and from the atomic weapon storage facility at Coulport. The submarines are based close by at Faslane on the Gare Loch in Scotland. New Dreadnought class submarines will utilise the United States’ D5 missiles from a common pool, which are currently being upgraded along with other key parts of the system in close collaboration between British and American nuclear weapon labs. The modernisation programme is critically affected by cost over-runs, delays to the building of infrastructure, difficulties in recruiting submariners and scientific staff, bottlenecks in dock space, faulty engineering, and inadequate project oversight. In July 2020, the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, wrote that “the Scottish government is firmly opposed to the possession, threat, and use of nuclear weapons” and “I have called on the UK government to sign and ratify the treaty”.
Tories and the Labour party are both supportive of the Trident replacement programme. Within the Scottish parliament the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Greens are strongly opposed to nuclear weapons, while the Scottish Labour Party is opposed to the replacement programme. This reflects the widespread and longstanding public rejection of weapons of mass destruction and their deployment from Scotland itself. Significant movement in the UK position could be brought about by the following:
- international impacts of the TPNW;
- the election of a UK government open to disarmament;
- a major nuclear accident in the UK;
- an independent Scottish government effectively disarming the whole UK by having nuclear weapons removed from Scotland;
- major economic shocks arising from Brexit and Covid 19 crippling the modernisation programme.
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