LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s defence secretary on Monday said an extra 350 million pounds would be spent developing next generation nuclear submarines, brushing aside Scottish nationalist threats to force the country’s submarine base out of Scotland.
Philip Hammond visited the site in Scotland where Britain’s submarine-based Trident nuclear deterrent is housed and challenged the Scottish National Party (SNP), which leads Scotland’s devolved government, to explain the impact of forcing the base to relocate elsewhere on Scotland’s economy.
The SNP has promised to remove the nuclear submarines from Scotland should it win a referendum on independence in 2014, though opinion polls currently show a majority of Scots would not vote to break away from England.
“We are confident the Scottish people will choose to remain part of the United Kingdom ... The Scottish government needs to explain how their policy would benefit Scotland’s economy and safeguard Scottish jobs,” Hammond said in a statement.
Trident’s renewal is a sensitive issue given its estimated cost of 20 billion pounds at a time of national austerity, and the Lib Dems, the Conservative party’s coalition partners, object.
The 350 million pounds will go towards designing the Successor submarines that will from 2028 replace the current Vanguard subs that carry Trident nuclear warheads.
Britain’s BAE Systems will receive 315 million pounds and 38 million will go to Babcock.
An earlier tranche of 350 million pounds for the design of Trident’s replacement was announced in May.
Hammond said keeping Trident at the Faslane base in Scotland would safeguard 6,500 jobs and that plans to house other types of British submarines at the complex would create another 1,500 jobs.
The SNP condemned the move.
“For the UK government to boast about spending hundreds of millions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction - while at the same time implementing brutal welfare cuts and slashing investment in the economy - is obscene,” said SNP lawmaker Bill Kidd.
He accused Hammond of using “fantasy” jobs figures, and said an independent Scotland would use Faslane as its main naval base, safeguarding jobs.
Hammond’s announcement appeared to pre-empt the findings of an ongoing Liberal Democrat review of potential alternatives.
A final decision on whether to renew Trident, in which four nuclear-armed submarines provide a continuous at-sea deterrent, is not expected until 2016, a year after national elections.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Andrew Osborn