SNP Group Aims to Dump Trident

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The Scottish government has set up an expert group to investigate how best to get rid of nuclear weapons, the Sunday Herald can reveal. The group, to be chaired by Bruce Crawford MSP, the minister for parliamentary business, is seen by many as a crucial step towards making Scotland a nuclear-free nation - and could trigger a confrontation with Westminster. 

The group - which includes religious leaders, academics, activists, a lawyer and a trade unionist - has been given the task of finding legal, planning, regulatory and diplomatic ways to block the plan to replace the Trident nuclear weapons system on the Clyde.

Up to 200 British nuclear warheads are stored at the Royal Navy Armaments Depot at Coulport, on Loch Long. As many as 48 at a time are taken to sea from Faslane eight miles away on Gare Loch by one of four Trident submarines. A plan to replace Trident over the next 20 years was agreed by the former prime minister, Tony Blair, and backed by the House of Commons in London last year, despite a major Labour revolt. The plan has been pursued by the current prime minister, Gordon Brown.

It is strongly opposed by a majority of people in Scotland; however, policy on Trident and other defence matters is reserved to Westminster. But Scottish ministers are determined to act. Yesterday Crawford said: "It is only right that we consider how to raise the Scottish arguments with the UK government. The plain facts are that a majority of Scottish MPs oppose the son of Trident, a majority of MSPs oppose the son of Trident and a clear majority of Scots, in poll after poll, oppose the son of Trident."

The 13-strong group includes the Rev Dr David Sinclair from the Church of Scotland; John Deighan from the Roman Catholic Church; Osama Saeed from the Scottish Islamic Foundation; Professor William Walker from the School of International Relations at the University of St Andrews and Dr Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy. They will be joined by Dr Richard Dixon, the director of WWF Scotland; David Moxham from the Scottish TUC; Gillian Slider of the Scottish Youth Parliament; Isobel Lindsay from campaign group Scotland for Peace, and James Robb, an SNP councillor for Helensburgh, near Faslane. Alan Mackinnon, the chairman of Scottish CND and a member of the group, affirmed that it will "explore practical and effective ways to obstruct the deployment of new weapons of mass destruction".

The working group's remit includes examining alternative employment, the legality of nuclear weapons and the current licensing and regulatory framework (see panel). It is expected to have its first meeting in the spring, and to meet around three times a year. - A report published last week alleging the UK government was secretly preparing to withdraw Trident from the Clyde because of Scottish opposition was dismissed as "absolute balderdash" by a Ministry of Defence spokesman yesterday. Dr Jeremy Stocker, a nuclear weapons expert, said: "I don't think anyone in London wants to think seriously about relocating Trident in southwest England. But because of devolution, it is a nagging worry at the back of their minds."

*Working Group's Remit *- In the event of a decision to remove nuclear weapons from HM Naval Base Clyde, to examine the economic impact and to identify options for the development of alternative employment opportunities. - To explore the international opinions on the legality of nuclear weapons so far as relevant to matters within the devolved competence of the Scottish Government. - To explore the implications of seeking observer status at the Non-Proliferation Treaty Group. - To consider the adequacy of the current licensing and regulatory framework in relation to environmental, planning and transport issues. - To identify good practice elsewhere in the world in developing peace and reconciliation and consider how Scotland might contribute to this work. - To report to ministers on a regular basis. By Rob Edwards, Environment Correspondent, Sunday Herald