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Scotland’s Potential Independent and Non-Nuclear Future

By Katie Eige

With Brexit looming, there has been an increase in discontent among the Scottish government concerning Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s call for an “indyref2” or the second vote for Scottish Independence has been increasing in support in recent days. Alongside Scotland’s referendum on independence, there have been demands for Scotland’s nuclear disarmament. Scotland, a NATO member state, maintains one of three of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet. With an independent Scotland, there is a potential of a nonnuclear Scotland, which would have great effects for NATO, and the United States’ future relationships across the Atlantic.

In the days following the March 29, 2017 British withdrawal from the European Union (“Brexit”), Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon formally requested another Scottish referendum for Scottish Independence. Prime Minister at the time, Theresa May, declined Sturgeon’s request at the time, arguing “now is not the time”. Since the refusal by Prime Minister May in 2017, Scottish Prime Minister Sturgeon has been calling for a new referendum to occur by 2021. 

With the first independence vote in 2014, there was not a large margin, with 55.3% of Scottish people voting no to independence and an 84.59% turnout rate. In recent days, poll numbers have indicated that more and more Scots are feeling comfortable with the idea of another Scottish independence referendum. Yes polls have been increasing with an average of five polls finding that support for independence among decided voters is 2% shy of a majority at 49%. Pro-independence marches have continued to gain support in Scotland, with a 200,000 person pro-independence march having taken place in Edinburgh in October. 

The Scottish Government believes Scotland should be given a choice for Brexit or Independence, instead of being forced to comply with what Westminster desires. The Scottish National Party, Ms. Sturgeon’s party, is sending a resounding message of their desire to leave the United Kingdom. A second Scottish referendum, which did not seem very likely two years ago, has gained tremendous ground and support as the Brexit talks continue to drag on.

A second Scottish independence vote has the potential to send ripples through the United Kingdom’s political system and drastically alter the United States’ relationship with NATO. Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, is currently part of NATO. Scotland has traditionally been a hostile partner of the international body, with staunch defiance towards nuclear weapons placement in Scotland. This could all change if Scotland gains its independence.

Currently, the Royal Navy maintains Scotland’s main nuclear submarine base at Faslane, not too far from Glasgow. Faslane is home to the UK’s nuclear weapons system and is known as Britain’s home of nuclear weapons. Due to its extremely powerful weapons, Faslane has always been a highly controversial base and NATO port. Scotland has made it clear in the past that as soon as they can, they want these nuclear weapons removed from their shores. If Scotland became independent it would risk the removal of these weapons from Scotland. 

Scotland’s disdain for nuclear weapons has the potential to disrupt NATO relationships. It is extremely likely that along with Scottish independence, there would no longer be a nuclear Scotland. Currently, only three of NATO’s twenty-eight members are actually nuclear weapons states. With the departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom, there is little doubt that the nuclear weapons would be removed from Scotland, even if Scotland did not leave NATO.

Without a nuclear Scotland, the US risks losing an important NATO ally as well as a nuclear ally. Scotland has long been friendly with the US, and the two nations have had a past positive transatlantic relationship both within and outside the United Kingdom. If Scotland were to become independent and give up its nuclear powers, there is no question the balance of power would shift. It is in America’s best interest to have a nuclear actor in the region because, as Article 5 of the NATO treaty lays out, an attack on one NATO member state, is an attack on all. Without a nuclear Scotland, this creates a much larger burden on the United States to take responsibility in the region in case of an attack. The potential impending Scottish independence risks NATO security and transatlantic security between the US, UK, and NATO.

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