The UK’s nuclear submarine fleet and other Royal Navy vessels could be moved to Scapa Flow and used to protect the northern isles’ oil and gas interests, a Scottish Conservative peer suggested yesterday.
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie said the move would be dependent on people in Orkney and Shetland voting to reject Scottish independence in 2014.
The former lord advocate and Scottish Office minister said that the proposal would be a “disaster” for the SNP, which is relying on North Sea revenues to fund an independent Scotland.
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said he did not think people would be in favour of the Trident fleet being moved from Faslane to Scapa Flow – an inlet of the sea in Orkney which serves as a natural harbour.
But he conceded there was a debate to be had about the islands’ future relationship with Scotland inside or outside the UK.
The SNP has vowed to rid an independent Scotland of the four nuclear submarines based on the Clyde.
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Jean Urquhart claimed Lord Fraser’s proposals would only succeed in giving a “massive boost” to the pro-independence campaign.
Mrs Urquhart said: “Shetland and Orkney are an important and valued part of Scotland and that will remain the case with independence.” Lord Fraser said: “Moving the Home Fleet could be popular in the northern isles, who have never really seen themselves as part of Scotland and would welcome the Royal Navy base.
“A future agreement might be the northern isles remain part of the UK with their oil and gas fields being defended by the Royal Navy.
“That would be devastating in the short term for Scotland’s tax take when those oil fields in mainland Scottish waters are already in terminal decline, unlike those of Orkney and Shetland,” added the Tory peer.
Mr Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP, said the northern isles must not be used as a “pawn in some game of constitutional chess”.
“The role that Scapa Flow played in past world wars was an important one, but Orcadians, I think, see a better future for it as a hub for generating electricity from wave and tidal powers,” he said.
The MP’s remarks about renewable energy were echoed by Orkney Islands Council convener, Stephen Hagan.