“Scotland may be blocked from EU if it axes Trident rapidly” – report quoting Professor Malcolm Chalmers, in The Herald, July 5.


This is pure speculation by a leading member of the British military and diplomatic establishment. Besides, for Nato or the EU to reject Scottish membership would split Europe and be welcomed in Moscow.


A noted academic, Chalmers is sometimes referred to in the UK media as “one of the world’s leading defence experts”. But expertise in defence technology and military strategy is a different thing from pontificating on sensitive political issues such as whether or when the European Union would allow an independent Scotland to become a member.

Since the 2014 independence referendum, Chalmers has frequently expressed his opinions on an indy Scotland’s future diplomatic relationships with Europe, England and Nato – always from a negative point of view. Is he qualified to make such observations?

Chalmers began professional life on the left, doing a doctorate in peace studies at Bradford University and later serving as a special advisor to two Labour foreign secretaries, Jack Straw and Margaret Beckett. But in recent years he has become a major establishment figure in the UK defence and foreign affairs community. He served on the Cabinet Office expert consultative group preparing the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Defence Reviews for the Tory government.

Chalmers is therefore a key player in developing the current British nuclear stance, including the replacement and upgrading of the Trident nuclear deterrent system. It is hard to consider him a neutral academic.


Today, Malcolm Chalmers is deputy director-general at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the UK’s main defence think tank. RUSI maintains close contact with the UK and foreign military, police and security establishments. It funds itself largely through research contracts with the defence industry and political agencies. It has 158 corporate members. It also receives donations from rich individuals and foundations with a political axe to grind.

Among those providing donations, RUSI lists the Google Corporation and Michael Davis, a former boss of the Xstrata mining company and also a former CEO and Treasurer of the Conservative Party. In 2021, RUSI’s research income was £6.9m out of a total budget of £8.3m.

This suggests that Professor Chalmer’s role as head of research is key to the institute’s financial survival. In this respect, Chalmers’ high media profile is important for RUSI’s public credibility and ability to acquire new supporters.


In recent months, Chalmers has renewed his argument that if an indy Scotland forced the removal of UK nuclear submarine facilities from Faslane too quickly, with the result that there was no obvious replacement location, Nato would consider this a hostile act and resist Scottish membership of the organisation.

On several occasions since 2014, Chalmers has argued that there is no obvious or cost-effective replacement for the Faslane facilities.

In his most recent pronouncement, Chambers now extends his argument to suggest that, in the shadow of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU would put pressure on Scotland to either retain Trident at Faslane – or allow a reasonable time for alternative basing arrangements to be made.

Chalmers believes the Ukraine crisis has caused the EU to rethink its defence posture including doing nothing that would cause Moscow to think it was weakening its defences, including its nuclear capability. The decision of Sweden and Finland to join Nato, and more particularly of Denmark to drop its opt-out from specifically EU defence cooperation, could be cited as evidence to support Chalmers.


In response, Chalmers seems unaware of the closer engagement with Nato that has been a focal point of recent SNP policy.

The National:

In a recent BBC interview, when asked if an independent Scotland would deny access to Scottish waters of US or Nato warships armed with nuclear weapons, all SNP Defence spokesperson Stewart McDonald (above) would say was that “Scotland would not permanently host nuclear weapons from other states”.

To be fair, this is simply a reiteration of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” position that even Alex Salmond defended at the time of the 2014 referendum. However, the SNP does seem to have nuanced its position since the start of the Ukraine crisis.

Originally, the party supported an independent Scotland signing the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) which certainly would forbid visiting nuclear weapons carriers. In January 2021, the First Minister said an indy Scotland would be “a keen signatory” of the TPNW.

But this stance has been cast into doubt by SNP foreign affairs spokesperson Alyn Smith, who recently said of the TPNW that “a piece of paper isnae going to keep us safe”. No country is both a member of Nato and a signatory of the TPNW.

At the meeting of the North Atlantic Council (Nato’s highest body) the alliance declared its outright opposition to the TPNW, arguing it both delegitimised nuclear deterrence (which it does) and undermined the current systems of nuclear non-proliferation. Certainly, Scottish membership of Nato would be inconsistent with signing the TPNW.

However, it is not so clear that signing the TPNW would preclude EU membership for Scotland, as Chalmers suggests. Ireland is both an EU member and signed the TPNW in 2017. Ireland, however, is not a member of Nato.


Chalmers has no special insight into the EU and his views on Scottish accession are purely speculative and designed (we presume) to grab a headline or two.

No one could reasonably argue that the response of the SNP government has been anything but pro-Ukrainian and pro-Nato during the present crisis. This includes agreeing with the Treasury that a sum of £75m from the Scottish budget allocation should be used to supply arms to Ukraine.

That is not to say that there will not be difficult negotiations post-independence regarding Trident and Faslane, or that the international crisis will not colour those negotiations. In that context, some might consider the remarks from Professor Chalmers as part of the UK Government’s initial negotiating tactics, rather than unbiased academic comment.


The National: National Fact Check Mixed

Four out of 10 for being partisan.