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The cost of relocating the UK’s nuclear force out of an independent Scotland would be manageable but the process was not likely to be completed by the Scottish government’s 2020 target, according to a study by the Royal United Services Institute.

The future of the UK’s Clyde-based Vanguard ballistic missile submarines and their Trident nuclear missiles would be one of the most challenging policy issues faced by London if Scotland were to vote for independence in next month’s referendum.

The Scottish government has said it would seek to have the submarine base at Faslane and missile base at Coulport moved out of the country within the first term of the first administration following its proposed independence day of March 24 2016.

Some analysts and anti-nuclear campaigners have suggested the cost and difficulty of finding new homes for the nuclear force could push the remaining UK to abandon its commitment to maintaining an independent deterrent.

But the Rusi study concludes that the net financial costs of relocation might be £2.5bn to £3.5bn over a decade or so. It says that pricetag goes not include land purchase or clearance and that it should be seen in the context of a total nuclear deterrent programme costing about £80bn over 25 years.

“The various challenges of relocation would probably trigger a wider national discussion in the UK on whether or not the strategic benefits of retaining nuclear weapons exceeded the costs involved,” the paper says.

“While the technical and financial challenges presented by Scottish independence would influence this discussion, they would not be severe enough to dictate it.”

The paper suggests Devonport and Falmouth in England are likely to be the best sites to base the Vanguard submarines and their missiles. However, it says the complexity of the task means it would be unlikely to be completed by the Scottish government’s target date.

“The deployment of the first successor to the Vanguard-class submarine – currently due in 2028 – would therefore provide a natural target date for relocation,” it says.

Any delay in relocation would be highly sensitive for the Scottish National party, many of whose members are strongly opposed to nuclear weapons and which has made getting rid of Trident a central plank of its vision for independence.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader in the UK parliament, insisted that removal by 2020 was a “perfectly reasonable timescale”.

“The UK parliament’s Trident obsession highlights the democratic deficit that Scotland faces under Westminster control,” Mr Robertson said. “It is ludicrous that we are wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on Trident – a Yes vote means it will instead be used to build a fairer society and stronger economy.”

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