To give George Osborne his due, his comic timing is impeccable. It's just an immense pity that his joke is such a sick one. Less than four months after an absolute majority of the Scottish electorate voted for parties with an unambiguous manifesto commitment to scrap nuclear weapons, leading to the election of anti-Trident MPs in 57 of the 59 Scottish constituencies, the chancellor tells us that he's upgrading the nuclear base on the Clyde as a dividend for Scotland voting No to independence. His justification for this Orwellian claim is that the "vast majority" of MPs were elected on a commitment to renew Trident – by which of course he means a majority of English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs only. So Scotland's reward for narrowly rejecting independence is to get whatever another country decides we should have. Thanks, George, but I think we always knew that was the deal, even before you spelt it out.
To be fair to the Conservatives, defence policy is one of the very few matters that everyone agrees cannot realistically be devolved to the Scottish Parliament for as long as Scotland remains part of the UK. So it's correct that the UK-wide majority must prevail on nuclear weapons until the next independence referendum. But given the less-than-ideal situation whereby Trident is hosted by a country that is utterly opposed to its existence, you'd think a little less swagger and little more sensitivity would be the order of the day from Osborne.
Most obviously, why is he jumping the gun and announcing this upgrade before parliamentary approval is even secured for Trident renewal? The least we have a right to expect is that the British majority that will override Scotland's wishes is actually counted, rather than just assumed to be there. With Jeremy Corbyn's likely election as Labour leader, the vote may be considerably closer than previously thought. Osborne clearly finds the end of the cross-party "consensus" on Trident (which in truth was always illusory) to be deeply uncomfortable, but in a democracy you don't preempt a vote to avoid discomfort.
Secondly, why show such open contempt for the democratic verdict of the Scottish electorate by describing the SNP as part of an "unholy alliance" on Trident? If Nicola Sturgeon's party is able to make a common cause with Corbyn in supporting unilateral disarmament, it's actually very hard to think of a more principled basis for a political alliance. Neither side has a cynical motive – in fact, they both oppose Trident for utterly identical reasons. Technology that can instantly obliterate cities at the push of a button is an abhorrence. Spending hundreds of billions of pounds on that technology, rather than on schools and hospitals, is obscene. That's it. There is no shortcut to independence in opposing this evil, and Osborne would do himself more credit if he recognised that fact. It would be perfectly possible for him to maintain his own stance while being respectful of the deeply-held principles that led the Scottish public to reject that stance.
Thirdly, it really would help if the Tories stopped pitching for Scottish support on nuclear weapons on the basis of "jobs" and "investment". The destruction of the world is not a job creation scheme, and it's an insult to the intelligence of Trident's opponents to pretend otherwise. It's like trying to sway someone into buying a dodgy car by throwing in a bag of sweets. In reality, there need be no threat to jobs at Faslane if it's converted into a base for conventional forces only, but that shouldn't be the issue. You either support Britain possessing weapons of mass destruction or you don't. A few thousand jobs pale into total insignificance when you consider the devastation these weapons could wreak.
Pigs might fly
A mature government could take all of the above points on board and still persevere with Trident. But there is an even better option. It could say : "We believe in the nuclear deterrent, but Britain is divided on it. Scotland takes an opposite view from England, and Labour takes an opposite view from the Conservatives. The unity of this country is paramount. Until a much broader consensus emerges, it will not be appropriate to seek the renewal of Trident."
Pigs might fly, you'll probably say. And yes, that's just how little the Tories' One Nation rhetoric is worth. They'll plough ahead with an unimaginable level of spending on Trident, in the full knowledge that there are two entirely plausible reasons for thinking the money may be totally or partly wasted. The main alternative government would disarm if it wins the 2020 election, and Scotland's leading party still wants independence, which would force Trident to move away from Faslane.
Perhaps it's time we heard fewer jibes about "irresponsibility" from a government that is hellbent on taking such an almighty gamble with public money.