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AN SNP-LED Executive would put itself on a collision course with the UK government by criminalising ministers and civil servants who prepare the groundwork for using nuclear weapons based in Scotland.

Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has said he will back a bill as first minister which would thwart the renewal of the Trident missile system. He believes the measure will help make Holyrood the political centre for ridding Scotland of weapons of mass destruction.

(from: Sunday Herald)

The SNP's intentions will be spelled out on Tuesday when Nationalist MSP Michael Matheson begins the process of introducing anti-Trident legislation to the parliament.

He intends to launch a bill that will make it a criminal offence to plan for using any of the nuclear weapons stationed north of the Border.

It will be aimed at ministers "responsible for the preparations needed to use nuclear weapons based in Scotland" and officials in the Ministry of Defence.

But the bill will not apply to workers in the nuclear industry, whose rights the SNP are keen to safeguard.

Matheson's legislation will alarm the government because it is an unambiguous attempt to hamper the renewal of Trident. Although it has no chance of being passed before the Scottish elections in May, SNP leader Alex Salmond has let it be known that an incoming Nationalist Executive would support it.

The move raises the prospect of the Nationalists using the parliament to frustrate the decisions of the UK government. The SNP are already exploring ways to use Holyrood's environmental powers to block the transportation of nuclear weapons around Scotland.

Salmond has also promised to veto proposals for new nuclear power stations through the parliament's control of the planning system.

In addition, the anti-nuclear bill is likely to exploit tensions within Scottish Labour over the government's decision to renew Trident. Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm recently quit as communities minister after voting with the SNP on their motion opposing the replacement of Trident.

The bill is also set to trigger a debate on whether MSPs can pass legislation that strongly affects defence policy.

Scottish advocate John Mayer helped Matheson draft the legislation so that it falls within the ambit of criminal justice, which is devolved to Holyrood.

The left-wing SNP MSP will use Tuesday's launch to put out his plans for a three-month consultation. Matheson said of his anti-nuclear bill: "It will seek to criminalise those responsible for the preparations needed to use nuclear weapons based in Scotland, while protecting the rights of Scottish workers.

"My expert legal advice confirms that Holyrood has the power to pass such a law, and we will unveil the full details of this in the next few days.

"Members of the Scottish parliament have a moral responsibility to oppose the proliferation of new nuclear weapons in Scotland. I look forward to working with interest groups, churches, elected politicians and the public to prevent the replacement of Trident on the Clyde."

David McKenzie of Trident Ploughshares said he welcomed the Matheson bill. "We in the anti-Trident movement have tried the criminal justice system to point out the illegality of nuclear weapons. We are delighted this route is being taken," he said.

But a source close to the first minister slammed the bill, saying: "This is an outrageous gimmick. Alex Salmond must disown it immediately or else justify criminalising neutral civil servants who simply carry out the policies of a democratically elected government."

A spokesman for the Labour Party also attacked the SNP plan. "Michael Matheson's bill shows the extremist tendencies of the SNP are very much alive and well," he said. "If the SNP want to lock up democratically elected politicians and independent civil servants in a separate Scotland, it is little wonder the prospect of trusting government to the Nationalists is so unappealing."