DEFENCE became the main battleground in the independence referendum yesterday as both Yes and No camps drafted in former military personnel in the fight for the hearts and minds of Scots voters.
With both sides claiming victory is in their grasp, voters were offered competing visions of what Scotland’s defence would look like after they go to the polls on Thursday.
In a statement for Better Together, more than 400 Scottish military veterans warned Scotland would be left “irresponsibly weakened” if there is a Yes vote.
The list of distinguished military personnel – including 11 Second World War heroes, six former heads of the army in Scotland and 15 other retired generals – made a plea to Scottish voters to say No to “defend the homeland” and protect thousands of jobs.
But it came as 18 other Scottish veterans – including 102-year-old Desert Rat Jimmy Sinclair – signed a letter condemning the former head of the British Army, General Lord Richard Dannatt, for claiming independence would be a “betrayal” of the Scottish soldiers who died defending the UK.
The group, which includes former Royal Marine and now SNP veterans minister Keith Brown, ex-Royal Navy intelligence officer Colin May and retired Lieutenant Colonel Cllr Kate Howie, described Lord Dannatt’s comments as “outrageous” and told how they took “the strongest possible exception” to them.
They said: “How dare he take their sacrifice in vain and try to turn it to political advantage, particularly having presided over the destruction of Scotland’s historic regiments.
“People who serve in the armed forces and veterans hold a variety of different views on Scotland’s future. We are all voting Yes on Thursday, others will vote No,”
they added. “It is that freedom to decide matters democratically which our servicemen and women helped safeguard for generations – it is not about bolstering the position of a self-serving Westminster establishment – and the people of Scotland will choose on Thursday.”
In an equally strongly worded statement, more than 400 veterans warned of dire consequences they foresee in the wake of a Yes vote.
Its signatories include Colonel Ian Critchley of the Black Watch, the first officer in the 51st Highland Division to cross the Rhine in 1945, and two Second World War Royal Navy veterans, Lt Cdr Jock Moffat and Lt Cdr John Lorimer, who helped to sink the Bismark and her sister ship the Tirpitz.
And among the generals to have signed the statement are six former heads of the army in Scotland – Lt Gen Sir Norman Arthur, Lt Gen Sir John MacMillan, Lt Gen Sir Peter Graham, Major Gen Mark Strudwick, Major Gen Euan Loudon and Major Gen Andrew Mackay.
It reads: “As former members of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force who are proud to call Scotland our home, we passionately believe that the people of Scotland will be stronger and more secure if we remain part of the UK.”
They went on: “We live in an uncertain world. Our homeland and our interests overseas are subject to constant threats: history shows how quickly and unexpectedly crises can emerge.
“Whilst alliances can increase our security, no nation can avoid its individual responsibility to defend its territory, interests and citizens both at home and overseas. Britain’s armed forces represent a potent safeguard against those who mean us harm.”
They also spoke of their pride in the contribution Scots have made to the UK armed forces.
They added: “We are in no doubt that were Scotland to break away from the UK, the current arrangements for defending all these islands would be irresponsibly weakened. Scotland also stands to lose thousands of highly skilled and high-value jobs in the wider defence industry.”
Attacking the Scottish Government’s white paper, which would leave Scotland with a total force of 15,000 regulars, they said: “We see no evidence the SNP’s proposals for the defence of an independent Scotland could possibly provide us with a credible, effective defence force.”
The statement was also accompanied by personal messages from veterans of all ranks. Captain Frankie Caldwell of the Royal Tank Regiment, who left the army in 2010 after 27 years, said: “It would break my heart to see the Scottish element of the Union flag unpicked when I’ve fought together with English, Welsh and Northern Irish comrades.”