THE Ministry of Defence is relying on fishing vessels and social media users to safeguard national security in the North Sea due to a lack of armed patrols in the area, according to the SNP.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, has called for a permanent maritime patrol base on the Clyde and a dedicated Scottish airbase amid “increasing foreign military operations close to UK territorial waters and airspace”.
The UK has the only armed forces in northern Europe without maritime patrol aircraft, has not taken part in Nato northern maritime patrol groups for years and has never taken part in Nato northern air policing which is based in IcelandAngus Robertson
In a speech to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London ahead of publication of the strategic defence and security review (SDSR), Mr Robertson said: “As we approach publication of the strategic defence and security review it should be acknowledged that the UK has not taken northern regional security seriously enough and this must change with the new SDSR.
“While all our northern regional neighbours make defence, security and stability in our region a key priority, the UK has not. The UK did not even mention the High North and Arctic in the last SDSR. This must change.
“The UK has the only armed forces in northern Europe without maritime patrol aircraft, has not taken part in Nato northern maritime patrol groups for years and has never taken part in Nato northern air policing which is based in Iceland.
“The Royal Navy bases all of its ocean-going patrol vessels on the south coast of England and has repeatedly had gaps in their cover for UK waters.
“In recent years we have seen increasing foreign military operations close to UK territorial waters and airspace, and the UK armed forces have been known to rely on intelligence from Scottish fishing vessels and social media as they have not had the appropriate assets in place in time.
“The forthcoming SDSR should signal that the UK will now take northern regional defence and security seriously. The Ministry of Defence must procure maritime patrol aircraft and base them in Scotland which is closest to where they are needed most.
“The MoD should permanently station ocean-going conventional patrol vessels on the Clyde to be close to northern waters. The MoD has to agree a step change in UK engagement with regional allies in regional defence tasking.
“Scotland is a northern maritime nation and it is shocking that the UK Government needs to be shamed into taking its northern defence responsibilities seriously.”
An MoD spokesman said: “The MoD provides maritime surveillance in a number of ways, including with surface ships, submarines, and aircraft.
“Earlier this year we announced a new helicopter-borne surveillance system to protect the future Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.
“We continue to assess future requirements and options as part of the work we are doing on the Strategic Defence and Security Review.”
• An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Angus Robertson as the SNP’s defence spokesman, and not the party’s leader at Westminster. We apologise for the error