Scottish independence: Trident centre of TV debate

Ruth Davidson told of her pride at UK's military contribution. Picture: John Devlin

Ruth Davidson told of her pride at UK's military contribution. Picture: John Devlin

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RUTH Davidson last night launched a defence of the UK’s armed forces, saying she was proud that Britain “shouldered its burden” in the world.

The Scottish Conservative leader attacked the SNP’s proposals to create a Scottish Defence Force during a passionate debate on STV last night.

Sharing a platform for Better Together with Labour’s Douglas Alexander and Kezia Dugdale, Ms Davidson responded to suggestions a Yes vote would enable Scotland not to take part in “illegal” and “immoral” wars.

Ms Davidson, Mr Alexander and Ms Dugdale were set against the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the actress and convener of the Scottish Independence Convention Elaine C Smith and the Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

Held in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, Ms Davidson described as how in her previous career as a journalist she had gone to Kosovo with the Black Watch. There, she saw soldiers “taking bombs out of people’s homes” and sheltering children from bullets. “I am proud that Britain shoulders its burden in the world, intercepts drugs that are destined for our children and works hard to keep us from harm,” Ms Davidson said.

Defence was one of the key topics discussed in a wide-ranging debate which saw the participants clash on their differing visions of the future, how to deal with poverty and, inevitably, the currency.

In her opening statement, Ms Sturgeon said this month’s vote was a chance to make history to secure the powers required to build a better country.

She said the audience would hear “different visions” of what an independent Scotland could achieve, suggesting there was a choice of visions on offer after a Yes vote.

It was a theme she returned to later in the debate when she said “in an independent Scotland, you do not have to vote SNP”.

Much of the debate, however, was dominated by defence, with Ms Davidson arguing against the SNP’s plan to remove Trident from Scotland.

The way to deal with nuclear weapons was to work with other countries to downsize them, rather than move them to England, Ms Davidson said.

Although she disapproved of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s policies, she argued one of his achievements was to work with Russia and America to downsize their nuclear deterrents.

“The SNP plans of kicking Trident 400 miles down the coast does not make the world a safer place,” the Tory leader said.

She also described the SNP’s controversial policy change to embrace membership of the Nato nuclear-based alliance while getting rid of Trident as “hypocritical”.

Arguing on the Yes platform, Mr Harvie challenged Ms Davidson’s argument, claiming the only purpose of nuclear weapons was for the “mass slaughter” of innocent people.

He said if Scotland managed to get rid of nuclear weapons after independence, that would “tip the balance” for the rest of the UK to follow suit.

“This will help put the cause for disarmament back on the agenda,” Mr Harvie said.

Mr Harvie indicated he had his own issues with the SNP’s Nato membership policy, saying: “I want to reject a nuclear umbrella alliance and we will be able to do that after a Yes vote. Let’s take these decisions for ourselves.”

In a passionate contribution, Ms Smith said independence was not a “magic wand”, but would be “a start”.

“It is a start to not sitting back and leaving things to politicians. We have fought for this. We believe in this and we are going to make it happen.”

Ms Smith revealed she had recently become a grandmother, which had made her reflect on the statistic that one in every four male children born in Glasgow would not reach the age of 65. “This is not Dickens’ time. This is 2014,” the actress said.

As someone who lived in the East End of Glasgow, the idea that some people in the poorest parts of the city only had a life expectancy of 58 was “appalling”, she added.

Labour’s education spokeswoman, Ms Dugdale, said the difference in life expectancies was apparent in Scotland, pointing out that people in Lenzie could expect to live to 78.

“There is a difference within Scotland, it is not between Scotland and England,” Ms Dugdale said, adding the Scottish Parliament should do more to bridge the life-expectancy gap.

As in previous debates, much was made of Alex Salmond’s currency plans. One member of the audience asked the Yes panellists what sort of independence would Scotland achieve if control over monetary remained with the Bank of England in a “foreign country”.

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying that France and Germany shared a currency (the euro), but no-one was arguing that they were not separate countries.

She repeated the SNP’s line that their aim was a formal currency union that would see an independent Scotland share the Bank of England as lender of last resort.

Mr Alexander argued the SNP’s position would see Scotland have less rather than more control over economic policy, with the rest of the UK taking charge of interest rates and setting borrowing parameters, and leaving Scotland with limited taxation powers.

On a currency Plan B, Ms Sturgeon repeated the options of using the pound without Bank of England support, otherwise known as “sterlingisation” – using a Scottish floating currency or a currency with a fixed exchange rate. Mr Alexander said sterlingisation would cause “devastation” to the 200,000 people in Scotland employed in the financial services industry.

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