SCOTLAND could keep its £2 billion defence industry after independence because of its specialist industrial and engineering capabilities, an expert told MPs on Wednesday.
Ian Godden, chairman of the Farnborough Air show, told the Scottish Affairs Select committee that national contracts are now rare.
He took on the claim that Scotland’s defence and shipbuilding industry would collapse through independence because it would no longer win contracts from the rest of the UK.
And his analysis came on a day when Tory Scotland Office minister David Mundell suggested during Scottish questions that 56,000 defence related jobs were under threat from independence.
Responding to a question from Labour Glenrothes MP Lindsay Roy, Mr Mundell said: “As of April, there were 15,880 regular armed forces and Ministry of Defence civilian personnel based in Scotland, and an additional 40,000 people employed in defence-related industries in around 800 companies.
“Not one of those people could guarantee their job under an independent Scotland.”
But the fear over jobs was challenged by Mr Godden, who used to chair ADS the organisation that promotes the British aerospace and defence industry.
He argued that defence contracts have moved from being national to international and pointed to the example of the Typhoon aircraft where the radar is being partly built in Scotland.
He pointed out that the project was a joint one between the UK, France and Germany.
He said: “In the end with actual contracts there is no such thing as a national contract that means that you get 100 per cent of it in a nation”.
He went on: “It does not naturally flow any more that there are national contracts – although there are some – the prime contracts”.
Other experts, trade unions and UK ministers have warned that the Clyde ship building yards would suffer most from independence because of contracts going to yards in the remainder of the UK probably Portsmouth.
But Mr Godden challenged the claim saying that an independent Scotland would be in a strong position because it “has an excellent supply chain” of small and medium sized companies.
When asked by Tory MP Simon Reevell about Scotland’s niche defence industry status, Mr Godden said: “Inevitably it loses that niche status but whether that leads to it [Scotland] losing the business is a different question.”
He added: “Scotland can maintain its position in defence interests because there is an industrial capability and engineering capability that Scotland has got which makes it attractive.”
He added: “It is also where the skill base is.”
However, he warned that it would “not be a free lunch” for an independent Scotland and said that the country would have to invest in the industry and projects to continue to get work.
SNP defence spokesman and Westminster leader Angus Robertson said: “These are extremely welcome comments by one of the leading experts from the defence sector. This reflects the positive vision that the SNP has for the defence industry in Scotland and exposes the naked scaremongering of the anti-independence parties.”