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Independent Scotland ‘home defence force’ scorned

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is scheduled to visit Edinburgh today. Picture: Getty

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is scheduled to visit Edinburgh today. Picture: Getty

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would be left with a “home defence force” unable to provide the same level of security as the UK currently does, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned yesterday.

Thousands of Scottish jobs in the defence industry would also be thrown into jeopardy by the prospect of lucrative UK military contracts coming to an end, he added.

But the Scottish Government has insisted its Scottish Defence Force would have more than 15,000 personnel – topping the current level of troops – and said the real “uncertainty” came from the UK government’s savage programme of defence cuts. About 11,000 troops have been axed from the UK armed forces since 2011, with almost 3,000 more set to go next year.

Mr Hammond branded the SNP government’s military plans “financially and strategically” incoherent, as he launched a coalition government report on the issue of defence after independence yesterday.

It warned that the SNP’s opposition to Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde could jeopardise the prospect of the fledgling nation joining Nato.

Scotland’s shipbuilding industry, which employs about 4,000 at yards on the Clyde and Rosyth, would face an uncertain future after a Yes vote next year, he said. Mr Hammond made it clear they would no longer be building UK warships – the cornerstone of current order books.

“The Nationalists have created a high degree of uncertainty with their plans, blighting the futures of thousands of families across Scotland,” he said.

Taking Scotland out of the integrated British armed forces would harm defence in all parts of the UK, he said. “What little the SNP have published of their plans for the defence of an independent Scotland doesn’t add up.

“And it does nothing to suggest that the Scottish people would benefit from anything like the level of security the UK armed forces currently provide, or the level of prosperity that Scotland’s defence industry currently delivers.

“The debate on the future of defence in Scotland is too important to be ignored, or brushed under the carpet, or fobbed off with half-baked soundbite policies which are financially and strategically incoherent. The Scottish people deserve facts and answers.”

He questioned what “opportunities” the Scottish defence forces would offer young people. “What calibre of people would they be able to recruit and retain for what is essentially a home defence force?”

But he conceded that historic Scottish regiments would be able to be part of any future independent army, after weekend reports that these could be retained by the British Army.

The Scottish Government proposes a £2.5 billion defence force, assuming a Yes vote in the referendum next September. Further details of the plan are expected to be contained in the SNP administration’s formal white paper on independence in the coming week.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman, said Mr Hammond was trying to mislead voters about defence cuts.

“Instead of coming to Scotland to peddle the No campaign’s ‘Project Fear’, he should stay and debate the reality of Scotland’s defence abilities as an independent country and Westminster’s woeful record,” he said.

“Westminster’s record is cutting personnel numbers to a historic low, closing bases despite promises to invest here and sacking troops by posting out P45s.

“An independent Scotland will have the defence capabilities and requirements for the 21st century and won’t spend billions on immoral and useless weapons of mass destruction like Trident. We will have a defence force suited to Scotland’s needs.”

The defence industry is worth an estimated £1.8bn of sales in Scotland and employs about 12,600 people, including specialist equipment manufacturers such as radar and laser firm Selex ES in Edinburgh, with 1,900 staff.

The SNP is also committed to the removal of the UK’s submarine-based Trident nuclear weapons system, located at Faslane and Coulport on Scotland’s west coast, after independence. But Trident is a key part of Nato’s military strength.

Mr Hammond said: “The Scottish people deserve to know, before the referendum, what commitments have been given by the Nato secretary-general and what hope an independent Scotland would have of future membership.

“Because without that membership and without the international defence alliances and networks the UK benefits from, the future security of the Scottish people would be significantly undermined.”

SNP government officials met Nato chiefs earlier this year and were warned that the Trident issue could prove a barrier to Scottish membership.

Faslane and Coulport are Scotland’s biggest employment sites, providing 6,700 military and civilian jobs, and this is scheduled to rise to 8,200 by the early 2020s. By this time, Scotland could be home to the Royal Navy’s entire fleet of submarines, an army brigade and a fast-jet air force base at Lossiemouth.

The SNP’s plan would see Faslane remain open as a joint forces HQ after independence, with an air force operating from Lossiemouth and Leuchars and the historic regiments retained. Frigates, subs and maritime aircraft are also at the heart of the plan but questions have been raised over their affordability.

Top historian supports shift in power away from London

One of the country’s foremost historians has backed a major shift of power from London to prevent the disintegration of the UK.

Professor Linda Colley, author of The Britons, and one of the leading academics on British history, said that to avoid a split, the UK should radically shift its constitution so that Westminster only controlled defence, foreign affairs and the macro-economy.

She said that English regions as well as the devolved nations were now saying “enough is enough, we want some power back”.

In response, she said the UK should set up an English parliament – outside London – to give people in England the same powers over their domestic affairs as those in the devolved nations.

In an interview with the IPPR think-tank, she warned: “London now holds as many people as Wales and Scotland together. Great Britain is a bottom-heavy island, and this affects relations within England as well as between the UK nations.”

And even if Scotland votes No to independence next year, she argues that a new constitutional settlement could be necessary to avert “disintegrative pressures” continuing into the future.

It follows IPPR research suggesting people in England want controls similar to the devolved nations, and could step up those calls if Holyrood continues to get more power.

She adds: “You would need a new English parliament – which should be based outside of London in my view – to complement the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Westminster parliament would be left to focus on the macro-economy.”

Prof Colley, now professor of history at Princeton University, has written extensively about Britain’s past, and is one of the most prominent figures to back an English parliament.

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The Scotsman cartoon - Scottish independence and defence

The Scotsman Conferences is hosting a series of events capturing the many facets of the Scottish independence debate. 3 December sees a formidable line up of expert speakers tackle “The Independence White Paper: A Business Plan for Scotland?” For more details on this and other great events please visit www.scotsmanconferences.com

 

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