Defence spending in Scotland would be slashed by 25 per cent if voters back independence, Labour’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy will warn in his conference speech today.
Mr Murphy will quote a report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) that says £3.4 billion is currently spent by the UK government on defence in Scotland but, under SNP plans for independence, it would be reduced to £2.5bn.
The attack on the SNP’s defence plans comes after Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont appeared to liken Scottish Nationalism to extremists when she told delegates in Brighton yesterday that it is “a virus that has affected so many nations and done so much harm”, in remarks which were damned by the SNP as “ignorant, offensive and distasteful”.
In a conference where next year’s referendum on Scotland’s future is one of the main issues, Ms Lamont said: “The next year is about defeating the politics of nationalism.”
Ms Lamont insisted that the referendum was not about Scotland versus the Tories but “Scotland versus Salmond”.
The speech was intended to be the start of Labour’s defence of the Union at the conference with party big guns led by Ed Miliband making the case for Scotland to stay in the UK in their keynote speeches.
At a Scottish Labour reception Mr Miliband said that the Better Together campaign “is winning”, but warned that victory “could not be taken for granted”.
In her speech, the shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran argued that Labour values that helped shape the UK had their roots in Scotland with the creation of the welfare state and the NHS.
Evoking the spirit of Keir Hardie, she said: “Hardie believed passionately in a Scottish Parliament but he knew then, as we know now, that to advance the cause of working people, to overcome those who would divide and rule, we had to work together across Britain.
“Not split along national or regional borders and compete against each other, but work shoulder to shoulder for our cause.
“And, friends, time after time, the Labour Party – influenced, shaped and led by Scots, guided by those values of solidarity, fairness and equality – have built lasting monuments to what we can achieve together.”
Today, Mr Murphy will claim that SNP defence cuts in an independent Scotland would be more than three times the austerity measures introduced by the coalition, which saw defence slashed by 7.5 per cent.
He will say: “What of the SNP? Their defence policy is based more on faith than fact.
“You can’t spend just 7p in the £1 of the UK defence budget and claim that Scotland will be better defended. The SNP’s absurd policy would cut Scotland’s defence even deeper than the Tories have done.”
The SNP reacted angrily to Ms Lamont’s speech and the attacks from the Labour conference, which they claimed were at odds with promises of “a positive debate” ahead of the referendum.
An SNP spokesman said: “These are ignorant, offensive and distasteful comments from Johann Lamont that have no place in the debate on Scotland’s future, and are completely at odds with the No campaign’s professed desire for a positive debate free from abuse.
“This speech was a chance for Johann Lamont to show she and her party have a positive vision for Scotland – and once again she spectacularly failed the test.”
The Scottish Government also disputed Mr Murphy’s figures on defence spending.
A spokesman for SNP veterans minister Keith Brown said: “An independent Scotland with a defence and security budget of £2.5bn a year will spend around £500 million more on defence and security annually than current levels of Westminster defence spending in Scotland – but we will also save almost £1bn a year from what Scottish taxpayers currently contribute to UK defence spending and will not waste billions of pounds on Trident nuclear missiles.
“An independent Scotland will have first-class conventional forces which will play a full role in defending the country and co-operating with international partners – but we will not be dragged into illegal wars like the disastrous invasion of Iraq, supported by Jim Murphy and his New Labour colleagues.”
Manifesto cost check move
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls will today challenge claims that there is a £28 billion black hole in Labour’s spending plans by asking the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) to assess the Labour manifesto.
Mr Balls will announce he has written to the OBR, set up by Tory Chancellor George Osborne to produce independent economic predictions and assessments on the government’s spending plans, to ask them to look at Labour’s proposals.
Labour leader Ed Miliband was yesterday forced to defend the party’s manifesto, after an analysis of Treasury data, released by the Tories, claimed Labour promises would require more than £1,000 of extra borrowing per household in 2015, equating to £27.9 billion.
Mr Balls will say: “In tough times it’s even more important that all our policies and commitments are properly costed.
“The British people rightly want to know that the sums add up. This is the first time any political party in Britain has ever said it wants this kind of independent audit.”
Apprenticeship plans under fire
Labour’s plans to require large companies to offer a new apprenticeship place each time they hire a worker from outside the European Union (EU) came under attack from business leaders.
The flagship policy – which Labour believes could create 125,000 apprenticeships in the next five years – will form part of an immigration bill in the first year of the next Parliament if Ed Miliband wins the 2015 general election.
But the British Chambers of Commerce denounced it as an “apprentice tax” while the Institute of Directors said it was “completely removed from reality”.
The Confederation of British Industry described as “unworkable” a separate proposal, floated by Mr Miliband, for varying minimum wage rates in different sectors.
Conservatives said the apprenticeships scheme would breach EU law unless the posts were open to nationals from the other 27 member states, in which case it might drive up immigration.