DEFENCE firms are hiding plans to quit Scotland if it votes for independence because of a “climate of fear”, the former head of the Royal Navy has claimed.
Lord West of Spithead, the ex-first sea lord and Labour security minister, said he had spoken to a number of organisations that
intended to shift operations south of the Border.
He made his claim while giving evidence on Tuesday to the Lords economic affairs committee’s inquiry on Scottish independence, where he also criticised the Ministry of Defence’s refusal to plan for separation as a “dereliction of duty”.
The defence capability of an independent Scotland was also dismissed as being similar to Ireland “which has relied on the rest of the UK for defence since the 1920s”.
In his evidence Lord West said that defence companies he spoke to have said they would leave Scotland if it becomes independent.
“I have asked them why they have not made this public and they have told me there is a climate of fear in Scotland, which I find extraordinary,” he told peers.
He said that the loss of the defence industries in Scotland would be “inevitable” because “defence companies go where the money is”. But he said that the loss of Scottish innovation and expertise would “diminish” the UK as a whole.
With BAE currently reviewing which of its yards to close, Lord West also said that it was “difficult to see” Portsmouth dockyard being closed in favour of the two shipbuilding yards on the Clyde, while the prospect of independence was hanging over the industry. He said that the
Nationalists were trying to
“deceive Scots” over the true
impact of independence.
He went on: “I believe that the damage to our island’s defence and the economic costs, particularly to Scotland, of separation have not been properly exposed and indeed that there have been attempts to hide the detail from the Scottish people.”
However, SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “This is scaremongering without a stitch of evidence from Lord West, and his silly claim has already been dismissed by experts.”
He pointed out that last month, defence expert Ian Godden, who is a former chairman of aerospace and defence industry promoter ADS, said that the skills and expertise of Scotland’s defence sector will enable it to continue to succeed after independence.
A spokeswoman for BAE Systems said: “The question of an independent Scotland is not for BAE Systems. Our responsibility is to deliver on our commitments to the UK Ministry of Defence and our international customers.”
But with 3,000 shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde potentially at risk, GMB union spokesman Jim Moohan said that Admiral Lord West’s warning needed to be listened to.
He said: “Independence will be too much of a cross to bear for the shipbuilding industry and it will come to an end, just as we have managed to get it back on its feet again.”