Scottish independence: Leaving UK ‘will weaken defence’

A Trident submarine pictured at Faslane. Picture: Getty

A Trident submarine pictured at Faslane. Picture: Getty

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THE Scot who led British forces in Afghanistan has warned that an independent Scotland could not provide the same protection to its citizens as they receive from being part of the UK, leaving them more vulnerable to terrorism and cyber-attack.

In a challenge to the SNP’s case for independence, Major-General Andrew Mackay, who led British forces in Helmand province and later commanded the army in Scotland, writes in Scotland on Sunday today that independence would bring “very real risks to the people of Scotland”, damaging its ­economic and security infrastructure. “I cannot see how slicing up a competent and well-established military will aid either the UK or an independent Scotland,” he says.

One of the most respected military leaders of his age, Mackay resigned from the army in 2009 and has previously been critical of the Ministry of Defence’s strategy in Afghanistan. But he argues today that, despite “painful” cuts to the British military, the loss of the shared tradition of the armed forces would not serve anyone’s interests, “least of all the Scottish people”.

His comments come as a major report, led by the former army general, is published tomorrow by the Scotland Institute think-tank on defence in an independent Scotland, based on more than 30 interviews with senior military experts and officials.

The newly independent nation would be able to defend itself, the report concludes, but would have to lay out significant expense on a new MoD, a fleet of ships and a training academy. Having done so, the report adds: “There is no reason to believe it would make Scotland any safer.”

A new Scottish defence force would have only a “limited and modest” role internationally, it concludes.

It also warns that the country’s defence industry –focused presently at the Faslane naval base and at the two Clyde shipyards – would have to be downsized, “threatening thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in turnover”.

It then warns that an independent Scotland would find it “extremely difficult” to set up its own intelligence service in short order and would “therefore find itself much more vulnerable to terrorist and cyber-attack”.

The report concludes: “We do not dispute that the defence footprint in Scotland has been reduced in recent years – a central claim of the Scottish Government – but the integrity of Scottish security and defence within the UK still remains, even at reduced levels. Exit from the UK would not be a means to make good any perceived loss of capability.”

It adds: “An independent Scotland would be less prepared and less able than the UK, or a Scotland in the UK, to discharge the fundamental responsibility of protecting its citizens. With a referendum due in September 2014, we leave it to the Scottish electorate to draw its own conclusions on how much of a risk that entails.”

Maj-Gen Mackay, born in Elgin, began his army career in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and rose to prominence in 2007 as the leader of the Helmand Task Force in Afghanistan from October 2007. He led the assault on Musa Qala that recaptured it from the Taleban in December 2007.

However, he resigned in 2009 and was subsequently critical of the MoD’s strategy in Afghanistan. He writes today that in leading the forces in Afghanistan, “I served not just as a proud British officer, but also as a very proud Scot.”

Figures interviewed in the report included Nato officials and General Sir John Reith, a former deputy supreme commander of the Alliance. It concludes that Scotland’s entry into the North Atlantic Alliance would be “fraught with difficulty” if, as the SNP has insisted, Trident is removed from Scottish waters.

The Scotland Institute was launched last year with backing from cross-party figures, including Alistair Darling, now leading the Better Together campaign, and former SNP enterprise minister Jim Mather.

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