Lack of Scots voice at MoD threatens case for Union

IF THERE was one area of policy where, in theory at least, the “Better Together” message of those who wish to maintain Scotland’s place in the Union is strongest it should be defence.

A larger entity has more resources to spread around in defence, can buy equipment at a smaller cost and can prioritise more effectively.

It is also clear that the SNP has, at best, a sketchy idea of what an independent Scotland’s defence needs and resources might be and cannot hope to provide answers on a number of vital issues – not least security through intelligence gathering.

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Yet, astonishingly, defence is proving to be a fruitful area for the SNP and the Yes Campaign generally, not least because of the ham-fisted way the Ministry of Defence treats the whole independence debate.

The recurring answer given by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and others in the MoD is that they do not envisage Scots voting for independence, so are making no plans for it happening.

The complacency has already been attacked by former First Sea Lord Admiral Lord West, the Scottish affairs select committee and others, but it is also being reflected in the way current policy is being conducted, not just a lack of future plans.

So, the announcement on the basing review – if handled better – could have been a triumph for the government and pro-UK campaign in Scotland.

Scotland is getting an increase in army troops of about 20 per cent when the overall size of the army is falling 20 per cent. But it is not a triumph it is a PR disaster.

The problem is that the former defence secretary Liam Fox promised to double the size of the army in Scotland to between 6,500 and 7,000 troops. Instead, there will be at most around 3,800, as originally revealed by this newspaper in January.

This means that, quite rightly, the SNP can present the announcement today as a cut not an increase. It will also raise doubts about various defence establishments north of the Border, although at least the future of RAF Leuchars is now secure as an army base.

All this plays into a Nationalist narrative that Scotland does not get its fair share of spending supported by the fact that it has seen a disproportionate cut in defence spending over the past decade, a point made by Dr Fox himself when he was still defence secretary.

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Dr Fox is from East Kilbride and practised as a GP in Edinburgh. He is Scottish and knew what was needed to make the case for it to stay in the UK.

When scandal forced him out of office last year, it meant that the MoD did not have a Scottish-born or Scottish-based MP as a minister for the first time since the late 1970s.

The lack of a Scottish voice is now beginning to show in the basing review and the broken promise on doubling the size of the army in Scotland could prove to be a significant moment in the referendum debate.