Defence research spending favours 'Tory heartlands' and 'short-changes' Scotland, claim SNP

Scotland is being “short-changed” by the UK Government on defence research spending, with a preference to spend the money in “Tory heartlands”, the SNP has claimed.

The party accused the UK Government of a clear bias towards Tory voting areas due to the spending on defence research being shared across Scotland out of line with population proportions.

More than £300 million was spent by the UK Government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory in the past financial year, figures from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) show. However, just £5.7m of that work was being done by suppliers based in Scotland, compared to £164m of contracts going to suppliers in the South East of England.

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Analysis by the SNP said this meant just 1.96 per cent of contracts were going to Scotland, a quarter of the total if contracts were awarded proportionately to population share. The South East, by comparison, received more than 55 per cent of contracts, four times more than their proportionate population share.

The SNP also highlighted that of the 83 parliamentary seats in the South East region, the Conservatives hold 73. This, Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesperson, said was a clear example of the UK Government “playing favourites”.

He said: “Not content with having short-changed Scotland’s fantastic defence research sector, it’s clear the UK Government are playing favourites, with more than half of the entire budget being spent in the Tory heartlands. It’s clear Scottish-based firms would benefit more from independence, with an independent Scotland as a member of Nato more willing and able to invest in the research and capabilities to suit our unique defence needs.”

Mr McDonald said this was another example of Scotland being “consistently sidelined” by Westminster and a clear argument in favour of independence. He said: “The UK Government loves to lecture us on the benefits of the union and the ‘broad shoulders’ of the UK, but the proof is in the pudding, Scotland isn’t receiving its fair share under this Westminster system.

“In more areas than just defence, Scotland is consistently sidelined by Westminster, proving why we so desperately need the full powers of independence so we can escape the chaos and sleaze of the Tories and put the people of Scotland’s interests first.”

Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster Leader alongside Stewart McDonald MP at the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) in AberdeenIan Blackford, SNP Westminster Leader alongside Stewart McDonald MP at the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) in Aberdeen
Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster Leader alongside Stewart McDonald MP at the SNP conference at The Event Complex Aberdeen (TECA) in Aberdeen

Answering the written parliamentary question from the SNP on research spend, Alec Shelbrooke, who acted as minister of defence procurement during the short-lived Liz Truss administration, said the funding was based on regional analysis of an office or billing address, adding work may have been subcontracted by the supplier, potentially to other areas of the UK.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We invest in a way which best provides security for the entire UK. That places spend where it is most effective to keep us safe. In Scotland, that’s why we spend around £2 billion with Scottish businesses and support 13,200 private sector jobs around critical sites such as the Navy’s submarine headquarters at Faslane, shipbuilding on the Clyde and the Forth, and protecting our skies from RAF Lossiemouth.”

The criticism comes as the commitment by the UK Government to spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030 comes under intense scrutiny.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is set to lay out spending cuts and tax rises in an autumn statement on November 17, leaving the target in jeopardy. Defence secretary Ben Wallace has said he would continue to fight for defence budgets to modernise his forces.

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