An independent Scotland should offer RAF Lossiemouth to Nato so that it could be run as an airbase by the nuclear alliance, a former defence adviser to the SNP has said.
Handing over the Moray airbase to the defence umbrella organisation will be a key proposal of a paper looking at defence strategies should Scotland become independent post-Brexit.
The paper, being written by Stuart Crawford, a defence commentator and former Army officer, will argue that strategic and economic benefits would result from his proposal.
Crawford told Scotland on Sunday that turning RAF Lossiemouth into a Nato airbase would see the defence alliance provide an independent Scotland with a ready-made maritime patrol and fast jet force to defend the strategically important “High North”.
The SNP has already expressed concern that the UK government is failing to do enough to protect the areas to the north of Scotland from Russian incursions.
Crawford said the presence of Nato aircraft at Lossiemouth would remove the need for an independent Scotland’s defence force to purchase its own expensive patrol and fighter aircraft.
He added that a Nato airbase, similar to the one in Ramstein in Germany, would bring significant investment to rural Scotland.
“There would be considerable investment from Nato in setting something like this up,” said Crawford. “Lossiemouth would no longer be a domestic airbase in a country that happens to be a Nato member, but would be a base specifically for Nato operations.”
“It would seem to me to bring about the double benefit of both providing on-site air defence in terms of fast jet and maritime patrol for Scotland plus the economic benefit from the investment to enable Lossiemouth to be a true Nato base. That would involve the infrastructure for non-British Nato personnel, who would be posted there on a semi-permanent basis.”
He added: “Another benefit for Scotland would be that an independent Scotland’s defence forces would not need fast jet aircraft of that type, which would help, given a limited defence budget.”
Crawford claimed the idea had been discussed in SNP circles but the party had not adopted it as policy.
The SNP’s attitude towards Nato has been a controversial area for the party in the past. Historically it was opposed to Nato membership, because the vast majority of members are implacably opposed to nuclear weapons.
Ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, the SNP conference narrowly voted in favour of dropping its long-standing opposition to Nato after a passionate debate that exposed splits in the party on the issue.
At the time, the SNP leadership under Angus Robertson felt the party had to embrace the defence alliance even though it disapproved of its commitment to nuclear weapons. The vote was held because those at the top of the party believed the SNP’s anti-Nato stance was a vote loser with the public at large.
Crawford acknowledged that many within the SNP still viewed Nato with deep suspicion. But he said: “If a small country with a population of five and a half million wants to be independent, turning your back on Nato is not very clever.
“The fact that Nato ties the USA and Canada into European defence issues means it is the only game in town at the moment.”
As far as Lossiemouth’s location was concern, Crawford argued that it had “easy access” to the North Sea and North Atlantic.
“It is ideally located for the High North. There is increased acknowledgement that the High North has deposits of minerals, oil and gas which are strategically important. If you look at the countries which border on the High North, Russia is one of the biggest ones. It may be that increased Russian activities in terms of their submarine operations and their air surveillance operations in the High North, is allied to their recognition of the strategic importance in relation to what that region might contain resources wise.”
Over the years, Nato allies have deployed many aircraft to RAF Lossiemouth. For example, 37 aircraft from the US, Germany and France were temporarily deployed to Moray in 2016. This was a 76 per cent increase on the previous year when 21 Nato aircraft were deployed.
SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald refused to be drawn on Crawford’s proposal.
McDonald said: “I’m not going to get into that, because we are working on stuff looking at independence and I don’t want to get tied into that because all of that is a project that’s on-going.
“Sometimes Stuart Crawford has good ideas, sometimes he has not so good ideas. I am trying to get to a situation where we start talking about defence in an independent Scotland that built on the last case, and I am not yet in the position where I want to start having a public conversation on it.”