ALEX Salmond has claimed an Outer Hebridean missile test range is of more importance to the Nato nuclear alliance than Trident.
On a visit to the isle of Lewis, the First Minister said the future of the range, which spans Benbecula, North and South Uist and St Kilda, would be stronger after independence.
The Hebrides range was established in the 1950s and is Britain’s biggest missile test site.
In 2011, the Ministry of Defence said the range was secure for the next five years.
Around 200 staff work there. Defence contractor QinetiQ runs the site on the MoD’s behalf. In the past, it has been suggested the area could be used for testing and training with unmanned military and civilian aircraft and drones.
But there have also been previous concerns expressed by the Western Isles Council and island politicians that the range would be shut down.
However, Mr Salmond said the range would be even more important after independence.
“The Scots’ position in the north-west corner of Europe, our strategic position in the Atlantic, means such facilities are going to be absolutely required and that is what Scotland will be expected to do,” said Mr Salmond. “And they will be of fundamentally more importance to the defence of Scotland and the Nato alliance and the future of Europe than, for example, weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.”
The First Minister also took a swipe at UK defence secretary Philip Hammond, who was accused of making threats and engaging in “emotional blackmail” after he warned workers that their jobs would be among thousands at risk if Scotland voted for independence.
Mr Hammond, who was addressing defence workers at the Glasgow components firm Thales on Tuesday, was asked about the “potential implications” for the plant in the event of a Yes vote.
He said: “The creation of a border between this facility and its largest customer will put at jeopardy the future prosperity of this business, the people who work in it and their families and dependants.”
But Mr Salmond hit back, claiming Mr Hammond was scaremongering. He said: “It seemed to escape Philip Hammond’s knowledge that the irony was, he was making a speech in a French multinational company about how, in his opinion, defence was a national characteristic.”
But Mr Salmond’s view was disputed by his opponents.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman said: “Alex Salmond has shown from his various statements on defence that he is clueless on the issue.
“To simply dismiss the protection provided by Trident as an irrelevance once again confirms that the SNP’s plans to protect an independent Scotland do not even stretch to the back of a fag packet. People with forces’ experience are telling us time and again that when it comes to military matters, the UK is stronger together.”
Last night, an MoD spokesman said: “It is inconsistent for those who advocate Scottish independence both to oppose nuclear weapons and still wish to join Nato, which is a nuclear alliance.
“The Hebrides ranges remain a key capability for the test and evaluation of the UK’s weapons and recent investments clearly demonstrate the MoD’s long-term commitment to the site.”