Colonel Clive Fairweather, a former deputy commander of the SAS, has claimed that the SNP’s lack of strategy for the future defence of Scotland will leave the country badly exposed.
But last night the SNP claimed that the former senior military officer’s intervention justified their approach to seeking military co-operation along with shared basing and resources post-independence, a policy which has been dismissed as “unworkable” by pro-UK parties.
Writing for The Scotsman, Col Fairweather points out that, currently, elite SAS and SBS troops provide round-the-clock coverage for rapid reaction should a terrorist group hijack a North Sea installation, but points out that this would end once a firm border was drawn between the two countries.
Recently, a leak suggested that First Minister Alex Salmond wants Scotland to adopt a Nordic model with the country having its own army, navy and air force. But Col Farweather says it is only a matter of time before the SNP’s bluff is called on defence.
On the need for special forces, he notes that Scotland could leave itself open to blackmail by a terror group – especially with regard to North Sea assets.
He argues that the only way forward is to start forming an SAS-equivalent Scottish unit to be on standby in somewhere such as Lossiemouth or Kinloss.
But he believes this could take at least three years, saying “this conservative estimate applies only to the selection and training of the 75 or so specialists needed to form our own squadron of Special Forces”.
The only alternative for an independent Scotland would be to plead for help from what remains of the UK, a move which could be complicated if, as planned, Scotland leaves Nato.
However, the intervention by the former SAS man was welcomed by SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson, who said it underlined the fact that it was perfectly reasonable to envisage circumstances in which Scotland would share basing, procurement and training facilities with the rest of the UK.
He said: “Scotland already has military personal, equipment and infrastructure – what has been lacking is proper investment, with much of Scottish taxpayers’ contribution to defence not currently spent in Scotland.
“With independence, Scotland can and will match the defence spending and capabilities of Norway and comparable European neighbours, providing professional, conventional forces with Scotland’s current level of contribution to the MoD. With independence, there will be a real boost to defence, providing broader capabilities in Scotland.”
Col Fairweather’s attack is the latest question mark over SNP policies for an independent country, including what would happen to 9,000 shipbuilding jobs on the Clyde and in Rosyth once MoD contracts dried up when English yards got preference post-separation.
Recently, doubts were also raised over the cost of Scotland’s future EU membership in an independent paper produced for the House of Commons library.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “What the SNP needs to clarify is their own defence policy. Are they still committed to replacing nuclear submarines with conventional submarines which have no strategic military use at all? How many ships would there be in a Scottish navy?”