Scottish independence: MoD criticised for independence complacency

Ministers vetoed contingency plans assuming that Scotland would support Union. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Ministers vetoed contingency plans assuming that Scotland would support Union. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A POWERFUL Westminster committee has heavily criticised the UK government for failing to make contingency plans for defence and security should Scotland become independent.

In a report today, the joint committee on the government’s National Security Strategy has highlighted the issue as part of a failure by the Ministry of Defence and other departments to make proper forward plans.

The MoD are under fire for failing to plan for an independent Scotland. Picture: Reuters

The MoD are under fire for failing to plan for an independent Scotland. Picture: Reuters

A written answer in parliament has also revealed that ministers have vetoed any contingency plans because they “are confident Scotland will continue to support the Union in any referendum”.

The cross-party group of MPs and peers chaired by former foreign secretary Margaret Beckett, which also includes former defence secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, questioned the lack of planning – particularly into the future of the nuclear submarine deterrent based at Faslane on the Clyde and the possible division of equipment after independence.

The report, which is also critical of the government’s National Security Council (NSC) in a range of other areas of forward planning, noted: “One of the surprising facts which emerged from our inquiry was that, even by February 2012, the NSC had given no consideration to the potential impact for UK security of Scottish independence.”

It criticised national security adviser Sir Peter Ricketts for telling the committee that he has “no current intention [to advise the NSC] to do so”.

And it raised questions about Tory Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin’s evidence, in which he said that the government has “not come across any practical difficulties arising at the moment and we do not anticipate at the moment any arising”.

The committee said: “While the UK coalition government opposes Scottish independence, it is a fact that the Scottish National Party won a majority in the Scottish Parliament while promising a referendum on independence by 2015.”

It added: “Scottish independence could have a range of impacts from potential disputes over the response to security threats and the division of resources, to questions about basing of forces and the future of the UK’s nuclear deterrent.”

The report concluded: “The fact that the potential impact of Scottish independence was not brought to the NSC’s attention strengthens our concern that the horizon-scanning carried out on the NSC’s behalf is inadequate and that the NSC’s oversight of security issues is not sufficiently broad and strategic.”

Former SAS commander Clive Fairweather has previously warned that Scotland would be at threat from a terrorist attack on its oil rigs because of the lack of special forces unless it starts planning now.

He said yesterday that the MoD had been “idle” over assessing the impact on Scotland’s defence if voters back independence and warned that the UK government needed to get its “act together” over the issue.

He said: “It’s only since the SNP’s election victory last May that we have begun to talk about the possibility of independence.

“The MoD has been idle on this for a while, but there’s still time to look at these issues. The MoD does need to get its act together, but I’m sure they will be getting on with things.”

A government spokesman said: “A strategy for Britain’s long-term security and prosperity is at the heart of the government’s approach to foreign policy. We remain vigilant and regularly take stock of the changing global environment and threats to our security, as well as opportunities for our country to make the most of all its assets and advantages in a networked world.”

However, opposition parties accused the government of being “myopic” and “complacent” on the issue.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, who represents East Renfrewshire, said: “Scotland leaving Britain would have a huge impact on Scotland and the UK’s defence.

“While I’m confident it won’t happen it’s pretty myopic of the UK government not to analyse the very real risks. Scotland would no longer be a member of Nato. The size, role and configuration of defence forces in a separate Scotland are unknown.

“No-one knows just how big a separate Scottish army, navy and airforce would be. Each of us has an interest in getting to the bottom of these issues since they impact on all of our security and economic interests.”

Former Labour minister Lord Foulkes, who is on the joint committee on the National Security Strategy and served as an MP and MSP, said the evidence was “very concerning”. He said: “First is the real threat to UK national security from the uncertainty over whether Scotland will break away from the rest of the UK.

“This relates both to Trident and Nato membership and we in the committee express our concerns. The conclusion we should draw is that the Scottish people must reject separation for security, as well as economic and political reasons.

“It is both astonishing and worrying that the UK national security advisor had not even considered this issue nor alerted the Cabinet and National Security Council until we drew it to his attention”.

The SNP said that the report underlined the complacency of the UK government over the result of an independence referendum. They pointed out a statement made by Tory defence minister Peter Luff recently saying that there was no need to have contingency plans for Scottish independence.

Mr Luff told Welsh MP Paul Flynn: “The government is not making plans for independence as we are confident that the people of Scotland will continue to support the Union.

“No detailed work has therefore been undertaken to estimate the cost of setting up new facilities for the arming of nuclear submarines or for relocating the Royal Armaments Naval Depot at Coulport to another part of the UK. It is clear from first principles, however, that the cost of relocating such families from Scotland would be extremely high.”

Meanwhile, Scotland’s parliamentary business and government strategy cabinet secretary Bruce Crawford said that the reports highlighted the UK government’s “dismissive” attitude to defence north of the Border.

He said: “This report doesn’t tell us anything we do not already know in terms of Westminster’s dismissive attitude to defence in Scotland, given that successive UK governments have slashed over 10,000 defence jobs in Scotland – as well as selling Scotland short in terms of the multi-billion-pound MoD underspend here.

“Independence will mean we continue to work in co-operation with other parts of the UK, our European neighbours and international partners on common defence and security interests.”

Senior Labour MSP John Park, a former Rosyth dockyard employee, seized on the report to heavily criticise the UK government for failing to address the “uncertainty” facing defence jobs in Scotland.

Mr Park said: “This is a worrying report, as not only do we have the SNP not putting out any details about the party’s plans for independence, we now have this suggestion that the UK government has not given any serious consideration to the future of Scotland’s defence industry.”