The SNP government will today unveil plans to build patrol ships for a Scottish navy on the Clyde, soon after any vote in favour of independence.
Veterans minister Keith Brown will tell MPs on the Commons defence select committee that there is already a “gap” in naval patrol defences in Scottish waters and that scrapping the Nimrod fleet has left the UK without effective maritime surveillance aircraft.
He will tell them the SNP would prioritise the procurement of frigates, along the lines of Type 26 vessels being planned by the UK, from its £2.5 billion annual defence budget.
Meanwhile, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted Trident could remain at Faslane for up to two years after independence. However, she said the SNP remained committed to scrapping nuclear weapons as a matter of principle and would not use them as a bargaining tool.
She said: “We want rid of weapons on the Clyde, but we don’t want rid of Faslane. We want Faslane to be the joint forces headquarters naval facility in Scotland.
“We would continue to have that [joint forces headquarters] at Faslane as well as having Trident there while we were in the process of negotiating the removal of Trident. I think CND said it could take be a matter of months, a couple of years at most. We are not going to be irresponsible; safety is paramount.
Mr Brown will tell MPs new ships would be built on the Clyde to protect the jobs of thousands of Scots employed in shipyards. Their future has looked increasingly uncertain with the prospect of Royal Navy orders vanishing under independence.
It is not clear how many craft would be built, but the costs would be significant. Each Type 26 frigate is expected to cost the Ministry of Defence up to £350m – while the £4 billion cost of the nine Nimrods was behind the decision to scrap the programme three years ago.
The latter decision means the UK now has no effective air maritime patrols. SNP strategists have been looking at the aircraft operated in Scandinavian countries. Norway has the Lockheed Orion P3 and Dassault Falcon 20/200 EW, while Denmark operates Bombardier CL-604.
Mr Brown said Scotland was in a “key geo-strategic location” between the North Atlantic, North Sea and the Iceland Gap. “This is a key consideration and a lot of thought is going into this area as we prepare the white paper on independence,” he said.
“But already it is clear that there is an unacceptable current UK capability gap in Scotland when it comes to conventional naval patrol vessels and maritime patrol aircraft. Our North Sea neighbours all operate capable frigates, ocean patrol vessels, fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft and quick-reaction flights. Given the UK has non-existent or ageing capabilities in some of these areas, an early priority will be ship and aircraft procurement.”
However, the SNP’s defence plans have been branded a heavily politicised “shopping list” and “unworkable” in a report by London-based think tank the Henry Jackson Foundation.
It said a majority of Scottish personnel were likely to remain in the UK armed forces after independence, rather than join the fledgling Scottish Defence Force.
The report said several key SNP defence polices did not make military sense and seemed more devised to win votes than protect Scotland. The pledge to retain all the historic regiments would leave Scotland with an “army-heavy” force when its focus should be more air and maritime, it said.
The proposal to base the country’s armed forces at Faslane was a mistake, the report said. Such a base should be on the east coast to protect North Sea oil rigs, as this is where any impending threat would emerge.
The hardline approach to removing the Trident nuclear deterrent would also jeopardise Scotland’s membership of Nato, it said.
But the “most serious mis-assumption” by the SNP is the extent to which an independent Scotland could expect other countries, in particular the remaining UK, to share intelligence. “No country shares intelligence without full confidence in the security of the service receiving that information,” the report said.
However, SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said the report contained a “litany of errors and incorrect assumptions” and failed to make any detailed assessment about the advantages of making defence and security decisions in Scotland.
Labour activists shun campaign to avoid working with Tories
SENIOR figures within Scottish Labour are refusing to get involved in the anti-independence Better Together campaign, amid rising concerns about Conservative involvement in the group.
Labour politicians at Holyrood and Westminster, as well as Scottish trade union officials, have stayed away from the cross-party campaign.
Labour MP Katy Clark said there was “no advantage” to the party in co-operating with the Tories in parts of Scotland.
Labour MSP Elaine Smith, a deputy presiding officer, said her constituency party in Coatbridge and Chryston had decided not to get involved with Better Together.
There was also opposition to involvement in Better Together from two senior trade union officials.
Richard Leonard, Scotland organiser for the GMB, said: “When the Tories are attacking the poorest in society, it’s pretty difficult to sit with them and to argue for a progressive Scotland.”
Dave Watson, of Unison, said: “Talking to members who oppose independence, I can’t think of any that have done much with Better Together.”
But Labour’s Lord Foulkes said Alistair Darling’s role as leader of Better Together should reassure members.
‘Exports at risk’ if Scotland goes it alone
INDEPENDENCE for Scotland would put two-thirds of all exports from north of the Border at risk, the latest UK government analysis will warn today.
The paper, due to be unveiled by Business Secretary Vince Cable, shows £45.5 billion of all Scottish exports are to the rest of the UK – double those to the rest of the world and four times the amount to the rest of the European Union.
He will say independence would mean an end to the single market in the UK and lead to new trade barriers and charges for Scottish firms.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills paper will claim Scottish firms would have much reduced access to the UK, with added administrative burdens for companies doing cross-Border trade.
It will also highlight extra bureaucracy, with two different sets of regulations, including those covering, company registration, recruitment and competition, for firms operating on both sides of the Border, as well as tax and pension complications.
The report will claim that there would also be added uncertainty and financial costs arising from duplicating a whole new set of regulatory bodies.
However, SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for the paper to be withdrawn because of what she claimed were inaccuracies.