THE Ministry of Defence has admitted that it has spent almost £900 million on redundancy payments for military personnel in its controversial downsizing of the armed forces over the past four years.
The figure, revealed in a parliamentary written answer by defence minister Mark Lancaster, has been damned as “a shocking waste of money” by SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara.
Trident isn’t an offensive weapon, Trident is a political weapon
It comes amid a row over the government meeting the 2 per cent of GDP Nato target on defence spending and concerns that much of the real budget is being spent on non-military items.
O’Hara has said that the government should not include the redundancy payments in the 2 per cent total and, in an interview with Scotland on Sunday, said it was indicative of a government which is, in reality, making defence cuts.
The revelation came shortly after the new MP for Argyll and Bute had returned from his first away day on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme, where he admits he is trying to win over sceptics about SNP defence policy by arguing that his party’s opposition to Trident is pro-defence, not anti-defence.
The 51-year-old former television producer said: “I actually got to hold a real gun for the first time and, to my shock, I liked it.”
But he said the “three-star generals and vice-admirals” he met on the 48-hour trip to the UK Defence Academy at Shrivenham told him: “The enemies aren’t going to be states, they are going to be non-states.
“It’s going to be a war over resources, it’s going to be a war in super cities. Because they project that 70-odd per cent of the world’s population are going to be living in these super cities.”
He continued: “And you just think, at what point is somebody going to mention Trident renewal now. What is the point of Trident? You couldn’t see a strategic use for Trident in the world they were planning for, which I thought was astonishing.”
He said the £900m on redundancies for military personnel and MoD civil servants showed that the government had its priorities wrong.
He said: “It beggars belief. It is staggering. It shows you that their priorities are just all over the place. It shouldn’t count as the defence budget.
“Taking that amount of money just to lay people off while at the same time telling us that there is nothing wrong with the lean, mean fighting machine, it’s simply not true.
“It’s something I have been saying time and time again with my Conservative colleagues over the last couple of days – you can’t have your cake and eat it.”
He said he had learned that the Ministry of Defence is “on the point of admitting” that its promise to Tory backbenchers that reservists would be able to replace regulars “just isn’t going to happen.”
He added: “So the UK will have a standing army of less than 100,000 for the first time since Waterloo. Just as we celebrate the 200th anniversary we would never have imagined it was the same size as it was then.”
In 2010, for the first time, Chancellor George Osborne included money spent on the UK’s nuclear deterrent as part of defence spending. MPs will be asked to agree to replace Trident next year.
O’Hara, whose constituency includes the Faslane nuclear submarine facility where Trident is based, said his immediate priority was to get it out of the defence budget.
He said: “If you get Trident out of defence then people see genuinely how badly affected the defence budget is, because it would be about 1.4 per cent of GDP. If you take Trident out of defence you psychologically remove it from people’s thinking. Trident isn’t an offensive weapon, Trident is a political weapon.”
He admits that an important part of his job is to show that the SNP is pro-defence despite its position on Trident. This has included him and the other four MPs on his defence team taking the salute at armed forces weekend events in their constituencies, something he describes as “immensely humbling”.
He highlighted the “vital” work of Angus Robertson, his predecessor as defence spokesman, in persuading the party to back an independent Scotland joining Nato and admits it was a personal journey for him too.
He said: “Being anti-Nato used to be a test of purity for me and others.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Tough choices, including the decision to introduce a redundancy programme, had to be made in order to rebalance the defence budget.
“We will continue to meet the Nato 2% target this year.”