SNP proposes nuclear-free Scottish Defence Service

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AN INDEPENDENT Scottish government would employ a full-time regular defence force of 20,000 - an increase of 5,000 on the present military establishment employed in Scotland, the SNP conference was told yesterday.

Colin Campbell, the party’s defence spokesman, gave details of a Scottish Defence Service (SDS) which would operate in a nuclear-free Scotland following the removal of Trident.

Mr Campbell said current estimates showed that a defence programme would cost 600 million a year with an extra 300 million for works.

The total defence budget of 1.8 billion would be about the same figure as the Ministry of Defence currently spends in Scotland.

He told the delegates: "We are looking at a maximum establishment of 20,000 regular personnel in Scotland ... that is 5,000 extra people being paid in Scotland and spending their money in Scotland. That’s worth about 150 million a year."

He reckoned there would be 7,000 more indirect jobs as a result of the SNP’s defence policy.

Apart from 20,000 full-time regular troops, Scotland would also have 20,000 regular reservists and 8,000 part-time reservists.

A detailed defence policy unanimously approved by the conference declared that the prime function of the SDS would be to "defend the land, sea and air space of Scotland" and to "maintain a high standard of professionalism, adaptability and preparedness to enable it to carry out international obligations".

According to the policy, Scotland would work internationally to eliminate nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and establish a peacekeeping college.

The conference agreed an amendment which emphasised that decisions on defence taken by the Scottish government should be endorsed by the Scottish Parliament.

This change reflected the concerns of delegates at the UK government’s handling of the Iraq situation and the inability of the Westminster parliament to make its own decision on whether there should be military action against Saddam Hussein.

Dr Alasdair Allan, the Scottish parliament candidate for Gordon, said the SNP could go into the Holyrood election next year with a "practical proposition" to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons.

That could be achieved only by independence he stressed.

He argued that Trident had no moral, military or peacekeeping function in Scotland. Nuclear weapons cost the UK 600 million to maintain, they were dangerous and they were insane, Dr Allan said.

He added: "It’s insane that at a time when we are rightly condemning the activities of terrorists around the world and rightly finding ways of establishing peace in the trouble spots of the world that Britain has, as central to its defence policy, an armaments system whose sole function is killing civilians."

Kevin Pringle, the candidate for Edinburgh Central, said the SNP defence policy meant that Scotland would be strong at home and a good neighbour in the world. An independent Scotland would have the real strength that came from integrity in the world and its absolute support for the United Nations - "not the sham security of Trident and nuclear weapons".

The SNP’s defence strategy would mean withdrawal from NATO under plans already approved by the party’s national council.