Stewart McDonald: Get defence of the north right or risk losing Scotland

A Typhoon taking off from RAF Lossiemouth. Picture: Ministry of Defence
A Typhoon taking off from RAF Lossiemouth. Picture: Ministry of Defence
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The news earlier in the year that the Government was to undertake a “mini SDSR” in the form of the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) was welcomed by me and my SNP colleagues: we had after all been calling for one ever since the Brexit referendum had made the strategic assumptions made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review outdated.

It was also most welcome to be invited by Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson to make a submission to the programme on behalf of the SNP when I met with him subsequently, and I was delighted to be able to do so this week.

That Scotland has historically received less from the MoD than it has contributed in taxes is a matter for the public record; and while recent decisions, such as the one to cut the order for Type 26 frigates to be built at BAE Systems on the Clyde from 13 to eight, or to build the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s new generation of support ships abroad, have taken up most of the headlines, there are plenty other areas of concern for Scottish taxpayers.

Numbers of Armed Forces personnel based here have again slipped below the magical 10,000 number, something that will be put under further pressure by planned base closures which will also take the Army’s footprint out of areas where it has had a long historical association, such as the Highlands and Borders.

Furthermore, with the UK’s most northerly warship bases on its southern coast, there are no major surface warships based in Scottish waters: even as Russian submarine incursions off our western and northern coasts reach Cold War levels. The UK’s approach to the North Atlantic and High North, areas in which Scotland has deep cultural, economic and security interests, has been one of neglect, with only a cursory nod towards our own backyard in both the 2010 and 2015 SDSR.

The MDP has already caused its first political casualty, with Tory rising star Johnny Mercer MP blaming the Tory loss of Plymouth city council on worries around his party’s handling of defence. “This is a proud military city: if we don’t get defence right, we’re not going to hang on to places like Plymouth.”

What is true for Plymouth is even more true for Scotland, and it is time for the UK Government to take its defence and security obligations towards Scotland seriously – if they don’t get it right, it’ll be a lot more than a city council they will be losing.

Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, is SNP defence spokesman