Friday, July 20, 2012

Scottish independence: Minister spells out Scotland's share of UK armed forces

Scottish independence: Minister spells out Scotland’s share of UK armed forces

 

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Published defence figures will form basis of negotiation between Edinburgh and London (Getty)

DEFENCE minister Peter Luff has revealed the number of ships, submarines, tanks and aircraft to which an independent Scotland would be entitled if a division was made based on Scotland’s 8.4 per cent of the population.

The figures were produced in response to a parliamentary question from Dunfermline and West Fife MP Thomas Docherty, asking what the split would be.

Both the SNP and the UK government have previously suggested post-independence negotiations on dividing military assets and debt would begin on such a basis.

An SNP spokesman said that, while the division of assets was “arbitrary”, it would be used as the basis of what was required from the UK government to help pay for a future Scottish defence force.

He added that, although the estimate of Scotland’s share of the UK’s defence assets was £3.7 billion, this was based on 2006 figures and did not include major new items such as the money invested in Trident and new aircraft carriers.

The breakdown, which equates to approximately 26 tanks, two warships, 18 fast jets, one submarine and 26 helicopters, is expected to form the starting point for negotiations over defence equipment between Edinburgh and London in the event of Scotland becoming independent.

The projected division of assets has raised questions over whether an independent Scotland would be forced to invest in billions of pounds of equipment to fulfil its military ambitions. First Minister Alex Salmond has already indicated he would like an independent Scotland to have an air force, navy and single army mobile brigade.

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson this week set out his vision for a future Scottish defence force, with 15,000 regular personnel and 5,000 reserves in the three services.

Faslane, he said, would be converted into a surface fleet base and the air force bases at Lossiemouth in Moray and Leuchars in Fife would remain operational.

The party is also preparing to reverse its policy of opposing Nato membership, but this would happen only if members vote for such a move at the next SNP conference.

Mr Robertson last night insisted that, historically, Scottish taxpayers had paid for assets in other parts of the UK and around the world and that a £3.7bn inherited defence budget of would be more than enough to meet Scotland’s needs.

He said: “There is no question that Scotland, right now, contributes more than our fair share to UK defence spending – a fact that is all the more stark when we consider the mammoth decline in Scotland’s defence footprint after years of UK cuts.

“Scotland’s share of these assets is worth billions. It makes sense to consider continuing to share some of these capabilities with our neighbours but, when it comes to others, such as Trident, I am quite certain that we can trade that asset for something more useful.

“The SNP has always said we are committed to the opportunities offered by shared training, basing and procurement with neighbours, as happens between many countries in Europe, and in these austere times sharing conventional military capabilities may also make sense.”

Mr Docherty, a Labour member of the Commons defence select committee, said: “What is clear is that an independent Scotland would be left woefully short of the equipment it would require and would have to invest billions in new equipment.

“A new Type-45 destroyer costs about £600 million, while frigates are £400m and minesweepers cost another £100m each. If the SNP are serious about having a surface fleet at Faslane, then Scotland could be investing well over £1bn just on a few ships.

“Even more would then be needed to be spent on new fast jets. It is unlikely Scotland would want 11 Tornados, but seven Typhoons is not enough to support a single squadron.”

Experts said Scotland would be faced with difficult choices over equipment neither it nor the rest of the UK wanted.

Retired colonel Clive Fairweather, a former second-in-command of the SAS, was sceptical about the figures and said they underlined the problem of working out defence on the basis of geographical share.

“Most of this equipment would be completely useless for Scotland,” he said. For example, Scotland would not need tanks and nor could it maintain them.

“This is the problem of the approach taken by the SNP in looking at everything in terms of a population share, and now the UK government has shown them what this means. Defence is based on security need and where assets are most effectively placed not geographical share.”

He went on: “The trouble is that the SNP and Scottish Government have given us no idea even of what their foreign policy aims would be. It is clear they need defence equipment that would suit their foreign policy, but we still don’t even know yet whether the SNP agree Scotland should be in Nato or not.

“These questions need to be answered before they enter complex negotiations over who gets to keep what military assets and hardware.”

 

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