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Being defensive

Brian Taylor | 16:58 UK time, Tuesday, 19 October 2010

It was a seemingly reluctant Prime Minister: avowedly anxious to avoid partisan politics intruding into his defence statement.

However, David Cameron contrived somehow to overcome his diffidence.

He told MPs: "One does wonder how many bases and how much capability there would be if there was an independent Scotland."

From the SNP bench in the Commons came the cry "outrageous". It was one of the few moments of high-temperature indignation among exchanges which generally focused upon precise, even minute, detail.

The exchange was prompted by a question from Angus Robertson as to the future of the RAF bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth.

None too bright, it would appear, given the decision to retire the Harrier and end the Nimrod replacement programme.

But the PM insisted that this need not mean automatic or instant closure of the facilities.

Fair share

Decisions would be taken later about the possible redeployment of army personnel.

However, the acerbic nature of the PM's reply can be seen as partly an attempt to deflect the criticism being voiced by Moray's Commons representative and his MSP counterpart, both SNP - although, equally, it is a point regularly advanced by politicians who support the Union.

Mr Robertson's argument is that, for as long as Scotland remains in the UK, Scots are entitled to a proportionate share of defence expenditure.

He argues that Scotland is already being short-changed.

He argues further that an independent Scotland would have substantial defence needs.

At another point, the Prime Minister voiced anger. Britain, he said, should be angry at the way the aircraft carrier contracts had been handled by the previous government, arriving at the point where it was cheaper to build the second ship than to cancel it.

He was not, in short, notably proud of announcing that the order will be sustained.

After election

I suspect that workers on the Clyde and at Rosyth can probably live with Prime Ministerial exasperation, provided the orders go ahead.

That satisfaction will be tinged very slightly, perhaps, with concern at the impact of longer term cuts in the Navy.

Then there is another issue which impacts directly upon Scotland: Trident. Work will continue on preparing for a replacement nuclear deterrent.

Money will be spent this year. But the decision on constructing the replacement subs will be deferred until 2016, conveniently after the next UK General Election.

In making this announcement, Mr Cameron indicated that the notion of a nuclear deterrent was accepted on all sides in the House. Cue further sedentary complaints.

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