Alex Salmond urges unity on carriers contract

First Minister Alex Salmond has written to the leaders of Scotland's political parties urging a "united front" over the UK's strategic defence review.

Mr Salmond wants a joint submission to UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox in an effort to secure the future of two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers.

Looming Ministry of Defence cuts led to speculation the carriers may not be constructed on the Clyde and at Rosyth.

Mr Salmond said it was one of the biggest issues facing the economy.

The first minister has written to Labour's Iain Gray, Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie and Lib Dem Tavish Scott, as well as the Scottish Greens' Patrick Harvie and Independent MSP Margo MacDonald.

The letter states: "Clearly there are areas where it will not be possible to reach agreement.

"However, there will be a number of areas where agreement will be possible - particularly the economic impact of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).

"As I said in parliament, we should make a joint submission from all parties covering these core arguments, and this should be sent to the Secretary of State for Defence as soon as possible."

He called for a meeting of Scottish political party representatives on Monday to discuss the issue.

Mr Salmond's move came after Mr Gray called for unity during question time at Holyrood on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a Lib Dem MP, said he had stressed the economic need for retaining the carriers to ministerial colleagues.

He added that a meeting between MoD and devolved administrations would take place within the next fortnight.

Scottish Conservatives leader Annabel Goldie was the first of the Scottish leaders to publicly accept Mr Salmond's invitation to discuss the UK defence review.

Miss Goldie said: "I think it extremely important that there is a robust and cogent argument presented for Scotland to the defence review.

"We must reflect the core importance, not just to the UK defence facility, but also to the Scottish economy and our Scottish communities of the significant UK defence presence here in Scotland.

"To me there is impact and strength if that submission can reflect cross-party agreement. We are all in this together, to do our best for Scotland."

Defence savings

The meeting will take place in St Andrew's House in Edinburgh on Monday morning.

It will be attended by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Labour's Iain Gray, Jeremy Purvis for the Lib Dems and Miss Goldie for the Conservatives.

A government spokesman said Mr Salmond would be in Spain where he had "long-standing" engagements, linked to key economic announcements.

As the UK government seeks to cut the spending deficit, Mr Fox aims to save money in procurement and administration while prioritising front-line operations.

His emphasis on the need for much closer working with key European allies has led to speculation that plans for the two new aircraft carriers by 2018 - costing £5bn - could be scaled back.

Sir Ian King, chief executive of defence contractor BAE systems, previously disclosed the company had been asked to consider a number of options ranging from "one carrier to no carrier".

Mr Salmond said the Scottish government had prepared a dossier to spell out the "full implications" of the cancellation of one or both projects.

It claims it could lead to between 5,000 and 10,000 job losses.

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