Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Warning over 'weakened military'

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Media captionUK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been visiting Scotland

The UK's Defence Secretary Philip Hammond believes the SNP's independence plans would leave Scotland in a weaker position militarily.

During a speech in Edinburgh, the coalition minister said it was in the interest of Scots to remain in the UK.

Voters north of the border go to the polls in the autumn of 2014 to decide whether Scotland remains in the Union.

After the speech the SNP criticised the UK government for reneging on a promise over troop numbers.

The Ministry of Defence had previously suggested Scotland would get thousands of extra troops but only 600 more were announced last week as part of relocation plans for military personnel currently based in Germany.

Mr Hammond defended the proposals saying there would be an overall rise in troop numbers based in Scotland.

He added that an independent Scotland would have to build from scratch its own defence capability.

In his speech at Edinburgh law firm, Dundas and Wilson, Mr Hammond said: "As defence secretary, it is clear to me that our Armed Forces, generated from across the United Kingdom, underpinned by the fourth largest defence budget in the world and so benefiting from significant economies of scale, provide a bigger bang for our buck, a far higher level of security and certainty, than would two separate forces serving Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"It is not whether an independent Scotland could go it alone and develop its own defence forces - of course it could - but what sort of forces would they be?

"What would they look like? What level of security would they deliver? Who would join them? And would they in any way even begin to match the level of security from which Scotland benefits as part of the United Kingdom today?"

The Tory MP insisted that the British Armed Forces was able to attract "some of the highest calibre recruits because they are able to offer some exciting and demanding career opportunities".

He added: "It is a significant gamble to assume that troops in our UK Armed Forces would volunteer for a Scottish Defence Force. All of this adds up to a set of serious questions about the SNP's military personnel plans."

Under the UK government's bases review, the Craigiehall Camp near Edinburgh is due to close and Kirknewton will not now be developed as an Army barracks, but Dreghorn Barracks will remain.

The changes mean the Army's presence in Scotland would grow to about 4,000 by 2020.

The coalition government had said in 2011 that up to 7,000 personnel would return to Scotland.

Aircraft carrier

The SNP's Angus Robertson said about the minister's speech: "It was too much to hope that on one of his very rare visits to Scotland Philip Hammond might want to explain why the coalition reneged on all its commitments in the basing review last week.

"He should have seen it as an opportunity to apologise for the broken promises and U-turns made over the deployment of up to 7,000 troops which turned into just 600."

He added: "You could be forgiven for thinking that he might want to come and eat humble pie for all the dissembling and distortions.

"He may even have taken a rare moment to explain why he thinks it is a good idea to spend billions and billions of pounds dumping weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde despite massive opposition from all sections of Scottish society.

"Not a hope. He came to attack the SNP and Scotland - something he could easily have done from his office in London, and he could have saved the taxpayers a return ticket."

Shadow defence secretary and Labour MP Jim Murphy said defence in Scotland faced a double danger from both UK government cuts and Scottish government plans for independence.

He added: "Scotland forms a crucial part of our Armed Forces which should not be jeopardised by rushed cuts or a rush to the exit from the UK.

"Defence jobs are vital to the Scottish economy and yet independence puts thousands of jobs at risk. The SNP policy is based on assertion and presumption none of which constitutes a proper defence policy for Scotland."

Mr Hammond later visited Rosyth where he saw work being carried out on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

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