By Angela Haggerty
The Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, James Arbuthnot MP, has been accused of “misleading” members of the public during a radio interview following the publication of report into defence in an independent Scotland.
In a BBC Radio 4 Today interview on Friday, Mr Arbuthnot claimed that UK government defence spending in Scotland was “about an eighth” of the total £38bn the government spends on defence, somewhere between £4bn and £5bn.
He was speaking on the programme following the publication of a report from the Commons Defence Select Committee which criticised both the Scottish and UK governments for failing to provide more detailed information on the repercussions for defence should voters in Scotland choose independence next autumn.
But according to Angus Robertson MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesperson, the most recent official figures on defence spending estimate that the sum spent on defence north of the border is only half of that claimed by Mr Arbuthnot.
“I am calling on James Arbuthnot to correct this misleading statement as soon as he can,” said Mr Robertson. “To suggest as he did that over £4bn a year is spent on defence in Scotland is clearly completely wrong.
“The latest figures we have available to us show it to be less than half that amount and for the chairman of such a powerful committee to get the figure so wildly wrong will call into question the credibility of the whole report .”
The SNP has criticised the UK government in recent years for a lack of spending on defence and according to a Commons Defence Select Committee report in 2011, the Ministry of Defence admitted there was a “significant and widening structural defence under spend in Scotland”.
Mr Robertson added: “We have known for some time there is a massive defence underspend in Scotland, of which Mr Arbuthnot appears to be unaware but he must take this opportunity to correct this glaring factual error or the credibility of his report will be further damaged.”
Friday’s report from MPs on defence in Scotland recommended a series of questions that the Scottish government should provide answers on to assure the public that Scotland would have adequate defence capabilities in the event of a Yes vote for independence.
MPs criticised administrations both north and south of the border for failing to provide more detailed, practical information on key issues such as the UK’s nuclear arsenal.
According to MPs, the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland would likely take “several years and many billions of pounds to deliver” and overseas options for new bases could be politically impossible and costly for the UK government.
Holyrood Veterans Minister Keith Brown – who gave evidence to the defence committee – said UK defence policy was “letting Scotland down” and described Trident as a “huge waste of money”.
But Michael Moore, Secretary of State for Scotland, said the Scottish government had so far been unable to explain how defence would work in an independent Scotland and called on the SNP to address the question.
The Scottish government is expected to publish its proposals for defence and security in an independent Scotland its White Paper in the autumn.