By a Newsnet reporter
UK defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been criticised after claiming that an independent Scotland will be too small to attract high quality recruits.
Mr Hammond was speaking during a rare visit north of the border when he launched an attack on the SNP’s plans for a Scottish defence force based on conventional weapons.
According to the Tory Defence Minister, Scots will be unwilling to sign up to defend their country because of a lack of opportunity, leaving an independent Scotland vulnerable to attack.
Claiming a Scottish Defence Force would be able to offer only a “fraction” of the career opportunities of the UK army, he said that basing troops entirely in Scotland was akin to saying: “Join the Navy and see the Clyde”
Mr Hammond added: “The British armed forces are able to attract some of the highest calibre recruits because they are able to offer some exciting and demanding career opportunities, with the chance to deploy overseas on operations and training and with the cache of being among the best and most widely respected armed forces in the world.”
The Defence Secretary called SNP defence force plans a “gamble” and asked: “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?”
Mr Hammond also claimed the SNP were planning to cut defence spending, saying: “For all the bluster and false outrage from those proposing independence, we now know that the SNP would spend less on defence, deliver less still, and the security of the Scottish people would be near the bottom of their government priorities.”
However official figures show that only £2bn of the £3.5bn Scotland contributes to UK defence spend is actually spent in Scotland. The SNP plan to raise defence spend in Scotland to £2.5bn after independence.
The SNP hit back at the Conservative MPs attacks by insisting that rather than lecturing Scots on the type of defence force their country should have, Mr Hammond should instead be apologising for breaking a pledge to re-deploy thousands of troops north of the border.
Responding to Mr Hammond’s remarks, SNP Westminster leader and Defence Spokesman, Angus Robertson MP said:
“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.”
Mr Robertson questioned plans to “spend billions and billions of pounds dumping weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde” despite, he said, massive opposition from all sections of Scottish society. A survey out this week shows over 80% of Scots are against renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The SNP MP added: “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. He came to insult Scottish service personnel and demean his office by making jokes about Scottish defence needs.”
Responding to Mr Hammond’s jibe that being based in Scotland would mean being restricted to looking at the Clyde, Mr Robertson said:
“The truth is that independence offers the attractive full-rank career prospects in Scotland which is impossible with the current set-up. For too long Scots in the UK Armed Forces have had to spend their entire careers outside Scotland, owing to postings or limited options owing to their rank or specialism. This will change significantly for the better after independence.”
He added: “Domestic operations, training at home and with neighbours and allies as well as international participation in UN sanctioned peace-keeping missions will guarantee an attractive career path.”
The SNP also ridiculed claims by Mr Hammond that a newly independent Scotland could face threats from Russia.
Commenting SNP MSP Bill Kidd, who is a Co-President of the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, said:
“If the best that Philip Hammond can do in defence of Trident is make veiled threats about the UK targeting its nuclear weapons at Russia, it really is time to get rid of these weapons of mass destruction from Scotland – and invest the money we save helping to build a fair society and strong economy.
“Four-fifths of people in Scotland are against Trident, and only a Yes vote for independence in next year’s referendum can get rid of nuclear weapons from Scotland.
“Mr Hammond is in the ridiculous position of breaking his government’s promises to Scotland on conventional forces – which people in Scotland do want – while wanting to dump a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde for another 50 years, which we don’t want.
“Mr Hammond’s strange defence of Trident and veiled threats to Russia sound like a combination of Dr Strangelove and Kenny Everett.”