By a Newsnet reporter
In an article published in the Daily Telegraph to coincide with his visits to a nuclear submarine based on the Clyde and to defence company Thales in Govan, Prime Minister David Cameron has argued that the UK needs Trident in order to counter the potential threat from North Korea.
However the SNP have responded saying that it is a “major blunder” on the part of the anti-independence parties to put Trident at the centre of the referendum campaign, a recent opinion poll found that 80% of Scots want rid of the nuclear weapons system.
In his Telegraph article, Mr Cameron wrote: “Last year North Korea unveiled a long-range ballistic missile which it claims can reach the whole of the United States. If this became a reality it would also affect the whole of Europe, including the UK.”
The Prime Minister claimed that only the Trident missile system could protect the UK if North Korea developed a missile system capable of reaching Europe, and added:
“… does anyone seriously argue that it would be wise for Britain, faced with this evolving threat today, to surrender our deterrent? At the end of the day these issues are matters of judgment. My judgment is that it would be foolish to leave Britain defenceless against a continuing, and growing, nuclear threat.”
However Mr Cameron’s claim that North Korea posed such a threat to the UK that Trident is required to defend the country was dismissed by Hugh Chalmers, a nuclear analyst at the Royal United Service Institute. Mr Chalmers said:
“North Korea doesn’t currently present a direct threat to the UK.
“There’s a suspicion that they might be able to reach the US but they certainly cannot reach the UK, and their ability to mount a nuclear weapon on these missiles is also hotly debated.”
Mr Chalmers also questioned whether a like-for-like replacement of Trident was necessary. Replacing the ageing weapons system with a similar system is the favoured policy of the Conservatives.
The defence analyst said:
“I would recommed that you have to look at all the options available and think very carefully about what is the most necessary element of our deterrent, and which elements of the UK deterrent are no longer required, so we can make cuts where we can, and how we can.”
On Thursday afternoon, Mr Cameron visited HMS Victorious, a Vanguard class submarine based on the Clyde, which has just returned from its 100th patrol. He claimed that Scotland’s defence industry was “more secure” within the UK and argued that independence would put jobs at risk.
The Prime Minister said:
“Scotland has a world renowned and highly skilled defence sector that employs over 12,600 people and has annual sales in excess of £1.8bn.
“It plays a key role in equipping and supporting the UK armed forces, from iconic industries like shipbuilding on the Clyde and Rosyth to cutting-edge, high-tech manufacturing.
“Being part of the UK opens doors for the Scottish defence industry around the globe. When we sell Typhoons overseas, this benefits jobs and growth for companies making components in Scotland.
“Scotland counts for more on the world stage because it is part of the United Kingdom and Scottish defence jobs are more secure as part of the United Kingdom.
“The business community tell me that they want certainty. And I want to offer that certainty by saying that I remain absolutely committed to the defence of the United Kingdom and to the future of defence jobs in Scotland.
“Defence matters. We are stronger and safer together.”
However Mr Cameron’s claims were dismissed as scaremongering by Angus Robertson MP, the SNP’s Westminster defence spokesperson, who pointed out that an independent Scotland could continue to secure international defence contracts from third countries. Mr Roberston also called on the Prime Minister to apologise for the litany of “broken promises” on defence which Scotland has witnessed under the Coalition government.
Mr Robertson noted that the then Defence Minister Liam Fox promised in 2011 that between six and half and seven thousand personnel would be returned to Scotland to rebalance the numbers lost in RAF base cutbacks and to counter the massive £7.4 billion underspend by the MoD in Scotland, in the last ten years alone.
However it was recently announced that the number of service personnel who would be stationed in Scotland would be just 600. Mr Roberston added that the scale of the defence underspend in Scotland has reached over £7 billion pounds in just ten years.
The SNP is committed to an annual Scottish defence budget of £2.5bn: an annual increase of some 500m on recent UK levels of defence spending in Scotland, but nearly £1bn less than Scottish taxpayers currently contribute to UK defence spending.
The SNP has confirmed that an independent Scotland would have 15,000 serving personnel in defence forces, and would rid Scotland of Trident.
Commenting on David Cameron’s visit, Mr Robertson said:
“It is the most enormous blunder for the No campaign to place Trident at the centre of the referendum debate. The Parliament and 80% of the people of Scotland want to get rid of Trident, and the obscene waste of up to £100 billion it represents at a time of austerity and savage welfare cuts from Westminster.
“David Cameron should be using this visit as his opportunity to apologise for Westminster’s betrayal of Scotland’s communities and its constant broken promises on defence.
“We have already heard the Prime Minister admit that commitments made to communities around Scotland have been broken – but there has been no apology.
“It is just the same old, same old from Westminster which reduced Scotland’s service personnel jobs by 27.9% between 2000 and 2010, when it was only 11.6% across the UK.
“Successive Westminster governments oversaw the destruction of the Scottish regiments, and contributed to a massive £7.4bn defence underspend in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK.
“It just shows that when it comes to defence Westminster isn’t working for Scotland – and an independent Scottish Parliament would take far better defence decisions for Scotland.
“The anti-independence parties have also been caught scaremongering on the real number of jobs that rely on Trident at Faslane – they said 6,000, then 11,000 and finally 19,000 – when in fact it is 520 civilian jobs, which would be easily accommodated by Faslane being Scotland’s conventional naval base.
“We know from evidence from Vice-Admiral Mathews to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee – reinforced by defence expert Ian Godden, Chairman of Farnborough International – that an independent Scotland can get defence contracts from the rest of the UK and around the world on the basis of our expertise and industrial and engineering capabilities.
“We also know that 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.
“In the same week his Chancellor defended his cruel welfare cuts, David Cameron is expected in Scotland defending his government’s appalling record on Scottish defence cuts and broken promises.
“The choice is clear – Scotland needs a Yes vote on 18th September 2014 so that we can secure better defence policy decisions for our country.”
Reacting to Mr Cameron’s visit to Scotland, Patrick Harvie, Green MSP, described the Prime Minister’s visit as “brazen”, and said that Scots would not be convinced by the “backward thinking” attempts by the anti-independence parties to persuade them of the case for nuclear weapons. Mr Harvie urged people to attend the forthcoming anti-Trident demonstration in Glasgow in order to send a message to the Westminster parties that Scotland rejects the nuclear weapons system. Mr Harvie said:
“This is a brazen visit from David Cameron but he will fail to persuade Scots that we still need Cold War weapons at the expense of public spending for social good. Seeing Labour and the Liberal Democrats line up with the Conservatives to defend new nuclear weapons should remind all Scots of the backward thinking of the main parties.
“Next weekend will see the latest in a long history of anti-nuclear protests in Scotland, as momentum builds towards the referendum that will give all Scots the chance to vote decisively to get rid of nukes on the Clyde. The fight for nuclear disarmament is entering an exciting new chapter and I expect to see a big reaction against Cameron’s message at the demo and the rejection of Trident through a Yes vote in 2014.”
The anti-Trident demo is due to take place in Glasgow on Saturday 13 April. The march will set off from the city’s George Square, and will assemble at 10.15 am.