By Martin Kelly
A report to be published by a group of MPs has been dismissed as merely an extension of the anti-Independence campaign after it emerged key evidence given by expert witnesses had been ignored.
Ahead of the publication of the report by the Scottish Affairs Committee – Newsnet Scotland has learned that the report’s conclusions excludes evidence which show Scotland’s defence industries would remain highly competitive with independence.
The SNP has accused the exclusively Unionist cross party group of MPs headed by Labour MP Ian Davidson, which looked into what it termed ‘The Referendum on Separation for Scotland’, of deliberately omitting the evidence because it does not fit the committee’s anti-independence agenda.
The nationalists have also claimed the report ignores the massive reductions in defence spending and jobs in Scotland over recent years in order to avoid criticising Labour and Tory governments.
Missing from the report are statements from MPs in which it is claimed that Scottish yards would still be able to compete for defence contracts, even from south of the border.
In June last year, MP Peter Luff told the committee: “The Scottish defence industry is very competitive. They may well win many of these contracts because they are fine businesses, but they will be competing internationally in those circumstances.”
Another to give evidence was Vice Admiral Andrew Mathews who confirmed that the UK Government would retain the option to continue the construction of Navy vessels on the Clyde after Scotland became independent.
Giving evidence in December, the Vice Admiral was asked by Committee Chair Ian Davidson whether ships could be built on the Clyde if Scotland left the United Kingdom, Vice-Admiral Andrews said: “I think that is absolutely the case”.
Pressed by Davidson if this meant that construction of MoD orders already placed with a Clyde based yard would continue in the event of independence, Vice-Admiral Mathews added: “What I’m saying is that is one of the options open to us”.
Ian Godden, former chairman of defence industry body ADS argued that defence contracts had moved from being national to international and pointed to the example of the Typhoon aircraft where the radar is being partly built in Scotland. He pointed out that the project was a joint one between the UK, France and Germany.
Speaking in November, he told the committee: “My attitude is that, if a country is serious about investing and serious about the engineering skill base that is required and maintains that, it can maintain a position in the defence industry and be industrial because of a capability, and I believe very strongly that Scotland has an engineering capability that is quite attractive to others. It is not just policy and politics that determines the work; it is where the skill base is. There are periscopes in Glasgow.”
Another expert, Francis Tusa, challenged claims that nuclear warheads could not be moved to a location in England should Scotland vote for independence.
“All the Trident submarines are maintained in Devonport, which means that they have to be able to go into the port. It is dredged to allow them to do that. In terms of physically finding a berth which has got nuclear regulations and all those safety things in place, Devonport fits the bill. There is no reason why any of those submarines could not move to Devonport as soon as they could raise steam in their boilers.” He told the committee.
He added: “As regards the warheads, one thing that is forgotten is that substantial numbers of warheads are kept on a daily basis in Aldermaston and Burghfield because that is where they are maintained. I gather through various sources that there are spare facilities at the moment; they are not being used.
“You could take some of the warheads stored at the moment in Coulport down to Aldermaston and Burghfield. Inquiries with various people and services since I appeared in front of the House of Commons Scottish committee have indicated that armaments depots at Keinton, and Longtown just across the border, either have or very recently had nuclear certificates. Therefore, if it was a very recent nuclear certificate, recertifying it will not take that long.”
Commenting on what he described as the selective report from the Westminster committee Angus Roberston MP, the SNP’s Defence and Foreign Affairs Spokesman said:
“Rarely can the publication of a Westminster report have been so discredited in advance as this one from the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
“The sad fact is that this committee is operating as an extension of the No campaign.
“The report adds nothing to the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future, and even the most cursory glance through it will reveal it as flawed at every level.
“Key evidence which does not fit with the anti-independence view has been excluded, just as it has excluded the facts on the number of defence jobs lost in Scotland under the Westminster, or the fact that Scotland contributes £3.3 billion to defence spending right now but receives only some £2 billion of that spending in return. And independent Scotland with a defence budget of £2.5 billion – half a billion more than we get from Westminster – means more jobs and economic activity in Scotland.
“Under Westminster control Scotland’s service personnel has been cut by 27.9 per cent 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.
“The sad truth is, this discredited report has been a waste of taxpayers’ money, funding what is little more than the opinions of a group anti-independence politicians who could have written their conclusions on day one of the process, and saved a lot of time and public money.
“A variety of expert witness testimony has either been binned, ignored or airbrushed out simply because it did not meet with the Chairman’s views. This shows enormous disrespect not just to those who appeared – but also to the people of Scotland, who will be appalled that so much of the evidence that was given in good faith was excluded.
“This includes expert and senior naval personnel such as Vice Admiral Matthews, who said that it is ‘clearly an option’ that Westminster could still order ships from yards on the Clyde in an independent Scotland.
“And defence expert and former chairman of Aerospace, Defence and Security (ADS) body Ian Godden made it clear that Scotland has an ‘attractive’ engineering capability, and that ‘it is where the skill base is’ that determines where work goes. The people of Scotland won’t be fooled by this one-sided No campaign report. Even a coalition Defence Minister had to agree that co-operative defence arrangements following independence is perfectly possible.
“Only with a Yes vote on September 18th 2014 will Scotland get a defence policy that meets our needs – which includes the removal of Trident weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde with savings for Scottish taxpayers of billions of pounds, as well as a full complement of conventional forces which will recognise Scotland’s strong and proud tradition of military service.”