S ource: Daily Record
SCOTLAND would be able to adequately defend its interests with the full range of armed forces after independence, the First Minister has insisted.
Tory leader Ruth Davidson had questioned whether the country could train and run special forces to defend key locations, such as oil and gas platforms.
And Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had earlier poured scorn on suggestions that an independent Scotland could form its own defence force.
Mr Hammond said a small Scottish defence force would struggle to attract recruits and was unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.
Ms Davidson said: “The daily work of our security services at home is to look after our people and our assets.
“The First Minister has repeatedly staked the economic stability of a separate Scotland on North Sea oil and gas. These assets are currently protected by the full range of British security services including marines, special forces and the intelligence community.”
But Mr Salmond fired back: “An independent Scotland will have the range of forces required to establish the security of the country.”
He referred to Norway, another country with major energy interests in the North Sea, saying: “I’ve never heard it suggested in any way that Norwegian oil installations are somehow at risk because they’re being protected and supervised by Norwegian forces.
“Is she seriously arguing that an independent Scotland couldn’t provide the same security over our oil and gas assets as Norway does over its oil and gas assets?”
The big difference would be that revenue would go directly to Scotland rather than the UK Treasury, he told MSPs.
Ms Davidson highlighted the UK-Norway ties demonstrated by a visit from Prime Minister David Cameron, which will lead to investment in the energy industry.
She said it would take years to build Scottish special forces, adding: “Norway has the special forces. I’m asking if Scotland would have the same? We did not hear a cheap about special forces, nor a Scottish MI5, nor a Scottish MI6, nor GCHQ monitoring.
“The First Minister is happy to rely on the Bank of England as the lender of last resort but is he content on having what would then be the special forces of another country being Scotland’s defence of last resort too?”
The First Minister replied: “It’s interesting the Prime Minister is in Norway today. I can absolutely tell Ruth Davidson that one thing the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will not do in Norway today is suggest in any way, shape or form the Norwegian government is incapable of protecting Norwegian oil and gas in the North Sea.
“Isn’t it extraordinary that the Unionist parties in Scotland, Tory and Labour, are willing to praise and say how well these small, independent European countries are doing, managing their assets, signing agreements with them, lauding them with praise, except when it comes to the small European nation of Scotland.”
Hammond had earlier said: “There seems to me to be a misunderstanding among some Scottish politicians expressed at its most extreme that an independent Scotland would still have the Scots Guards, the Royal Regiment of Scotland … and that would form a Scottish defence force of some kind,” he said.
“It isn’t clear to me that they would find it easy to recruit in such an organisation. It isn’t clear to me that such an organisation would be sustainable and I don’t believe it would be in the best interests of the Scottish units of the Army or indeed in the best interests of Scots wishing to serve in an effective military force.”
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute’s land warfare conference in London, Mr Hammond confirmed that some historic Army units would be scrapped and others merged in the coming years as it scaled back its regular strength from 102,000 to 82,000.
He said the changes would mean an increased reliance on private military contractors and on part-time reservists whose numbers are set to double to 30,000 as a result of plans set out in the Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review.
In future, the reserves would take on some tasks currently carried out by regular troops, which in turn would require greater commitment by individual reservists to training and preparation.
“The integrated Army concept means, for instance, that light infantry battalions will be reinforced on deployment through a permanent partnership with reserve units,” he said.
“And for less complex tasks a reserve unit could, in the future, form the basis of an operational deployment with augmentations from regular forces – particularly on homeland resilience duties.
“This is a fundamental change in role requiring a fundamental cultural shift in approach: a new deal for reserves.”
Mr Hammond also indicated that when it came to deciding which units were to be axed, the Army would take account of demographic changes around the country.
“Against a background of an increasing UK population overall, it is projected there will be around 12per cent fewer males by 2020 in the typical infantry recruiting age range,” he said.
“Although all regions face this decline, there is local variation: in particular, the south and south-east of England will see the lowest decline.
“So while we are determined to maintain an effective regimental system, it must be based on the realities of today, and the primacy of capability.
“That means focussing on analysis of recruitment performance, demographic trends and future recruiting needs.”
Also addressing the conference, the head of the US Army, General Raymond Odierno, emphasised America’s strategic shift towards the Asia-Pacific region under the Obama administration.
At a time when the US Army was cutting 80,000 troops, he said it was increasingly looking towards the “many challenges and opportunities” in that area of the world.
“We have ignored that region for many, many years because of our other commitments,” he said.
“We will build on the strong foundations achieved in partnership with our allies while also seeking opportunities to engage in new relationships.”