An independent Scotland would not inherit UK military assets, the SNP’s defence spokesman has said in a major policy U-turn.
In another ditching of 2014 policy, it was revealed to the party’s conference that plans to set up a separate Scottish intelligence agency are being scrapped in favour of close working with the existing UK setup.
The Nationalists’ defence team at Westminster told a fringe event in Aberdeen they are working on “a comprehensive, robust, costed and stress-tested defence policy for an independent Scotland”.
Although a publication timetable was not set out, major alterations to the strategy employed just three years ago were suggested.
The Scottish Government’s 2014 white paper on independence said an independent Scotland would “inherit a share of existing UK defence assets, giving us most of the equipment we need to establish Scotland’s defence forces.”
Brendan O’Hara, the party’s defence spokesman at Westminster, called the document “absolutely first class given the circumstances” but added it was now “out of date” because there has since been a UK Government Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The MP for Argyll and Bute suggested the country would “start from scratch” so it could design a “bespoke” structure if there was a vote to leave the UK.
He said: “One of the big debates we want to have is what do we do with the military assets? Do we start from scratch, do we take an eight per cent share or a nine per cent share of them?
“If we do take a nine per cent share, what do we take? What about the maintenance contracts?
“I’m personally very much of the opinion that if we adopt a nine per cent share of the hardware then you are pushed down a road from which it’s sometimes very difficult to come back.
“I don’t think you can have a bespoke independent Scottish defence policy if you’re immediately saddled with taking eight or nine per cent of military assets.”
Meanwhile, Steven Paterson, the Stirling MP and intelligence specialist within the SNP group in the Commons,
Told the meeting that the SNP expects to spend around 1.6% of GDP on defence, around the European Union and Nato average but less than Nato’s recommendation of at least 2%.
He also appeared to row back on the previous plan to “set up a single security and intelligence agency for Scotland.”
The white paper said that the Scottish Government wanted to work closely with MI5, MI6 and GCHQ rather than replace the security services.
Mr Paterson argued, however, that such a move would make “no sense.”
He said: “There’s obviously a very sophisticated intelligence network that exists currently as part of the UK and it would make no sense to tear all that down. Once Scotland is an independent country we are going to cooperate extremely closely with our immediate neighbour.
“That is just common sense, so we would want to build on what’s there.
“Yes there would be a change in the emphasis and the responsibilities but we would certainly want to work as closely as possible in order to make sure what currently works continues to work.”