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Salmond 'hypocrisy' over Scottish Defence Force

ALEX Salmond was accused of hypocrisy last night over his defence plans for an independent Scotland.

Alex Salmond answers questions at the Scottish Parliament

The First Minister said the Westminster Government's controversial defence review had produced a model for a Scottish Defence Force (SDF).

His comments were dismissed as "bizarre" by Jim Murphy, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, who said the SNP had adopted Tory defence policies it had previously denounced.

Mr Murphy was speaking after an interview yesterday in which Mr Salmond spelled out for the first time his post-independence military blueprint.

He said Scotland's armed forces would have just one air base, where previously he had said there was an "overwhelming case" to retain the country's three air bases at Kinloss, Lossiemouth and Leuchars.

He also said there would be one naval base without nuclear submarines and a mobile armed brigade.

He said: "The configuration of the Army in Scotland, the mobile brigade, which is the outcome of the defence review, looks exactly like the configuration you'd want for a Scottish defence force – so that's one naval base, one aircraft base and a mobile armed brigade.

"The great argument in favour of having a Scottish Defence Force is two-fold – one, you wouldn't have to have the biggest concentration of nuclear weapons in Western Europe situated in Scotland, of which many people support the removal, and secondly of course, we'd have the right to decide whether or not to participate in international engagements."

As one military expert predicted the cost of equipping an SDF to today's levels would cost an independent Scotland £2.2 billion, Mr Murphy said: "After denouncing Tory defence policies, the SNP have suddenly announced it is the best they can threaten if Scotland was independent.

"This raises huge questions about separation. Scotland knows that leaving the UK would be a huge blow to Scottish defence communities."

Thomas Docherty, the Labour MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, said: "They have no credibility on defence whatsoever.

"People in Fife will feel an absolute betrayal at this U-turn by the SNP. After a year of claiming to stand up for Fife, the SNP have now admitted a separate Scotland would have closed RAF Leuchars anyway."

Phillip Hammond, the Conservative Defence Secretary, said it was "laughable" that British military units could be taken into an SDF, and that an independent Scotland would have to contribute towards the huge cost of relocating Britain's current Clyde-based nuclear submarines.

It came as Lord West of Spithead, the former head of the Navy, told The Herald a breakaway nation could not afford to run fast jets, such as the Typhoons currently based at Leuchars.

He said that if Scotland was offered the aircraft as part of its separation settlement with the UK it would have to turn them down on economic grounds.

Mr Salmond had previously campaigned to keep all of Scotland's RAF bases open. However, under the Coalition Government's cuts, only RAF Lossiemouth will remain, while Kinloss, in Moray, and Leuchars, in Fife, will be taken over by the Army.

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said he was merely accepting the current "reality" of Scotland's defence footprint.

He said that when the SNP leader described a configuration "you'd want", he was talking about the enlarged mobile brigade that was an outcome of the defence review – not the closure of two RAF bases.

Mr Salmond was also talking about the Partnership for Peace alliance, the spokesman said, adding that there was no change in the party's policy to remain outside Nato.

Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director at London-based Royal United Services Institute, an independent military think-tank, quoted a £2.2bn price tag for an SDF.

He said: "The question then is what defence forces would be required to meet defence needs and would it want to contribute to Nato and United Nations missions, as do the other small northern European countries of Norway, Denmark and Ireland.

"There would be choice there for Scotland and I think to construct Scotland's defence policy around what forces are left in Scotland rather than what its defence needs would be would be ill advised."

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: "We need detailed plans setting out the capability of a Scottish Defence Force but all we get is a flimsy sound bite."

In a spat with Mr Hammond, Mr Salmond said that only somebody "with the arrogance of a Westminster politician would say to the Scottish people that you'd place and station weapons of mass destruction in Scotland over a period of half a century, impose substantial clean-up costs and then try to send Scotland the bill."

Meanwhile, former Holyrood presiding officer David Steel accused Prime Minister David Cameron of "playing into Alex Salmond's hands" on independence.

The former Liberal leader warned his party's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg not to underestimate the SNP leader.

He said putting Tory Chancellor George Osborne in charge of the anti-independence campaign would be "bonkers".

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