COALITION ministers and Labour MPs have united in a renewed attack on the SNP by claiming independence would kill Scotland's shipbuilding industry, with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.

Labour members spoke out after Defence Secretary Philip Hammond warned the Ministry of Defence might not place Royal Navy orders north of the Border should Scotland split from the UK.

The SNP responded swiftly, however, dismissing the claim as “more anti-Scottish scaremongering”.

The offensive is the latest in a series of Westminster claims made about Alex Salmond’s plans for a referendum on separation.

They have included:

  • Chancellor George Osborne’s claims the Scottish economy is being damaged by uncertainty over the country’s future.
  • Warnings an independent Scotland may be liable for €9.8 billion (£8.3bn) in the EU stability fund.
  • Scottish Secretary Michael Moore seizing on a report by finance group Citigroup, which warned quitting the UK would leave Scotland too small to afford £4bn green energy subsidies.
  • Claims by UK Government lawyers an an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU, a process that could take up to three years and cost Scottish taxpayers billions.

The latest development in the increasingly heated independence debate came after Mr Hammond was asked in the Commons if the MoD would look again at refitting options for aircraft carriers should Scotland go it alone.

He told MPs: “It is unlikely HM Forces would wish to use facilities in a fully independent Scotland in the way they would wish to use facilities within the UK.”

Earlier, Mr Moore, on a visit to Babcock International at Rosyth in Fife, which is building two aircraft carriers, said an independent Scotland would no longer be in “the frontline” of future UK defence contracting.

Michael Pettigrew, the company’s managing director, said it was “apolitical” on the issue, and that the firm’s future could lie in renewable energy projects or in decommissioning nuclear sites.

Glasgow South West Labour MP Ian Davidson, told The Herald: “This is obviously very alarming that a Tory minister has announced that a separate Scotland would not receive orders from the Royal Navy.

“This would mean the collapse of shipbuilding on the Clyde with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs.”

Mr Davidson said the current aircraft carrier order had progressed too far to be scrapped but he insisted future contracts were at serious risk. He added: “The Secretary of State’s comments are a torpedo below the waterline and we are waiting to see whether it explodes; if it does, it will kill off the ship-building industry.

“We now have to have a separation referendum as quickly as possible to end the damaging uncertainty for shipbuilding workers, their families and constituents on Clydeside.”

Mr Davidson’s Labour colleague Thomas Docherty, who represents Dunfermline and West Fife, claimed: “The SNP plans would sound the death knell for shipbuilding on the Clyde, in Rosyth and across Scotland, because the yards depend on the Royal Navy.”

Jim Moohan, chairman of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions in Scotland, said an independent Scotland “said the current partnership of yards across the UK would not survive a breakaway. However, Angus Robertson, the SNP’s defence spokesman, said: “This is just more anti-Scottish scaremongering from the Tories, without a stitch of evidence, which the managing director of Babcock at Rosyth refused to stand up today, much to the humiliation of Michael Moore.

“The irony is that Westminster has presided over a £5.6 billion defence underspend and 10,500 defence job losses in Scotland over the past decade.”

Chancellor George Osborne warned at the weekend that major companies had told him they were worried about investing in Scotland because of uncertainty surrounding the independence referendum.

Alex Salmond accused him of “juvenile scare-mongering”.

The First Minister will today open Amazon’s new facilities in Dunfermline and Edinburgh, which will create more than 1600 permanent jobs.

Meanwhile, Scots engineering entrepreneur Jim McColl, said he was “disappointed” to hear Mr Osborne “talking down Scotland as a place to do business and invest in”.

Mr McColl said his company, Clyde Blowers, was in talks with “a couple of big companies who want to invest here and expects to make announcements soon”.

However, Iain McMillan, director of CBI Scotland, said Mr McColl “may be out of his depth” in terms of political matters.