Scotland

Parties unite over future of aircraft carriers

Scottish ministers and opposition politicians have joined forces in an effort to secure the future of two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers.

Looming Ministry of Defence cuts led to speculation the carriers may not be constructed on the Clyde and at Rosyth.

First Minister Alex Salmond is meeting UK ministers on the issue, while Labour's Iain Gray called for unity, during question time at Holyrood.

The Conservatives stressed no final decisions had been made.

Meanwhile, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a Lib Dem MP, has also stressed the economic need for retaining the carriers to ministerial colleagues.

He said: "I have made it clear I am listening to concerns from across Scotland and making Scotland's case at the highest levels of the UK government.‬‪‬‪

"That case is strengthened by the contribution that the defence bases and manufacturers make to Scotland's security and Scotland's communities."

He added that a meeting between MoD and devolved administrations would take place within the next fortnight.

Deputy Scottish Conservative leader Murdo Fraser described any budget reductions as "Labour cuts", adding that a UK defence review would have gone ahead regardless of who won the General Election.

As the UK government seeks to cut the spending deficit, Defence Secretary Liam Fox aims to save money in procurement and administration while prioritising front-line operations.

His emphasis on the need for much closer working with key European allies has led to speculation that plans for the two new aircraft carriers by 2018 - costing £5bn - could be scaled back.

Sir Ian King, chief executive of defence contractor BAE systems, previously disclosed the company had been asked to consider a number of options ranging from "one carrier to no carrier".

Cancellation 'crazy'

Mr Salmond said the Scottish government had prepared a dossier to spell out the "full implications" of the cancellation of one or both projects.

"The extent of possible job losses would range from 5,000 to 10,000 across Scotland, depending on how you calculate the figures," he said, adding: "I want as far as possible on this issue to get the maximum Scottish unity if we are to make an effective submission to the Ministry of Defence."

Mr Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, said: "To even think of cancelling that first carrier at this stage is crazy."

"It is absolutely the case that we must marshal the most united campaign in defence of these contracts."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott said the importance of the carrier projects went beyond defence considerations.

"Future decisions about military spending must take into account the social and economic impact on local communities," he said.

"Aircraft carriers being built on the Clyde and in Fife mean hundreds of jobs and vital skills for local areas. I will continue to make the case for these investments."

Mr Fraser, added: "All future British defence contracts and jobs for Scotland depend on us being part of the United Kingdom, something the SNP would jeopardise by its goal of separation.

"The biggest threat to the defence infrastructure of Scotland is independence."

The future of Scottish RAF bases at Lossiemouth and Kinloss, in Moray, could also be in doubt and the Scottish secretary has said he could give "no guarantees" about their fate.

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