Philip Hammond: We are stronger and safer as a United Kingdom

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LISTENING to Alex Salmond last week, I couldn’t help but be struck by how much of his independence proposition is predicated upon being able to dictate, either to the rest of the UK or to the European Union or to Nato, what their policies should be.

I want to set out why Scotland is stronger within our United Kingdom and the UK is stronger with Scotland within it. This year, of all years, is a time to remember and to commemorate the millions of men from all parts of the United Kingdom who stood together in the trenches in France and Belgium.

And as recent events in Eastern Europe remind us all too clearly, the ability to protect your people, defend your borders and safeguard your national interests is fundamental to the successful functioning of any state.

In the past, the threats we faced came only from the sea, from land and, more recently, from the air. Now, they also come from two new domains – space and cyberspace – and from non-state protagonists as well as from nation states.

For countries that lack the scale of our forces and the size of our defence budget, difficult choices have to be made about the threats against which they can afford to defend; and those against which they cannot.

But thanks to a £34bn annual defence budget, supporting some of the most capable, agile and deployable forces in the world we, as the United Kingdom, can defend ourselves against the broad range of potential security threats we face.

At the same time as we are constructing new aircraft carriers in Scotland, building new submarines in Barrow, test flying new joint strike fighters in the United States and trialling new unmanned surveillance aircraft in southern England, we are also investing hundreds of millions of pounds in defensive and offensive cyber capabilities to protect against the new and growing threat from cyberspace.

Frankly, that is a position in which many of our international partners and allies would like to be; but very few of them are.

Of course, being able to buy and sustain military hardware is one thing. But it is the people that operate that hardware that turn it into a military capability. And it is the people in our Armed Forces that I believe are our greatest asset.

Drawn from the four corners of these islands, nothing epitomises more the strength we derive from being a United Kingdom than the men and women in our Navy, Army and Air Force coming together with a common purpose.

On current estimates from Scottish Development International, the defence industry in Scotland employs around 12,600 people, and generates sales in excess of £1.8bn. The Navy’s flagship project – the construction of the two new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers – has sustained thousands of jobs in shipyards around the country.

When HMS Queen Elizabeth is floated out of her dock in Rosyth in three months’ time, she will be the biggest ship the Royal Navy has ever had and a reminder of what this great country is capable of when we work together as one.

Those who are working, or have worked, on HMS Queen Elizabeth are proud of the project in which they are involved.

And as the United Kingdom, we have in the Royal Navy the critical mass of warships to generate an order book of sufficient size to maintain a sovereign warship-building capability. Rather than placing orders for our surface ships with potentially cheaper yards overseas, successive UK governments have deliberately chosen to sustain our sovereign capability, albeit at a financial premium.

As a result, no complex warships for the Royal Navy have been procured from outside the UK since the start of the 20th century, except during the two World Wars.

Today, that policy, and the Royal Navy’s scale, delivers billions of pounds of investment and sustains thousands of Scottish jobs, directly and indirectly. And I believe it is neither in Scotland’s interests, nor the rest of the United Kingdom’s, to put that at risk.

With five months remaining until the referendum on September 18, it’s clear that on one of the most important topics of all, their future safety and security, the separatists owe the Scottish people a lot of answers.

In place of fact, we have assertion. And in place of certainty, we have doubt. Over the last two and a half years as Defence Secretary, I’ve had to take often difficult decisions to provide UK defence with a stable forward plan while making a contribution to re-building Britain’s fiscal stability.

And now, at the very point that there is light at the end of what has seemed like a very long and dark tunnel, do we really want to turn in on ourselves to focus on the consequences of a difficult and painful divorce, rather than facing outwards, together, to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of our changing world? To me, the choice is clear.

Philip Hammond is the Defence Secretary who gave a keynote speech yesterday on the Scottish independence debate, This is an edited version.