By Paul Thornton
FEARS that sweeping defence cuts could force the closure of a Scottish RAF base have been met with defiance by the SNP.
RAF Lossiemouth in Moray is thought to be included in a shortlist of operations which could face the axe under the new Westminster coalition government’s defence review.
The base employs around 3,000 staff directly and, along with nearby RAF Kinloss, is thought to support as many as 7,000 jobs in the North of Scotland, pumping £76m into the economy.
But – with the MOD facing a £36b budget shortfall – Defence Secretary Liam Fox has ordered military chiefs to make cuts in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR).
And – according to reports – the government believes that at least one of the two bases must go.
The SNP’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson slammed the idea.
The MP – who leads the party at Westminster – said: “These reports are deeply alarming and will be fought tooth and nail in Moray.
“That huge cuts are being planned are very worrying, not least because our forces already feel overstretched and under resourced.
“These cuts would seriously diminish operational capabilities as well as hurt communities like Moray.
“The fact is that the UK government is already responsible for a £4.3 billion defence underspend in Scotland between 2002 and 2007, and 9,500 defence jobs were lost in Scotland when Labour were in power.
“Delaying the contracts for aircraft carriers only compounds that problem.
“Downing Street keep making the wrong choices on cuts – whether it’s closing bases or delaying defence contracts while blowing billions on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.
“These are the wrong choices and underline just how out of touch London can be.”
It is also feared that a £5b project to build two new aircraft carriers at Rosyth Royal Dockyard in Fife and the Clyde could also be targeted.
The building of the new ships – the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales – could be delayed by several years, putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Mid Scotland and Fife MSP, John Park, said the contracts for the building were essential to the economy.
Mr Park said: “The contracts are worth up to £3billion to the Scottish economy.
“You are looking at upwards of 6,000 people working over the course of the contract. But the opportunities are not just for people directly involved. The numbers multiply to the wider economy with companies in the supply chain supplying goods and services.
“Between 10,000 and 15,000 jobs could go as a result. But the impact would be felt not just in Rosyth or Glasgow but all around Scotland.”
“We have had these Conservative cuts in the past and in Fife in particular.
“A?couple of hundred million pounds were to be spent on the Trident refit contract in 1993 but the Conservatives decided to cut that so it wouldn’t surprise us if anything was going to happen that was going to have a negative impact on Scotland in terms of the SDR.”