Alex Salmond has announced that the recommendations of the UK Defence Review could offer a blueprint for the military in an independent Scotland.
In an interview with the BBC, the First Minister outlined a “defence force” of one naval base, an aircraft base and a “mobile armed brigade” of 6,000 soldiers as the “ideal configuration” of Scotland’s military in the case of independence.
However, the SNP have come under fire from political opponents, who have described their previous support for a cross-party campaign to save three RAF bases from being shut down as hypocritical.
The bases were considered for closure as part of the Westminster government’s programme of spending cuts. RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Leuchars were spared, but RAF Kinloss in Moray is to be transferred to the Army.
Mr Salmond argued that an independent Scottish military would give Scotland “the right to decide whether or not to participate in international engagements.”
The opposition of the Nationalists and the Scottish public to the UK’s controversial invasion of Iraq has been suggested as being a contributing factor in the shift of support from Labour to the SNP over the past decade.
Mr Salmond also suggested that Scotland would retain a naval base at Faslane, but the UK Government would have to remove its Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters.
Opinion polling shows Scots are largely opposed to the location of nuclear weapons on the west coast, and anti-nuclear campaigners have welcomed the move.
Conservative Defence Minister Phillip Hammond criticised the plans, suggesting that it would be “laughable” for Scotland to take over some UK regiments after independence, and demanding that Scotland should pay some of the costs of removing nuclear weapons from Faslane.
SNP Westminster leader and defence spokesman Angus Robertson has hit back at Hammond’s remarks, saying: “If London really cared about nuclear weapons systems perhaps they would have considered the public opinion of people in Scotland decades ago.”
The Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has supported the SNP’s position. The organization’s chairman, Arthur West, said: “We should not be forced to accept these Weapons of Mass Destruction in Scotland, just because no one else will have them.”
Former General Lord Dannatt recently offered a controversial assessment of the SNP’s plans for an independent Scottish defence force, arguing that it would be “too boring” and would struggle to find recruits due to a lack of overseas engagement.