Jim Murphy MP, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, speech to Scottish Labour Party Conference 2012
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We meet at a moment of immense change. The world is more interconnected than ever – global recession, global terrorism, global warming. And yet this is a world where the actions of an individual can quite literally change history. Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller whom most people have never heard of started a chain of events we will never forget. He took his own life in protest against the dictatorship and precipitated the Arab Spring, which will irreversibly reshape the world order.
For defence policy this is a time of transformation. New threats are emerging and new technologies are required. The contest for clean water supply and population growth demand our attention alongside terrorism and cyber attack. The pace of change is quickening and so too must our responses.
And while the world is changing overseas so is politics here at home. Our electoral systems have provided the opposite of what was intended: the First Past the Post system produced a minority government at Westminster and a Proportional system produced a majority government at Holyrood. Scotland has two governments: one Tory that offers austerity of opportunity at home; the other Nationalist that offers poverty of influence abroad.
Of course it’s been a tough time for our Party but it has been a more difficult year for our Forces. Over the past year they have been tested – 10,000 on the battlefield of Afghanistan and others in the seas and skies around Libya. In Afghanistan I met troops from across Scotland and the rest of the UK. Last week I met Royal Navy Scots returning from Libya, from Alloa, Kilwinning, Coatbridge and so many other Scottish towns. What always strikes me is how young these men and women are. Their bravery and modesty is awe inspiring and we should be so proud of them and what they do.
They have also been tested in a different way by the decisions of Ministers who put savings before strategy. The UK Government’s defence plans did not survive their first contact with world events. The success of operations in Libya was testament to our Forces’ professionalism, not Ministers’ decisions.
We have seen strategic shrinkage by stealth.
Britain is now an island nation with aircraft carriers but without aircraft. You don’t need to be a military strategist to know what aircraft carriers are meant to carry – the clue is in the name.
Generations of our troops are losing increased pension payments permanently. It is wrong that a man in his late 80s who jumped out of a landing craft at Normandy in 1944 is having his pension payments cut to pay for the Tories’ economic policy.
Our service personnel are being cut by 30,000.
Those serving on the frontline have been sacked by email.
War widows are losing hundreds of thousands over the course of their lifetime.
Morale is in freefall.
With each passing day we know that our Forces and their families deserve better than this Tory government.
There is only one group in Scotland who supports the Government’s defence review. The SNP have described it as a “blueprint” - and yet they spent months scurrying around Scotland at the front of community campaigns to keep RAF bases open which they have now turned their backs on. It’s a cynical manipulation of people’s emotions that is yet another reminder why Scotland will never trust the SNP on defence.
If defence is the first test of a government, it is also the first test of an Opposition party aspiring to government. That is why we launched our Defence Review last week.
At the centre of our plans are our greatest asset - people.
The wisdom that comes with service in the Forces is precious. Their ideas will be at the centre of our Policy Review, and those who have served should also be at the heart of our Party.
I recently announced that members of the Forces could join Labour for £1. So far over 150 people have joined – what a fantastic success.
I met many of them and from their time in the Forces they will all know that the most effective defence policy is not always a new piece of military hardware. It is a world-class international development policy. Investment in education, democratic reform and viable economies can hinder the spread of conflict. The careful prevention of development policy can be so much better than the painful cure of military action.
But we know that when development and diplomacy don’t succeed military action is the last resort.
As well as serving in the Armed Forces they are also part of a wider Alliance.
They did so as part of NATO, an organisation born at the end of the Second World War and at the beginning of the Cold War which is now finding a new purpose.
In Kosovo it was NATO who answered the calls of a world demanding action to prevent butchery.
In Bosnia NATO prevented the slaughter of thousands of European Muslims.
In Afghanistan NATO has been tackling the vile hatred of a Taliban regime which tormented women and children and threatens our safety.
NATO helped in the Pakistan Earthquake and Hurricane Katrina relief. All of this is why there are countries queuing up to get into NATO, and there is only one mainstream Party wanting to leave: our very own SNP.
How peculiar, then, that the Nats rely on a catch-all comparison that says that defence in a separate Scotland will be like Denmark and Norway. Both nations have actively contributed to major NATO operations including in Afghanistan. And while the SNP decried NATO’s action to save thousands of Muslim Europeans as ‘unpardonable folly’ the Danes and Norwegians were fighting bravely alongside allies to protect the lives of innocents.
The Nats’ comparison does not bare the burden of their argument. No-one should insult Scotland’s intelligence by misrepresenting Danish and Norwegian policy or sacrifice.
But it’s because when it comes to defence, Separation is a powerful idea from the 19th Century entirely unsuited to the complexities of influence in the 21st Century.
How does Scotland get its way in the world if we leave the UK, the one country with the unique influence of being in the EU, the Commonwealth and the G8?
How does it help the world’s poorest people to walk out on the country which is the second largest donor of aid to the poorest countries – co-ordinated by 500 DFID Scots in East Kilbride.
In the worst financial crisis since the Depression how do we strengthen Scotland’s businesses and workers by separating from the third largest economy in Europe?
How do we be a Force for Good in a dangerous world by leaving the UK which is the fourth biggest military budget on the planet.
And we’re currently one of only 5 countries out of 198 in the world with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In recent years we have had a Scottish Labour Prime Minister sitting with China and America at that top table.
No country in peacetime history has ever given up this degree of influence and Scotland shouldn’t be the first. We have never been a passive people. Scots have helped shape the world and created some of the greatest inventions. The country that gave the world the television shouldn’t be reduced to a spectator watching world events unfold beyond our influence on our TV screens.
I know that there are other ways to talk to China as well as at the top table of the UN and the Nats like going to China for trade talks. Judging by the decision to build the Forth Road Bridge in China it’s the SNP doing all the talking and the Chinese doing most of the trading.
The Nats want to bring the Forth Road Bridge 12,500 miles by sea from China rather than 33 miles along the M8 from Motherwell. But just because they want to make the Bridge the furthest travelled in the world doesn’t mean the Royal Navy will take the same approach to building warships.
The Clyde has built ships for 300 years. Thousands of high skill jobs depend on building these aircraft carriers three times longer than a football pitch. But if Scotland leaves Britain the Clyde and Rosyth would be in a foreign country to the Royal Navy. And while I would still argue our case the Navy has never built a warship in a foreign yard. If the SNP get their way they would have achieved what the Tories at their worst including Heath, Thatcher and the emergence of the Far East shipbuilding has failed to do – sinking Clyde shipbuilding.
Labour, the Trade Unions and Scotland together never let the Tories kill Scottish shipbuilding and it will be a cold day in hell before we let the Nats shut the Clyde and Rosyth.
We value our industry – its contribution to our security and the communities it supports. So I want to give you this guarantee today. When there is a Labour government no warships will be built abroad - our frigates, destroyers and submarines will be built across the four nations of the UK.
In today’s changing, complex world we need strong defences at home and overseas. That is under threat from the two governments we face.
Labour will expose the weaknesses and unfairness in the UK Government’s defence plans, which limit both Britain’s ambition and our ability to act.
And challenge the Nats’ plans for separation, which go against the grain of Scotland’s personality and the strength of our character.
A country of exploration and innovation, of heritage and history and I want Scotland and the UK to have the power to persuade and the ability to act. Let us together have the confidence and self belief to go out there and win the debate, win the vote and secure our future.