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Independence poses a threat to the future of defence jobs in Scotland, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has told the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Edinburgh.

He accused the Scottish Government of being “deluded” or “seeking to delude” over maintaining current levels of shipbuilding.

And he claimed a separate Scotland could not hope to develop the same level of protection and resilience as the UK.

He told the conference the defence industry in Scotland employed around 12,600 people, generating sales in excess of £1.8 billion a year.

“The construction of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers alone - taking place just across the Forth Bridge, has already delivered hundreds of millions of pounds worth of work for the Clyde and Rosyth, with thousands of jobs in the shipyards linked to the programme,” he said.

“But the truth is this: the overall drumbeat of shipbuilding work for the Royal Navy - from the Type 45 Destroyers, to the Carriers, to the Type 26 Frigates - is just enough to sustain one complex warship-building yard. For the whole UK.”

But SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson hit back. He said: “A Yes vote this year will ensure that decisions on Scotland’s defence are made in Scotland and always reflect the needs of people in Scotland.”

The gathering at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre also heard tributes to former leader David McLetchie, who died of cancer last summer.

Former Foreign Secretary and ex-Edinburgh MP Sir Malcolm Rifkind said Mr McLetchie had taken on the leadership of the party in Scotland at one of its darkest moments. He said: “Our party could have disappeared. It could have simply been a historical memory. Instead, under David’s leadership, it revived and is now a serious force in the Scottish Parliament.”