Today First Minister Alex Salmond has published his plans for getting his independence referendum up and running.

With the opinion polls running hard against Labour in Scotland and in favour of the SNP, it is reasonable to suppose that the man appointed as Secretary of State for Scotland, Des Browne, will be working hard on preparing the Government of the United Kingdom’s response to those plans: after all, this is a matter which concerns and affects the whole United Kingdom and cannot just be left to forty-odd opposition MSPs to fashion.

So, just what proportion of his time is Des Browne spending on Scotland and what on his other job?

His other job, you might recall, is Secretary of State for Defence. This was, when responsible Government was practised in this country, thought to be a job of such importance that it was considered to be a full-time post, except between 1940 and 1945 when Churchill held the post whilst also Prime Minister, But that was rather different, particularly as there were still full-blown Service Ministers (The War Minister, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Air Minister) in post.

Just at the moment our Armed Forces are at their most stretched since the Second World War and the Army in particular is experiencing casualties at a rate as high as any since the summer of 1944. We are running two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, in both of which theatres some hard pounding is being done. There is a major crisis over defence equipment, from the provision of adequate armoured vehicles for the infantry to protect them from Improvised Explosive Devices (that’s roadside bombs to you) to the day to day kit of the Rifleman on the ground. There is a major crisis over recruitment and the loss of skilled personnel.

It is time for the Government to come clean and tell us just how much of his time he is spending on Scotland and how much on Defence.

Our Prime Minister, who is currently thinking only about his own fortunes, believes that it is appropriate for Defence to be a part-time post, to be doubled with the task of saving Labour’s scrawny neck North of the Border.

This is no more and no less than a shameful and dishonourable dereliction of duty.

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