Former Nato secretary general Lord George Robertson attends the memorial service of former Scottish Secretary and European Commissioner Bruce Millan at Govan Parish Church on March 4 2013 in Glasgow, Scotland
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George Robertson, a former Nato secretary-general and Labour defence minister, has warned that if his Scottish homeland breaks away from the UK it would be “cataclysmic in geopolitical terms”.

Speaking at the Brookings Institution in Washington, Lord Robertson, said that if the UK was to “find itself embroiled for several years in a torrid, complex, difficult and debilitating divorce, it would rob the west of a serious partner just when solidity and cool nerves are going to be vital” and could trigger fragmentation across Europe.

“Nobody should underestimate the effect all of that would have on existing global balances and the forces of darkness would simply love it,” he said on Monday night. “For the second military power in the west to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geopolitical terms.”

Lord Robertson, a strong advocate of the No campaign, said the ripple effect of a Yes vote would spread well beyond the UK’s shores, citing Catalonia, the Basque country and Belgium, which he described as “a country held together by a thread”.

It was “far from scaremongering to use the term Balkanisation to predict what might happen” if Scots vote Yes on September 18, he said. “The fragmentation of Europe starting on the centenary of the first world war would be both an irony and a tragedy with incalculable consequences”.

“The rest of the ordered world needs to tell us that it actually cares,” he added. “People who are affected, or think they will be affected, have every right to speak out.”

The Obama administration has so far decided to stay out of the debate, although US analysts say that if the polls continue to narrow then this stance might change. The No campaign remains ahead but the Yes campaign has made up ground in recent weeks.

A spokesman for Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister and leader of the Yes campaign, described Lord Robertson’s speech as “crass and offensive” and with “absolutely nothing positive to say”.

He added: “And it is contributions like his which are turning people across Scotland in their droves away from the fear and smear tactics of the No campaign towards the positive, upbeat, optimistic message of the Yes campaign.”

Mr Salmond is in Washington this week in a bid to persuade Americans that they have nothing to fear from a break-up of the UK, particularly with regard to his Scottish National Party’s opposition to continuing to house Britain’s nuclear deterrent.

The future of British nuclear policy would face serious questions if Scots voted for independence and secession could also shrink the size of the British army.

In a speech on Monday night in New York, Mr Salmond presented an upbeat message of what he saw as an independent Scotland’s future role in the world.

“Countries can exercise influence through the scale of their ambition and the strength of their ideas, rather than the size of their armies, their populations, or their territories,” he said. Scotland would seek to remain part of the British Irish Council, to become “an enthusiastic member of the European Union”, a “constructive partner in Nato” and a member of the UN.

“Independence doesn’t guarantee that we will become that Scotland we seek,” he said. “But it gives us the powers we need, in order to do so. It places decisions about Scotland’s contribution to the world in the hands of the people who live and work in Scotland.”

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