Defence Matters

David Mathias looks at the implications on defence of a yes vote.

The debate thus far on Scotland’s future has been largely based on domestic or internal issues and Scotland’s economy were it to break with the Union, and it is increasingly clear that the vital subject of defence (and therefore security) of both an independent Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom has been given scant attention by either side in the debate.

The impact of Scottish independence on Defence would be acute, and its effects therefore must be considered. To that end Westminster recently  published a report entitled ‘The Scotland Analysis Paper on Defence’ which highlights the main effect on Defence were Scotland to vote ‘yes’.

The UK Government’s position is clear; Scotland benefits from being part of the UK, and the UK benefits from having Scotland within it. From a Defence perspective, the arguments for Scotland remaining in the UK are extremely strong. The UK’s integrated approach to defence protects all parts of the UK, while offering significant economies of scale, as well as contributing to conflict prevention and resolution, and to humanitarian operations overseas.

Mr Salmond’s own views and apparent knowledge of the subject of Defence are shallow, and it is abundantly evident that his plans for Defence in an independent Scotland are unrealistic and lacking in serious thought or analysis, and that he fails to consider the wider effect of this on both the UK and on NATO. He wants Scotland to have no part in the UK’s defence strategy, but at the same time has welcomed a US presence in Scotland providing it is non-nuclear.

His ambitious plans for a Scottish navy with ‘major surface vessels’ for fishery protection and submarines, a fast jet air force, and a resurrected army is nothing more than a two page ‘wish list’ which is neither ‘costed nor credible’ according to one report.

The conclusion to be drawn by such an omission is that Defence does not feature large in a future independent Scotland, and this, along with the SNP’s anti Trident and ‘non nuclear’ stance is something that must surely concern us all.

The first duty of every government is the defence and security of its people. The world is increasingly troubled and unstable and, as recent events in Ukraine have shown, unpredictably brutal. No responsible government can afford to ignore this, and there has never been a greater need for strength and unity amongst the western alliance than exists today. This primary factor underpins all others in a defence debate.

With that backdrop then, consider this…

From a Defence perspective it is clear that the transition to independence would be extremely complex, raising serious questions over how an operational capability for a Scottish state could be established or managed.

The real worry is that Scotland’s landmass, coastline and airspace, which is of critical strategic importance to the UK and to NATO / the USA, facing as it does the North Atlantic and any sea or air borne threat from that area (i.e. from Russia, which continues to routinely probe it) would be no longer secured. A joined-up defence policy and Command and Control of sea and air space is vital to the UK and to Scotland, and this factor, above all, is under serious threat.

The United Kingdom’s military credibility as a nation that stands up for itself and for others, closely follows. Throughout the Cold War and indeed up to the present day, the UK has been a stalwart pillar of the NATO alliance, utterly dependable and reliable, her forces leading the way and setting a superb example of commitment and professionalism. This factor was hugely important in melding together the disparate and widely differing allied forces, and in eventually ‘winning’ the Cold War.

The ‘Scotland Analysis Paper on Defence’ highlights the impact independence would have on defence both north and south of the border. The report concludes that the defence capability of both parties and of NATO would be seriously weakened. The following is a summary of the main implications:

1. Scotland would no longer benefit from the UK’s £34 Billion annual Defence budget, and no longer have access to the UK’s full and extensive range of defence capabilities available to defend against both natural and man-made threats, including terrorism.

2. The complex and integrated nature of the UK’s Defence capabilities would be extremely hard (and expensive) to replicate in an independent Scotland. Dismantling our existing Defence structure and organisation to exclude Scotland would alone be hugely expensive to both parties.

3. Scotland would be immediately ‘challenged’ to establish Armed Forces capability and supporting machinery from the £2.5 Billion Scottish Defence budget proposed by Mr Salmond. It is estimated that the proposed Scottish Air Force alone would cost £1.7 Billion, and that the re-forming of Scotland’s old regiments and their support elements would swallow up the entire budget.

Note: Mr Salmond has assumed that the many Scots currently serving the Armed Forces would flock to his side and form ‘ready made’ units, but he is sadly deluded. It would make no sense whatsoever for anyone to abandon an established and dependable career. Furthermore the acutely limited opportunities available in a small Scottish defence force when compared with the UK’s armed forces would not be an attractive alternative.

4. Thousands of skilled jobs in Scotland are reliant on the UK’s Defence industry and Armed Forces presence in the country, and these are vital to the defence of the UK as a whole. The following major units and facilities would be withdrawn to England or closed.

  • The Naval Bases at Faslane and Rosyth (and sundry smaller facilities)
  • An Army Brigade
  • Army Personnel Centre in Glasgow
  • The RAF operational bases – Leuchars and Lossiemouth
  • The Volunteer Reserves
  • Shipbuilding and repair

5. Although the overall manpower establishment of the UK Armed Forces is due to decrease, by 2020 the number in Scotland is set to increase to 12,500 or 8.8 % of the total, and a corresponding rise in the Reserves to 4,200. Independence would halt this.

6. As an anti-nuclear weapon state (as opposed to a non-nuclear weapon state) which the SNP is planning for, Scotland’s membership of NATO would be unlikely. It follows that Scotland would be highly vulnerable to threats such as terrorism as it would not have access to NATO / UK intelligence.

As the Scottish referendum approaches it is essential that the subject of Defence be included in the thoughts and considerations of not only the Scots, but of all of those in the UK who care about security and freedom, and I urge that the issue be placed at the forefront of the debate.

David Mathias is a retired Army officer with extensive service spanning over four decades. He served throughout the height of the Cold War period and in numerous operational theatres since. He is a noted military historian and battlefield guide.

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