Defence and an Independent Scotland

I would like to announce the undertaking of the following project funded by the Scotland Institute.  This comprehensive study will be available for download on their website this coming fall.  The sole motivation for this project is to pass onto the Scottish electorate as much knowledge possible of this particular substantive issue BEFORE casting their vote in a referendum on Scottish independence.

The referendum on Scottish independence is currently scheduled for autumn 2014. Public opinion is undecided and numerous polls offer conflicting decisions.  For example, a Sunday Express poll in January 2012 found that 51 per cent of people in Scotland back independence. This compares with the New Statesman which found 44 per cent of the Scottish public in favour and a Sunday Telegraph poll showing that only 40% of Scots favour independence.

A sticking point for many people is the question of defence and the perception that Scotland should leave this in the hands of the United Kingdom.  With more information about foreign affairs and defence, a lot could change in the next two years leading up to the referendum.

There is a sense that there is little detail available to the general public about the future of Scotland’s Defence Force after independence.  There are many questions that haven’t even begun to be answered yet and as the independence referendum approaches, there is a pressing need for objective facts and details instead of supposition, emotion and patriotic rhetoric.  The Scottish government recently announced it is essentially staging its own internal defence review, drafting a detailed policy on the purpose and shape of a Scottish defence force for publication in November 2013, but that is still at least one year away.

A detailed study is therefore proposed of an independent Scotland’s defence capabilities, assets, industry and financing.  Its relationships with the EU and NATO will be examined and the future of the Trident program explored.

Central questions to be addressed
What will the future Scottish Defence Force look like and how will it be financed?

What would be an independent Scotland’s position in NATO and the European Community?

What is the future of UK’s nuclear deterrent?

The following points will be considered in depth, acknowledging and exploring the facts behind the arguments for and against;

  1. UK  Defence Policy

The Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which sets out how the Government will deliver the priorities identified in the National Security Strategy was published 19 October 2010.  Some reforms aimed at cost reduction were outlined in the Defence Reform Report of June 2011, and on July 5, 2012, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced reforms that will see 20,000 full-time troops axed. Five battalions will disappear entirely in the reorganisation – the 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, 2nd Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion the Yorkshire regiment, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment and the 2nd Battalion the Royal Welsh.

This new round of cuts, is primarily a response to a worsening fiscal environment, not to an improved strategic situation. [1]  How this affects Scotland directly will be examined in detail.

  1. Scottish Defence Policy

The best available Scottish government position on defence was set out in its independence white paper Your Scotland, Your Voice in September 2009. It was extremely short on detail on defence, but said there were four core objects:

  • to uphold national sovereignty and secure the territorial integrity of the country;
  • to secure internal security in the face of threats and risks
    in partnership with other nations;
  • to help to prevent and resolve conflicts and war anywhere in the world in partnership with other nations
  • to further peaceful development in the world with due respect for human rights.

Alex Salmond, SNP leader and First Minister, has stated that Scotland would keep “one naval base, one air base and one mobile brigade of soldiers”.  Details of this will be examined as available and projected costs to the Scottish Government outlined.

  1. Scotland and NATO

SNP policy is that Scotland would not join NATO and would insist on the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent submarines from Faslane.  Scotland would establish a defense force similar to that of other smaller countries, eg Denmark, Belgium and Norway.    A decision not to join NATO would be seen as a signal that the new Scotland was stepping out of the European mainstream. It might even raise questions about an independent Scotland’s application for EU membership, the success of which will be critical for its economic prospects.  However NATO membership is changing and non-nuclear membership is feasible.  Future scenarios will be presented and evaluated.

  1.  Scotland and the Nuclear Deterrent – Trident and Faslane

The UK government has postponed on several occasions the projected replacement and upgrading of its Trident nuclear deterrent, based in Faslane.  Due to accelerating costs and a perceived conflict with NATO policy of nuclear arms reduction, the whole question of Trident after independence is complex and controversial.  The SNP manifesto which brought it to electoral power stipulated that Trident would leave an independent Scotland.

The costs of moving it to an English base – economic and political – will be enormous and the UK government may in time be encouraged to rethink its nuclear deterrent policies in line with other NATO allies also facing budget strictures, growing public distaste for nuclear weapons and a changing world where nuclear deterrence is no longer feasible.

The options suggested here will be outlined and analysed.

  1.  The Costs of Defence

According to Professor Malcolm Chalmers, director of UK defence policy studies at the think tank the Royal United Services Institute, April 12, 2012, an independent Scotland may be unable to afford complex defence assets such as submarines and combat aircraft and could not fully support its own defence industry.[2]

Scotland’s expectations that it could quickly obtain military capabilities on a par with those of other north European states are likely to be over-optimistic, because of the high start-up costs involved.

Scotland with its GDP only a twelfth the size of that of the UK could not expect to raise more than £2 billion a year for its defence budget.  Scotland would not be able to afford  any of the seven Astute class nuclear-powered submarines nor any of the dozen or so new globally-capable Type 26 frigates that are due to enter service in the 2020s as the backbone of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet.

Counterarguments regarding costs and revenues will be presented and analysed.

  1. Costs to the Defence Industry and Scotland’s Economy

Independence may also cost Scottish industry and the country’s overall economic prospects.   The UK would likely contract shipbuilding with Portsmouth in England in the future, rather than on the Clyde.  While much of this analysis will be speculation, there are scenarios to be outlined and analysed.

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