Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland from The Scotland Institute is certainly a contribution to the debate, but the early released summary findings ahead of the launch suggested a lot of people have been consulted and invited to stare down a narrow tunnel.
The emphasis on the headline bullet points and tone of Dr. Ibrahim’s press release at the weekend could just have easily have come from Better Together, undermining the proposition that this was an unbiased study. Indeed this early material did something of a disservice to some aspects of the full report.
If anything is uncertain it is the future – and that applies to the present defence arrangements for the UK. The UK is currently downsizing its defence capabilities having conducted two versions of a strategic defence review in recent years. Service numbers are being cut, soldiers returning from duty are given their redundancy papers and George Osborne has just agreed cuts in the MOD civilian staff.
MOD projects are notoriously over budget. Specifications don’t match up – as in aircraft with aircraft carriers or submarines with the role of protecting Trident armed subs that do not have the capacity to travel at the same speed. Sending out troops to do what they are asked without the necessary equipment or protection is legend, all because the MOD’s stomach is bigger than its purse.
Relying on the past as an example does not provide confidence. The immediate future of UK defence capability is in turmoil. How it has been is not how it will be in the years ahead. The obvious proposition for those planning for the defence of an Independent Scotland is simply to argue that Scotland can do this better.
With clear strategic objectives combined with efficient procurement there is no reason an independent Scotland could not match resources with the requirements of Scotland’s Defence Force. The SNP have set out the range of roles expected of the SDF and also been clear about the type of operations they would not take part in.
Determining capacity to take part in a multi task force operation that a future Scottish Government thought was justifiable would be a matter of contributing at a level according to the resources available at that time. This is the case for every government engaged in these calculations and discussions at the time of such events.
Issues and commentary
The following are the summary points from the initial material released to the press with comments added
- An independent Scotland would have to develop its own fleet of ships and open a Ministry of Defence as well as a training academy. This would prove costly and there is no reason to believe it would make Scotland any safer.
This states the obvious. An independent country requires a Defence Ministry and training capacity. This statement does not imply Scotland would be any less safe – a point conceded at the launch in Edinburgh today. The naval complement Scotland would need would be comprised of the resulting split of UK assets, and in all probability, augmented by new purpose built ships.
- The SNP’s intended defence spend would be able to deliver a notional Scottish Defence Force (SDF) – but its role would be limited and modest.
Like realistic. We would not have world domination in mind. The SNPs proposed £2.5bn spend is in line with defence spending in Scandinavian countries.
- Scottish independence will lead to difficulties in recruitment and retention in an SDF.
A new Defence Force offers opportunity for the brightest and ablest to get in on the ground floor in establishing a Defence Force for a northern European country in the 21st century. That could be both challenging and exciting and no doubt a welcome break from the monolithic and ponderous MOD.
Recruitment objectives can be met by providing opportunity, skills development and training. Present problems in army recruitment are not helped by the UK’s down sizing operations shedding doubt on job security. A new defence force should be able to command assurance in that regard because it was being planned for the future.
- A defence industry of some sort will probably survive in an independent Scotland, but it is unlikely to be near its current size. As such, jobs and economic growth are at stake.
The defence industry is international. BAE may be a British company, but it is global with operations in the US where it has more locations than in the UK. It has locations in Sweden, India, Israel, South Africa, Australia and more. It is already in Scotland and the proposition that Scotland would not be able to contribute research and expertise, especially in niche markets, is unrealistic. Defence equipment is complex and involves many companies in the delivery of projects. The inference the UK only buys ‘British’ is quite simply not true.
The defence industry internationally is currently going through consolidation and increasing capacity to meet civilian demands (e.g. oil supply vessels and civilian aircraft) in response to Western Governments cuts to defence budgets. We can expect increasing collaboration with the defence industry in Europe in the years ahead, despite the failure of the merger of BAE and EADS.
Collaborative procurement may have its challenges, but is undoubtedly set to increase. Such options would be available to the Scottish Government in addition to the SNP’s expressed interest in entering joint procurement with rUK.
Defence industry contraction is taking place everywhere. Hampshire based Chemring has recently reported a drop in profits and closed two locations. Its air and navy defence systems could to be in the frame for the protection of North Sea installations. Scotland is an open economy. We trade with the world and will have to buy from other countries. Scots are unlikely to view buying some defence equipment from an English based company as dealing with a foreign country. A different country yes, but the suggestion that we might not be considered an ally tells us something about the people we are supposed to have been with in the most successful union the world has ever seen, according to Better Together. In an extraordinary conclusion to his foreword to the Scotland Institute report Major General Andrew Douglas Mackay CBE, wrote ‘It is easy to argue – from the comfort of a nearly 300 year old union – that an independent Scotland would only require a small fighting force. It is not likely to be so comfortable after you have jettisoned your allies and you are on your own.’ (My emphasis)
• Independence is likely to pose a risk to our defence contractors threatening thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in turnover.
A Scottish Defence Force is projected to spend more money in Scotland according to SNP plans. Current MOD spending in Scotland is below our contribution to the UK defence budget. Scotland’s strength is its ability to retain a defence industry through further developing university and research collaboration with our engineering base. Developing niche markets would be in line with Scotland’s present economic development strategies.
- An independent Scotland would find it extremely difficult to set up an effective intelligence arm quickly and therefore find itself much more vulnerable to terrorist and cyber-attack.
This implies that there would no longer be cross border co-operation and collaboration which is unthinkable for serious minded people considering the growth of inter country travel and ever increasing inter-nation co-operation. Scotland has contributed to the considerable cost of the UK’s intelligence services and intelligence gathering operations. Intelligence sharing would be in our joint interest following independence.
- NATO membership would need to be renegotiated which may prove difficult with the SNP’s commitment to remove trident.
This is not an out and out ‘NATO won’t have you’. The term renegotiation suggests we would be inside the tent talking terms. I get news releases from NATO every day. Today’s release is a report of a meeting with the NATO-Georgia Commission.
NATO talks to everybody. The panel at the Edinburgh event thought there would be serious difficulties in Scotland being accepted for membership. So Albania is welcome but Scotland, strategically placed in the North Atlantic, is more problematic.
How is that for strategic thinking?
More to come on the report detail and on some serious omissions
The photograph above is of Major General Andrew D Mackay and is by Russell Bruce.