Apologies right off that this is another blog about things military. But this week saw quite a burst of activity that centred around the SNP releasing some ideas for an independent Scottish Defence Force (SDF) that were somewhat churlishly abridged to ‘a brigade and two bases’.
What is misleading about such peremptory dismissal is the implication that Scotland is about to abdicate from its exalted position as part of a world power and discard the 300 years of history that gave us the seamlessly integrated world-class institutions that are the British Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF. Led by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen and the ToryHoose blog, variants on that position were plentiful. But let’s consider why that might not be the balanced view. Most make the following flawed assumptions:
- That all British forces belong to England if the Scots leave. The 1707 treaty was between equals; when such a Union breaks up, each partner is entitled to its share.
- That three centuries of (agreed splendid) shared military history must determine our joint future. The present military posture disadvantages Scotland because:
- Forces with a global reach of the full gamut of conventional as well as nuclear weapons are required. Scotland has no need of Trident subs, aircraft carriers, strategic lift or Challenger MBTs, all of which cost £billions:
- That Scotland must pay £3bn to help sustain the 4th biggest military budget in the world at £28bn, yet get no maritime recce aircraft, no fast missile boats and nothing bigger than a minesweeper to defend £1tn+ of North Sea oil and infrastructure.
- That the men of the RRS, RSDG and Scots Guards would want to serve in the English Army. If the Ladies from Hell earned a formidable reputation at the business end, their martial traditions did not derive from the snugger Home Counties.
- That those same soldiers would see deployment in the English Army (Northern Ireland, Iraq, Falklands) as preferable to Arctic training with Norwegians, or deployment on UN blue helmet operations.
- That current MoD attachment/TOE has any relevance. Whether the 22 Scimitars recce vehicles come with the RSDG or AAC Lynxes come with 5Scots in their role is not the point. The Scots would be morally—if not legally—entitled to 8-9% of MoD assets, including elements of 40th Regt RA, 38th Regt RE, 32nd Signal Regt, logistics, catering, etc.
- That the present idiotic RN/RAF deployment provides a sensible defence of anything at all, let alone North Britain/Scotland: no STOL/LRMRA. A bunch of Somali pirates could strangle North Sea production as they almost sank USS Cole in Aden harbour.
- That both Clyde and Rosyth yards would close shop with no business. Even the MoD has some sense and if it’s cheaper to finish the two aircraft carriers there, that’s what they’ll do. We also need fast missile boats and they could have 4-5 years’ work building a flotilla of six.
- That we are obliged to retain Faslane and the nuclear submarine fleet. While we are keen to retain good relations with the English, the fact they have no appropriate base to which these could be transferred is their problem. And they can take all five nuclear subs mothballed at Rosyth with them when they go.
Both MoD and their ministers are still wedded to a Central Europe WWIII posture and a delusion of global strength. As described in earlier blogs, Scotland could develop an appropriate defence for half what it currently pays and evict Trident from the Clyde as a bonus. We need allies like the English and the Scandinavians and we need to contribute to common defence. But, realistically, who’s going to invade us without taking on England first?
I am all in favour of the SDF maintaining close links with the English. But the MoD has decimated the traditions of Scottish regiments. Reconstituting the five that were forced into the RRS would be a start in redressing that. And, because we would need proportionally more infantry, forming Territorial regiments that revived the heritage of the Cameronians or the five kilted regiments that merged to form 4Scots (Highlanders) would be sensible.
The SDF army component is likely to consist of 6-8 infantry battalions and, like the present RRS, exhibit several specialties from 5Scots Air Assault training to 4Scots mechanised deployment. These would probably form an active and a reserve brigade and would require the appropriate support units mentioned above.
Comparison with the Danish, Norwegian or Irish armed forces show this scale is proportionate. No country of 5m expects to fight a war by itself, nor to be deployed far overseas and engage in, in von Clausewitz’s ringing phrase, ‘diplomacy by other means’. Most of the unionists arguing against the above seem to be military types for whom ‘a whiff of grapeshot’ or ‘in the service of empire’ still belong in the lexicon. If the English wish to retain such tradition, they are welcome. But Scotland wants to live in the now.
It is sad that Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen should be so vocal and bitter about the prospect of an SDF. Port Ellen was once the heart of MacDonald power as Lords of the Isles. They once deployed such a highly efficient military, based on clan infantry and the Norse birlinn that they could thumb their nose at the King of Scotland. But they did not change with the times; carracks and carronades defeated them. From his stint in NATO, George apparently can only think in Cold War terms of tanks, nukes and aircraft carriers. Such big-ticket items may belong in the hands of superpowers, but those are not sensible weapons for small-to-medium countries in the 21st century.