Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

As the debate on independence heats up, Clive Fairweather, a retired SAS colonel and a man who knows a thing or two about such things, wrote a chippy little article in the Hootsmon last month in which he bemoaned the lack of specifics coming from the SNP as regards the proposed shape of Scottish armed forces. He was particularly concerned about the provision of special forces and their role in defending vulnerable oil and gas installations, especially from terrorist attacks. Not only is Clive not a man to be trifled with but he has a perfectly valid point.

Similarly, today’s Hootsmon prints an Op Ed piece from Lord Robertson of Port Ellen in which he derides the SNP for woolliness on a whole list of important items, including a “Scottish Defence Force”. But, while he argues strongly for the social unity of the UK, he is clearly paying no attention to what the SNP are actually saying and habituates a use of words that show little understanding for any view but his own. (Elsewhere in the paper, Ewan Crawford takes the loaded vocabulary of unionists to task: The US—and many other countries—ALL celebrate Independence Day, not ‘Separation’ Day.)

We are in muddy waters when senior politicians like George work from a model that is at odds with reality. The United Kingdom came about in 1603 as a union between two equal partners. The SNP is not arguing to end it but we are arguing to reverse the 1707 union of our two parliaments. The treaty that created that latter is a sorry pastiche of self-interests and religious bigotry of which both partners ought to feel ashamed. In this supposedly more enlightened 21st century, England & Scotland are overdue to revisit this travesty.

George and Clive and their like would do well to consider just what would be a sensible relationship between England and Scotland if we were to assume there WAS no UK. George in particular needs to get out more. He talks of “picking apart a successful commercial union”; he talks of people “moving throughout the UK without loss of identity” as if this would change.

Is this not the vitriol he ascribes to others? Has he never been to Canada that shares the longest undefended border in the world with the US? As he ran NATO from its Brussels HQ, did he never travel to France, Holland, Germany and other Schengen countries with no barriers at any of their borders?

Because that’s what the Scottish border would be like. Cars, planes and trains whizzing across unimpeded as now. Commercial relations would continue unaltered because EU would insist on the same level playing field we have already. What gars me greet about the likes of George is that they demand answers now but won’t engage in debate to discuss them. If they are, as they claim, Scots, then they need to engage or girn from the sidelines. This is big. Be part of it.

So, let me give both George and Clive something they can get their teeth into. I challenge either or both to critique ideas about how Scotland could provide a non-nuclear partnership with NATO on a budget of £2bn (about half what our current share of the UK defence is). Writers like Stuart Crawford posit this as feasible, provided we consider what we want those forces to do. If we Scots wanted a more modest role, we could eschew many expensive things the UK currently pretends it can afford:

  • No nuclear strike ability = no Trident, nor “Son of” Trident
  • No global projection = no aircraft carriers, assault ships, heavy lift aircraft or long-range bombers
  • No land war by ourself with a major opponent = no heavy tanks, heavy artillery or major logistics.

This would imply a very different ‘posture’ from the present UK armed forces. Good models for appropriate armed forces for such a posture can be found in Norway and Denmark. (Interesting that the penultimate episode of BBC4’s Borgen revolved around Denmark forking out over £13bn on modern fighters). Both have long been solid NATO members with peacekeeping and other UN commitments fulfilled. Neither are military pushovers and yet their per capita defence budget is just 1/3rd of the UK’s. Each deploys 35,000 permanent personnel, expanding to around 6 brigades with reserve call-up.

(Readers disinterested in military details, skip to the end: George & Clive, read on)

Scotland stands in a comparable position to our Nordic neighbours. Taking the existing Scottish elements of the British Army as a core, land maneuver commands of Scottish Armed Forces would probably consist of five brigades:

  • 2 x Active Field Brigade Headquarters (51st Highland/Light; 52nd Lowland/Mech?)
  • 2 x Reserve Brigade Headquarters (9th Highland; 15th Lowland?)
  • 1 x Special Operations Headquarters

These would control manuever and support battalions that would probably consist of:

  • Existing 5 active battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, reconstituted as individual infantry regiments—Fusiliers (Light), Argylls (Air Assault), Black Watch (Light), Highlanders (Mech), Borderers (Light)
  • Scots Guards, although a moot point whether they transfer or stay at Windsor
  • 42 R.M. Commando, reconstituted as a special forces regiment (the SAS Clive wants and specially equipped/trained to deal with terrorists in North Sea conditions)
  • Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, reconstituted as a light armoured recon regiment
  • Existing 2 reserve battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, reconstituted as individual training/reserve/volunteer regiments (revive regimental IDs?)
  • 3 new reserve battalions, possibly reviving regimental identities such as the Gordons, Seaforths and Cameronians (together w/ above re-establish links with recruit areas)
  • 4 x Mixed Artillery regiments, (1 active,  3 reserve) based on 40th Regiment Royal Artillery consisting of medium field, light field, AT and AA batteries
  • 4 Support regiments (1 active,  3 reserve) consisting of engineer, logistics, signal and medical squadrons (this is Scandinavian practice)

Infrastructure to support this is available, with principal bases at Fort George and Glencorse, additional technical/support bases in the major cities and training facilities in Angus, Galloway and the Western Highlands. In addition, rotating ceremonial garrisons (c.f. Brigade of Guards in London) could man Edinburgh and Stirling castles as tourist draws. A similar seasonal presence at other strategically prominent tourist locations, such as Eilean Donan, Blair Atholl, Culzean, Glamis, Floors, etc.

Deployment would be up to the government of the time but would typically consist of at least one active battalion deployed in a UN peacekeeping role, one on active service training with the RUK/English army and one on NATO co-operation training. The balance would be garrisoned around Scotland, as above, with one brigade group capable of short-order deployment (3 battalions, with artillery and support battalions) and at least one troop of 42 Commando on standby defence of the North Sea at all times.

Further support elements of fast patrol boats air strike, heavy transport and helicopter support would be furnished by the air and naval elements of the Scottish Defence Force.

Because of their reputation within and furth of the British Army as some of the toughest infantry in the world, deployment of Scottish regiments would continue on a global scale, working with the English Army, NATO and the UN. And, given that deployments like Ulster and Helmand would no longer be the order of the day, recruitment should not pose any significant problem.

About davidsberry

Local ex-councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Retired in 2017.
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6 Responses to Nemo Me Impune Lacessit

  1. Angus McLellan says:

    It’s no surprise that Crawford and Fairweather think that defence needs to be given a greater place in the debate. If you asked a doctor, no doubt they’d say the same for health, and a teacher for education. Everybody wants their pet subject to be treated with the importance that they think it deserves.

    The first requirement, as Stuart Crawford has said, is a risk and threat assessment. I can’t pretend to have considered things in depth, but even on a cursory look the risk of a conventional invasion does not loom large. To me, the threats seem to be more in the realms of accidents, natural disasters and terrorism.

    If the assessment shared my impressions then an army of any size would be a luxury and not a necessity, something which an independent Scotland would only need if there was broad popular and political support for participation in international peacekeeping and perhaps peacemaking missions. So would Scots support the idea of a miltary “force for good” or of a sizable contribution to “collective security”? If they would not then an army might be nothing but an expensive and inefficient job creation scheme. And tacit support isn’t enough. The army you suggest may imply an total of up to 15,000 service personnel across the armed forces. To maintain that level of forces requires up to 1,500 new recruits – assuming about two-thirds of them pass out – every year. Not cheap either. The MoD’s 2007-08 estimate given by Bob Ainsworth in answer to a question by Liam Fox was that a battalion of 625 personnel, trained for home service only, fed and paid, and with a roof over their heads (and those of their families) cost £35 million to keep. Your shopping list seems to come to £500 million or more. In terms of equipmentt, infantry are relatively cheap to equip, but that’s relative to ships with 8 and 9 figure costs, aircraft with 7 and 8 figure costs and armoured vehicles and artillery with 6 figure costs.

    But if there’s no threat for an army to handle then there is no need to have an army. And the same is true of much of the navy and air force. And with that thought in mind, let’s try something else. Why cut a third from the defence budget when you could cut much, much more?

    Nearly all of the routine patrolling of Norway’s long coastline and huge EEZ is done by the Coast Guard (a branch of the navy; like the RFA here its ships have mixed military-civilian crews, its officers have some police powers and both ships and personnel may be armed). The Coast Guard has one 6000-displacement ton “slushbreaker” for operating around Spitzbergen, seven large (3,500-ton) and five small (750-ton) patrol/pollution control/towing ships in service. It has under 1,000 staff and an operating budget of less than £100 million (although this may not account for all of the technical and administrative people onshore but, on the other hand, it may include the lease and hire costs of aircraft and helicopters).

    On a smaller scale Iceland’s smaller Coast Guard is responsible for covering a large area – the EEZ is almost twice as large as Scotland’s. It has a budget of something over £20 million. With that money it operates one new 3500-ton patrol/pollution control/towing ship and two old (they took part in the Cod Wars of the 1970s) 1500-ton patrol/towing ships as well as a survey launch, one DHC Dash-8 patrol plane and two large helicopters. And a bomb-disposal team.

    If we added an Icelandic Coast Guard to Marine Scotland’s existing compliance assets of three patrol ships and two Reims-Cessna F406 patrol aircraft we’d be well on the way to a “minimum defence force” and we probably haven’t broken £40 million for the operating budget yet. We would need more SAR/patrol helicopters for sure, possibly a few more aircraft and something like Clive Fairweather’s Scottish Special Air Service. And that sort of cloak and dagger stuff, as we can see in France and Germany among others, could be a police responsibility. Optionally we could further copy the Icelanders and create a “Crisis Response Unit” of armed police, bomb squad folks, engineers and medical personnel in case the urge (or need) to “do good” should ever become irresistible in the face of some catastrophe unfolding on our TV screens.

    So if Scots were content to largely mind their own business, the “defence” operating budget could be well under £250 million. With equipment being largely commercial, with a small amount of off-the-shelf military stuff, the procurement budget would be low. Yes, jobs would be lost – but only an optimist or a Labour politician could believe or would pretend that jobs at BAE on the Clyde are secure in any future – and there would be communities which would suffer badly. But that’s going to happen anyway, even if people stick their heads in the sand and vote No. And yes, Scotland would join Iceland and Costa Rica on the pub quiz list of countries with no army. (There’s much worse company to be in.) But we’d save the best part of £3 billion, money which could be better spent any number of ways, from improving education and health to improving infrastructure to cutting taxes. I’m not suggesting this is the greatest idea ever, but it’s one (poorly thought-through) version of a valid alternative which should not be excluded from the debate.

    Neither should solutions involving a small army. And by small I do mean small, able to sustain the long-term deployment of a company-sized infantry force with ample numbers of engineering, technical and supply personnel in support. (In many cases these “support” personnel might be the core of a mission and the combat troops an optional extra.) Allowing for some diseconomies of scale, this might equate to an army of around 2500-3000 military personnel. Taking Ainsworth’s figures and adding on a third or so to account for inflation and slightly better pay, the basic operating budget for an army of this size might be somewhere around £300 million in today’s money. Not much by today’s standards, but still a luxury perhaps.

  2. Wee Red Squirrel says:

    Reblogged this on The Wee Red Squirrel and commented:
    Who says the SNP don’t have a well-considered defence policy?

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