A’ the Blue Bonnets

The leading letter in Tuesday’s Hootsmon was signed by ten experienced nationalists and titled SNP Should Stick to Disarmament Policy. The fact that all are women is not particularly relevant because all have extensive background in the party and their view reflects a significant portion of members’ views.

What is clear is that they are people with whom I would think twice about contradicting individually. As a phalanx of ten, I risk being ambushed en masse at the SNP Conference later this week if I dare query their very clear argument. But I believe they’re wrong and they deserve some detailed explication why I would go public to say so. Their thesis is that future membership of NATO for Scotland is untenable if you are anti-nuclear but membership of the related Partnership for Peace provides an acceptable non-nuclear middle ground.

The basis for my argument is partly the most comprehensive proposal for the defence of an independent Scotland, published this week by the Royal United Services Institute. “A’the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland”, by Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh, claims a Scottish Defence Force would be necessary, feasible and affordable.

Scotland can argue that it has paid its share towards the British armed services’ inventory and therefore should be able to negotiate most of what it needs to an independent Scotland. As for whether an independent Scotland can afford its own armed forces,  the answer seems to be an unequivocal yes. Indeed the cost of proposals in the study is half the cost of what Scotland currently contributes to the MoD.

My basis is a number of articles articles already on this blogspot on both NATO and a Scottish Defence Force but most especially the RUSI paper which answers repeated complaints from unionists as to how an independent Scotland could possibly afford to defend itself.

This interesting analysis demonstrates, not only that an independent Scotland is perfectly able to maintain well-resourced capabilities across the armed forces, but that we can actually reverse the mammoth decline that there has been of the defence footprint in Scotland over the last decade as a result of cuts by successive Westminster Tory and Labour governments. Taxpayers in Scotland contribute more than £3.3bn a year to the MoD. But less than £2bn is spent on defence in Scotland – and we are still bearing the brunt of UK Government cuts.

The Scottish defence and peacekeeping forces will initially be equipped with Scotland’s share of current assets, including ocean going vessels, fast jets for domestic air patrol duties, transport aircraft and helicopters, as well as army vehicles, artillery and air defence systems. A review of requirements will fill in some of the major gaps that the present UK defence posture leaves in its northern extremities—fast patrol boats and long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to name but two.

The response from the usual suspects like the Record/Sunday Mail has not been warm but the paper’s main findings are that Scotland could deploy perfectly serviceable armed forces somewhere between Eire and Denmark in size and capability and save over £1.3bn in doing so. The savings come from dispensing with weaponry that is relevant to overseas ventures but not to local defence as part of an alliance.

That means no Challenger or other battle tanks, no submarines, no aircraft carriers, no overseas bases and, what is probably the most clear-cut for Scots but contentious in any negotiations, no nuclear weapons. It would be expected that the Scots Guards would remain in the British Army and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards would give up heavy tanks and become a mechanised reconnaissance unit.

On the plus side, the defence posture would restore key maritime abilities to defend Britain’s northern flank and the critical oil platforms and two brigades would allow not just re-establishment of present regimental identities wrapped into the single Royal Regiment of Scotland but the resuscitation of some of those lost.

For all of this to make sense, relations with our neighbours must be good to ensure mutual collective defence. For this, there are only two options: NATO or Partnership for Peace. The former is US-dominated, includes the militarily most capable parts of Europe outside of Russia and has nuclear capability. What that last bit means is that the US controls deployment of its own (huge) and the UK’s (small) nuclear arsenal but not the (small) French nuclear capability. PfP is an association of states that decline to be part of NATO because of its nuclear ability and “allows partners to build an individual relationship with Nato, choosing their own priorities for co-operation”.

PfP members include Sweden, Finland, Austria and Ireland, who all provide plausible examples why Scotland should join them. But there are two facts that torpedo the cosy logic behind that: 1) the UK is currently in NATO and; 2) All its nukes are on Scottish soil. What is worse, there is no other plausible place for those nukes to go. The best geographic alternative is Milford Haven but that is both Welsh and a major oil terminal. The south coast of England has neither comparable facilities, nor easy access to deep water—quite apart from outrage to be expected from nearby Home Counties.

One of the more ludicrous postures that my local East Lothian Council made under Labour control was to subscribe to being a nuclear-free authority. The fact that it is home to EDF’s Torness power station did not strike them as contradictory. In the same way, if Scotland becomes independent, joining PfP and keeping the nukes at Faslane would be untenable, a ludicrously contradictory position to put yourself in.

Not being a part of England-plus any more, we would have no direct say in the MoD’s deployment (although we had precious little when it was first put there) and not being a part of NATO, we would have no influence on where its members deployed anything.

If, as I believe is possible, nuclear weapons are to be removed from Scottish waters we first of all have to become an independent nation with every right to require that. But we must be subtle about it. By joining NATO, we get a place at the table and the right to put in our requirements. These should be the removal of Trident and any successors from Scottish waters.

England-plus will be faced with the dilemma of what to do with it. Given the £20bn price tag to continue it into ‘Son-of-Trident’, the lack of alternative bases and the huge distortion running a nuclear sub fleet of four creates in the (reduced by 8.7%) England-plus defence budget and the smaller (reduced by 8.7%) status of England-plus at the top table’ without Scotland, sanity will break out at Westminster and the nukes will be scrapped.

This means not only will we achieve Scotland’s goal of providing an adequate defence at half the current price but we will be part of an alliance that will provide many of the non-nuclear elements (US carrier task forces, for example) that even England-plus is insane to attempt by itself. AND we will not only have satisfied our own but our English cousins long-held CND convictions.

I believe Scotland can improve the world just by being independent in the first place. But by making its membership of NATO conditional on nukes leaving its territory, it can strike a blow for peace that all the well intentioned and principled members of PfP can only dream of.

About davidsberry

Local councillor, tour guide and database designer. Keen on wildlife, history, boats and music. Stood for the Scottish Parliament 2011; lost by 151 votes.
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