The publication last week of the RUSI Study of defence in an independent Scotland should have been seen—even by unionists—as a reference point for a decent debate. Instead, former UK Defence Secretary has joined with Jim Murphy, Philip Hammond and the usual MoD suspects in ridiculing the prospect of Scotland having a credible defence posture outside of the UK ‘umbrella’.
Have they looked how porous that umbrella has become of late? Time was 100 years ago that the UK defence policy revolved around the Royal Navy and a ‘two-power standard. That meant that the RN had to be equipped not just to be the biggest but to able to take on the two next-biggest in a naval war and win. Changed days.
With the scrapping of aircraft carriers, long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, Harrier jump jets and shrinking of army battalions and RAF squadron numbers, the UK is in danger of becoming a third-rate power with a fig leaf of the minimal level of nuclear capability to argue itself the “place at the top table” that Fox, Murphy et al always tout as so important. But, consider this chart:
By any measure of conventional military strength, the UK cannot be seen as a first-rate power and would be totally incapable of making more than a gesture against the de facto Big Three, the UK even trails France, which is the current European defence leader. This is dangerous territory to occupy: big enough and replete with colonial history to be known across the world stage & be selected as a target without being powerful enough alone to take on anyone so minded and motivated to create trouble.
The Glasgow airport attack; the 7/7 bus/tube bombs would not have happened had the UK not gone into Iraq. Far from defending any part of Britain from such attacks, the UK’s current posture verges on an invitation to attack an oil rig or some other such undefended corner. Present force overstretch is such a habitual occurrence that it’s a puzzle why Al Quaeda or other such organisations kept hostile by our puny variant of gunboat diplomacy in their back yard have, so far, not taken a crack.
The Scottish Defence Force of the RUSI study is not only considerably cheaper at £2.8bn than the £3.8bn share currently paid by Scotland for the defence of the UK but would also permit far more effective deployment of appropriate forces like frigates, fast patrol boats, long-range maritime recon and special forces in defence of our vital oil fields.