This week the UK Parliament’s Defence Committee weighed into the independence debate with their orchestrated contribution to this rising Unionist babble about how crazy any country would be to want out of the UK. The committee said Scots “deserve to be presented with as full a picture as possible from both sides in the debate prior to the referendum.” Thereupon five questions were posed for the Yes campaign to answer.
Let’s leave aside much unsubstantiated “we’ll be better together” (just ‘cos) coming from the unionist camp and recognise that the MP’s may actually have a point. Answers will help towards an informed decision next September 18th if we consider their five questions. Scotland faces few enemies, especially if, as we hope, an amicable arrangement with England can be reached. Other than a Russian Arctic Fleet deploying off Shetland, it’s hard to imagine a plausible war scenario that would involve us. But we should plan for unknown futures. Though speaking neither for the Yes campaign nor the SNP, most private citizens paying attention could make a competent response. Here’s mine:
- How would a sovereign Scottish government ensure the defence and security of an independent Scotland? The defence of Scotland would be very different from that of the UK. Its international involvement would be as a part of UN peace deployments and NATO co-operation. As such, it would not be involved in the next unilateral Iraq or Afghan war and would cease to be a terrorist target the way the current UK provocation of others (Lybia; Argentina; Spain; etc) makes it. It would provide an effective defence for North Sea structures and a long-range maritime patrol ability over huge swathes of the Atlantic; Britain is currently capable of neither. Also, by having balanced light ground forces (no nukes or heavy tanks) and reviving famous Scottish regiments, Scotland’s more flexible force would better suit modern ‘fire-brigade’ actions with greater numbers of front-line troops than now.
- For what purposes would Scottish armed forces be used? As above: as a part of UN peace deployments and NATO co-operation. A variety of light infantry, special forces, frigates and helicopters would be available for deployment with allies in joint conventional defence; regular infantry, fast attack boats and jet fighters in-country. One or more battalions would serve as UN peacekeepers. We would decline to provide a cod-piece for wherever the next US John-Wayne-esque ‘world policeman’ involvement occurred.
- How would Scottish armed forces be structured and trained, and where would they be based? Land forces would retain the present six battalions and revive a further three to form: a) specialist rapid deployment brigade; b) conventional infantry brigade; c) two reserve infantry brigades, all with arty/signal/logistic components, based at Ft George, Glencorse/Redford and Arbroath. Navy would deploy: a) 3 frigates; b) two fast patrol boat flotillas; c) two minesweeper/ASW/FPV flotillas, based at Coulport & Rosyth. Air force would comprise a) two fighter sqdns; b) two attack/recon helicopter sqdns; c) one ASR helicopter sqdn; d) one L-R maritime patrol sqdn, based at Leuchars, Lossie & Prestwick (plus ASR/light presence in W. Isles, Orkney/Shetland and Buchan). Training facilities would be internal (e.g. Arbroath) and external with Allies (England and/or NATO)
- How much would it cost to equip, support and train an independent Scotland’s armed forces and how much of this could be procured and delivered domestically? Upon independence, Scotland should be entitled to 9% of all MoDs holdings and equipment. Given Scotland will not require nuclear (or any other) subs; heavy tanks; heavy artillery; heavy transport/lift; aircraft carriers; destroyers; global deployment support; overseas bases; indigenous weapons procurement (except naval) or separate armed forces departments, a considerable proportion of holdings and equipment Scotland does need should more than cover initial requirements. The posited £2.5bn defence budget should be adequate to balance the forces as above over time. Whether preference for procurement goes to English suppliers will depend on the level of co-operation offered by the new rump English government.
- And how many jobs in the defence sector would be placed at risk? As the current arrangement means that Scotland contributes ~£3.5bn to defence and has less than £2.8bn spent on defence in the country, the situation could hardly get much worse. There would be no sense in not continuing to provide the aircraft carriers and the GCS development. The 20,000 workers at Clyde/Rosyth and related industries would continue to provide top-quality warships; the question is more if England would cut its nose off to spite its face and not buy them. Conversion to renewables or oil engineering would be a less desirable alternative. Non-naval armaments jobs in Scotland are minimal.
The hon. members also wanted to know more about the proposed Scottish defence force, including the numbers of combat troops and the numbers and types of aircraft and vessels which would be needed. Refer to an earlier blog on suggested details down to unit level. For a realistic evaluation on an appropriate scale, consider countries of comparable size and ambition like Norway and Denmark, who neither like nor harbour nukes, yet are both considered making valuable contributions towards Europe’s defence.
And, speaking of Denmark, John Dyrby Paulsen is foreign and defence spokesman for the ruling Social Democrats there. He’s also chairman of the Nato Parliamentary Assembly’s transatlantic relations committee. In his (obviously qualified) opinion when asked if Scotland would have difficulty in becoming a NATO member, his comment was:
“In my view, no, you wouldn’t have to apply for it,” he said. “From my point of view you would be invited to be a part of it and you would have to say ‘no’ if you didn’t want it, rather than say ‘yes’ to get it.
“Because you have been a part of Nato since the Second World War and you have delivered your capabilities, you have sort of gained from the alliance common defence policies since 65 years now. It would be natural for you to be part of it after independence, if you were to get that.”
Asked if forcing the rest of the UK into a hugely expensive relocation of Trident from Faslane and Coulport would count against Scotland, Mr Paulsen said: “It would have absolutely no impact, whether you have nuclear weapons or not. I don’t see it as a problem, no.”
The committee might wish to discuss this with Mr Paulsen as part of their inquiry. And, while they’re at it, they might like to consider where on the English coast they would like us to dump their seven nuclear subs mouldering for decades at Rosyth. Berwick is not an option: not only is there no secure space but there’s folding money says the people there will vote themselves and the Tweed back into Scotland once they see how well we do.