Analysis: This key battleground is much more than a numbers game
AS THE clock ticks towards the Scottish independence referendum, defence is rising up the campaign agenda. This week’s announcement by the SNP leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, that the party is to vote in the autumn on proposals for an independent Scotland to stay in Nato shows the issue is set to be a key battleground.
Mr Robertson also laid out plans for the structure of an independent Scotland’s armed forces, which envisage a mix of air, land and sea forces, equipped to protect Scotland and participate in international operations sanctioned by the UN.
Turning this vision in to reality is, of course, the difficult bit. On paper, a division of the assets of the UK armed forces according to a percentage of the populations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would see Edinburgh gain hundreds of armoured vehicles, artillery pieces, helicopters, ships and fighters jets.
That would leave Scottish armed forces with equipment it did not want or could not afford to keep in service. The British Army, for example, has hundreds of armoured vehicles designed for full-on tank battles, which would be out of place in future Scottish armed forces. Ambitions for Scotland to have an air force to police the country’s skies suggest it would need fighter aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon based at RAF Leuchars in Fife, but the Tornado GR4 bombers based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray would be of limited use.
The veteran Tornados are due to go out of service in 2019 and an expensive structural upgrade would be needed to keep the aircraft in service into their fourth decade.
A key decision for any future Scottish defence minister is whether to establish an independent defence logistic and industrial base to sustain the country’s armed forces. If Scotland does not want to build up its own such base, it will have to do a deal to share facilities with the English military, or look further afield.
• Tim Ripley is a defence analyst and commentator.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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