DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond, the ex-businessman currently in charge of Britain’s defences – and if that doesn’t send a shiver down your spine then nothing will – visits Scotland this week.
Apparently he’s coming to tell us, basically, that an independent Scotland couldn’t “do” its own defence.
I understand that he will focus on the employment and economic benefits the Union brings to Scotland, with the concomitant none-too-subtle threat that these will be lost if Scotland goes its own way.
Nice try, but no cigar. True, it’s hard to see how the requirements of a Scottish navy would keep all our shipyards open, and of course the potential expulsion of Trident from the Clyde would likely mean the loss of at least a couple of thousand jobs.
But, you know, defence is a global industry these days, and I can’t see why the Scottish defence industry, properly refocused and reorganised – and at the right price, trades union take note – shouldn’t be able to compete internationally.
Or is he saying the Scots are singularly inept and unable to emulate the successes of similar small nations nearby?
He’s also going to say – and I paraphrase here – that an independent Scotland should not expect to just take over the British Army’s Scottish units to form the core of the Scottish Army as part of the separation deal, and in any case no right-minded Scot serving with the UK armed forces would want to transfer to the Scottish Defence Force anyway.
Well, this is arrant nonsense, and he needs to change whoever is briefing him this drivel tout de suite.
Scotland has poured its share – nay, more than its share – of blood and treasure into the military for more than 300 years and of course we’re entitled to assume that Scottish units will transfer on independence. They’re ours, we own them, we’ve paid for them ten times over.
And as for his rather pathetic bleat that they “are an integral part of the UK armed forces”, well, tough titty, as we used to say at Sandhurst. Get on with it and stop whingeing.
As for the assertion that Scots serving in the UK armed forces would be reluctant to transfer to the Scottish Defence Force, it’s undoubtedly true that there might be an element of “better the devil you know” about it.
But what if conditions of service in the Scottish Defence Force were markedly better?
What if there was better housing, better career prospects, better family life and better pay?
Do you think they’d be quite so reluctant then?
No, neither do I. And all of these are perfectly possible for a small country with more modest military aspirations.
Hammond once infamously quipped “Join the Scottish navy and see the Clyde.” Well, with the British Army, soon to be at its smallest since the 19th century, effectively withdrawing to within the UK during his watch, he may soon be saying “Join the British Army and see Catterick”.
The Defence Secretary’s time might be spent more profitably in getting his own house in order than on spreading unfounded and ill-thought-out aspersions north of the Border.
Stuart Crawford is a defence commentator and former army officer