THERE can be few more iconic Scottish sights than a kilted regiment in its full finery.
For centuries, our soldiers have been a crucial part of our image of ourselves as a nation – a touchstone of national identity and pride. They have also been an important part of how the world sees us. Not for nothing is the National Theatre of Scotland production of Black Watch our greatest cultural export of the 21st century, playing to packed houses as far afield as New York and South Korea. Now, as we report on our front page today, the future of the Scottish regiments is set to become a battleground – for once the military terminology common in politics is apt – in the independence referendum campaign.
In a Whitehall briefing paper to be released this week, Philip Hammond, the UK Defence Secretary, cautions against any SNP assumption that a Yes vote would mean the British military simply handing over control of units with strong Scots traditions to the control of a new defence ministry in Edinburgh.
There is a precedent, of course, in the Irish regiments that were retained within the British Army after Irish independence. Hammond’s suggestion will outrage many independence campaigners for whom the protection of Scottish institutions – such as the regiments – is a prime motivating factor in their desire for a sovereign Scottish state. Last month’s pro-Yes march and rally in Edinburgh was, in fact, organised by individuals who cut their political teeth on the Save The Regiments campaign.
The notion that the armed forces of an independent Scotland would be deprived of the historic names, cockades, glengarries and tartans of its famous regiments might seem outlandish. Bizarre even. And it would surely be unlikely. But the question mark Hammond raises over this issue highlights the practical dilemmas and difficulties that would be involved in the creation of a distinct Scottish military force. There has already been speculation about how many members of these regiments would be willing to leave the British army. At this stage it is impossible to answer that question, but it is possible to envisage all kinds of quandaries – personal, military and political – that would need to be negotiated before a settlement was reached. What if a majority of officers and men in the The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – an armoured regiment unlikely to have much of a role in international peacekeeping – did not want to join the Scottish army? Would the Scottish defence ministry let that regiment stay within UK forces, or not? What about the Scots Guards? If a majority of that regiment wanted to stay put, would the Scottish Government insist that famous bearskins and red tunics were shipped north, for new recruits to wear? Scottish squaddies who had fought together in Iraq and Afghanistan, proudly wearing the same regimental colours, would split up after being forced to choose sides.
None of these problems are insurmountable. For believers in an independent Scotland they are simply details that need ironed out. The problem for the Yes campaign, however, is that most Scottish voters are not believers. For these people, the many practical issues involved in extracting Scotland from a 300-year alliance are not just details, they are problems. And while Scots are open to the idea of Holyrood being in charge of far more powers than at present – including tax and welfare – there is no obvious public appetite for a separate Scottish armed forces. The task of persuading voters otherwise is one of the biggest challenges facing the SNP and the Yes campaign in the coming months.
Let the cameras roll
The plans we reveal today for a large-scale film studio on the banks of the Clyde are bold and exciting. There is a feeling within the Scottish film industry that its potential has previously been underplayed within Creative Scotland, which was formed in a merger of Scottish Screen and the Scottish Arts Council. Creative Scotland’s backing for this new studio is the perfect way to silence these critics, and for Scotland to stake a claim to a bigger slice of the international film industry.
Obviously, there are caveats. The business plan for such a studio must be thorough and robust. It must be amply demonstrated that there is the necessary capacity and demand. No-one wants a white elephant as a symbol of unrealistic ambition and a failure of due diligence. But once the case is proven, there comes a point when a leap of faith is required, and for all the organisations involved in this project to act on the belief that the technical and creative talent exists in Scotland to make this a success. The money required to make it work should be regarded as an investment that will repay itself with the business it will bring to Scotland in the future.
Scottish film-making is enjoying a renaissance at the moment. This success that deserves to built on. Let’s make this work. Action!