For much of the past 50 years defence spending has been a hot issue of contention.
This has been brought sharply to the fore by recent rounds of expenditure reduction, in particular the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review and the cuts in army personnel. Critics say this has seriously skewed our defence posture towards massive – and massively expensive – commitments such as Trident and aircraft carriers.
Now former US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has asserted that these defence cuts have left Britain unable to be a “full partner” in military operations to the US. In his view the UK, as a result of defence cuts, no longer has “full-spectrum capabilities” and the ability to be a full partner, as it has been in the past. His comments come in the wake of remarks by General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, that manpower was increasingly seen as an “overhead” and that our defence capabilities have been “hollowed out”.
And these cuts have been questioned here, with concern over the knock-on direct and indirect effects on local economies, and the dangers of global military over-stretch. But at the same time, many have long queried the need for such a large defence budget – the world’s fourth-largest – in particular when our appetite for overseas engagements in the wake of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts has notably diminished.
But the world has changed. We are certainly not the global power we were. There is room for debate on the reasons for this relative decline. But some truths are incontrovertible; the growing focus of global power and wealth from West to East is one. Running parallel to this has been a profound change in the nature of armed conflict and the threats that we face to our national security. And our reduced military capability reflects in large part the need to bear down on our massive budget deficit and public debt, considerations which have, as Gates himself lamented, also forced spending reductions in the US.
But we are also less committed to the role of America’s acquiescent subordinate in international affairs. The relationship between US intelligence and GCHQ has also occasioned widespread disquiet. And in the light of all these considerations, it is only right and fitting that the UK’s military relationship with the US should be subject to re-examination.
Moreover, public ambivalence does not stop here. It is likely to lead in due course to a more searching examination of our commitment to Trident and our nuclear deterrent and the case for keeping it.
Tempting as it may be to compare our defence capacity with what we were able to sustain in the past and rue our reduced circumstances, the fact remains that the world has changed, and it is to the future, not the past, that we should look to guide our overseas partnerships and the changed requirements for our defence arrangements.
A climate of optimism for tourism
How our tourist fortunes changed dramatically last year. Well into May it seemed that relentlessly cold weather, worries about the absence of economic recovery and memories of the rain-soaked summer of 2012 condemned the Year of Natural Scotland to baleful failure. But the weather turned – as did the economy. We experienced a warm – and long-extended – summer. The result was a most encouraging year for Scottish tourism. The number of overseas visitors who came to Scotland between January and September last year rose by
almost eight per cent compared with the same period in 2012, while spending by overseas tourists climbed by almost 19 per cent. Domestic visits were up by 1.3 per cent while domestic spending climbed by three per cent.
VisitScotland chief Mike
Cantlay has good reason to be confident about prospects for this year, with outstanding global events including the Ryder Cup, Commonwealth Games, Homecoming Scotland and the MTV EMAs.
New flight routes and a strengthening international economic recovery – America well to the fore – augurs well, both for visitor numbers and for tourist spending. While Scotland’s capital city remains a premier attraction, it is particularly gratifying that the Highlands and the Borders shared in the 2013 upturn.
But it is clear that the weather is a big factor, and in the medium term climate change means we can expect a wetter Scottish summer. Perhaps now is the time to put thought and some groundwork into better weather-proofing our tourism industry, by looking at a greater range of
better-protected venues that can add to visitor experiences.