Scottish independence: ‘From Darien to Faslane’
HERE is the full text of Malcolm Chalmers’ report on Scottish defence.
Scotland’s place in the wider world has always played a central part in the debate on the pros and cons of Independence. The failure of Scotland’s fleet to establish a colony in Central America in 1698-99 (the ‘Darien adventure’) was a key part of the chain of events that led to the Act of Union in 1707. For it convinced the business classes that they needed the military protection of the Royal Navy if they were to benefit from the new riches that colonialism promised. They were right. Scotland’s economy was transformed in the two centuries that followed, in large part because of the access to export markets made possible by the Union.
Scots also benefited disproportionately from the many new employment opportunities that Empire provided: as colonial administrators and settler farmers, as engineers and as doctors. From an early stage, Scots have been over-represented (relative to population) in the British armed forces. The many wars in which Scots fought alongside their English, Welsh and Irish comrades – most of all in World War One and World War Two – continue to shape the collective consciousness of what it means to be both Scottish and British.
Those who argue that independence will bring defence benefits to Scotland, by contrast, point to more recent – and, they would argue, more relevant - concerns. They want Scotland to become a sovereign state once more, not because they want to launch a 21st century Darien adventure, but because they want Scotland to have the right of refusal in future British military adventures, of which the most controversial recent example was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This rejection of key aspects of UK defence policy is given added force by the widespread opposition within Scotland to the basing of nuclear-armed Trident submarines at Faslane.
But breaking up the UK armed forces, and seeking to create a new military from scratch, will not be easy. Significant one-off costs will be involved in building new infrastructure, and in moving people and equipment. There will be heated arguments over who should pay for the extra costs that the UK will incur as a result of Scottish secession. And much of Scotland’s defence industry could, over time, migrate southwards in order to service the much larger UK market. Even if an independent Scotland were able to secure a division of off-shore revenues that would offset the loss of Barnett-formula-related fiscal transfers, it would face other competing demands and expectations in the economically-uncertain years that are likely to follow independence. In these circumstances, it would not be realistic for Scotland’s Defence Forces to expect an annual budget of more than around £2 billion. This would leave it with a defence budget that was significantly less than those of neighbours such as Denmark and Norway, even as it faced demands for new investments to fill gaps left by the break-up of the UK’s armed forces.
Many military capabilities currently possessed by the UK are ones that an independent Scotland would have no desire, or need, to possess. But Scotland would still need protection against a range of existing and new threats, for which it currently depends on British forces and security agencies. The most serious future threats, at present, are probably those connected with cyber-crime and cyber-espionage. But Scotland would also face security risks in other areas, including terrorism and organised crime. The security and cyber-defence agencies of an independent Scotland would no doubt want to negotiate information-sharing and burdensharing arrangements in each of these areas, as indeed would the newly-established Scottish Defence Forces. But the UK would not be obliged to provide help simply because Scotland had asked for it. Much would depend on whether Scotland was also willing to accommodate the UK’s own security requirements.
This is the wider context in which negotiations would take place on the future of the UK’s nuclear bases at Faslane and Coulport. The Scottish Government’s ‘National Conversation’ White Paper argued in 2009 that the UK’s nuclear deterrent could not continue to be based in the UK, while accepting that the two countries would have to work together ‘to ensure an appropriate transition and relocation’. In practice, however, relocation of these bases would be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement. The UK government, as a consequence, will probably press for a longer-term foreign basing guarantee, similar to that agreed with Ireland during its independence negotiations in 1921, and more recently in relation to Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Ukraine. Scotland’s negotiators would probably have to accept such an arrangement, despite the domestic controversy that it would cause, in order to secure the broader cooperation with the UK on which the future economic livelihood of its citizens would critically depend.
Breaking Up is Hard to Do
The British armed forces are the most Unionist of all the main public services. Most of what government does is, by its nature, about delivering local services: policing and justice, health and education, planning and transport. And, with the creation of Scotland’s Parliament in 1999, most of this is already under Scottish control. But defence, along with the conduct of foreign affairs, is different. Having independent armed forces is at the heart of what it means to be a sovereign country. In a world in which the British Isles at present face few direct military threats from other states, the primary role of Army, Navy and RAF personnel in Scotland is to contribute to the UK’s capability to project military power at distance. But an independent Scotland would be likely to face other significant security threats. The growing economic role of the Arctic, both as a transit route to Asia and as a site of oil and gas production, could have profound security implications for the nations of Europe’s ‘High North’, fuelling new investments in maritime capabilities over the next decades. There is also likely to be a range of fast-evolving risks to Scotland’s economy and citizens from hostile cyber activities, driven by a mixture of commercial and security motivations. Terrorists (in either a jihadist or, possibly, an Irish variant) might seek to take advantage of any indication of a ‘weak link’ in the security of the British Isles. New cross-border intelligence cooperation mechanisms would be needed, possibly alongside a revision to current US / UK / Australia / Canada / New Zealand intelligence-sharing agreements.
But there will be limits to this cooperation. If Scotland does decide to become an independent state, with its own seat at the UN, integrated United Kingdom armed forces and intelligence services could not survive. The days are gone when the main preoccupation of the armies of Western Europe was to plan to protect themselves from each other. But possession of independent armed forces remains the foundation of national sovereignty in international law and in practice. A small number of states – such as Iceland, itself a NATO member – have chosen not to have any armed forces. And many states rely on others, at least partially, for their protection. But not a single one of the 193 members of the UN shares its armed forces with another. The reason is simple. Independence of action – the right to say no, or yes, to military action – is universally viewed as being part of what it means to be a sovereign state. An independent Scotland would also want the right to decide whether or not to send its armed forces to war.
The implications of this for the future of the UK armed forces after Scottish independence would be far-reaching. If it could no longer rely on Scottish armed forces being there ‘on the day’, the UK would want to ensure that the British armed forces that remain are fully capable of acting on their own, without Scotland’s assistance. Scotland may well want the right to say ‘no’ to new military interventions and to nuclear weapons. The UK, by contrast, would want to retain the right to be able to say ‘yes’ to both of these.
A period of considerable disruption and reorganisation is bound to follow as a result of this basic logic. Alex Salmond was right to point out that, as a result of the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, there will soon be one major Army base, one major Royal Navy base and one major RAF base in Scotland. But these are not free-standing units, able to be rebadged as Scotland’s armed forces in the way that schools or hospitals or police forces have been. They are part of an integrated whole, organised on a Union basis. The British Army has several thousand soldiers, based around a brigade headquarters, in Scotland. But the transport aircraft and helicopters needed to carry them around, the staff colleges needed to train them, the organisations that buy and maintain their weapons, and the strategic headquarters needed to command them are all in the rest of the United Kingdom. All these functions would have to be newly-created for Scotland to have a functioning national Army. A decision would also have to be taken on the future of England-based, but Scottish-badged, units (such as the Scots Guards, based in Catterick, North Yorkshire).
The separation of the UK’s armed forces into two distinct entities would therefore require Scotland to spend a significant amount on one-off set up costs. A new Scottish Ministry of Defence and military headquarters would need to be established and staffed in order to organise procurement, payroll and planning. New training and exercise facilities would be needed, and probably also some new bases. Some elements of Scotland’s defence budget – such as the payment of pensions to retired UK service personnel – could still be administered from the UK. As conditions of military service began to diverge between the two countries, however, even the administration of pensions would likely have to be separated out.
Tough decisions would also have to be made, in the negotiations that would follow a ‘yes’ vote, on how to divide up the military assets and liabilities of the Union’s armed forces. The UK would, as far as possible, want to maintain its current military capabilities. Its instinct would likely remain conservative, seeking to preserve what it could of moveable assets, including both personnel and equipment. The UK still maintains a range of cutting-edge military capabilities, able to operate alongside the US on a global scale, albeit at low numerical levels. Its capabilities for power projection are, as a result, much greater than those of any other European country, with the exception of France.
A country with a GDP only a twelfth as large, by contrast, would not be able to play in this game. An independent Scotland could not afford to maintain any of the seven ‘Astute’ class nuclear-powered submarines, all of which are due to be based in Faslane as they come into service through the next decade, and all of which are capable of worldwide deployment. Nor would it make sense for Scotland to acquire any of the dozen or so new globally-capable Type 26 frigates that are due to enter service in the 2020s as the backbone of the Royal Navy’s surface fleet, and most of which could, on current plans, be built on the Clyde. A comparison with similarly-sized European states suggests that the projected unit cost of £400-500 million, plus more for equipment, is much more than an independent Scotland could realistically afford without greatly distorting the overall shape of its limited defence budget.
Since withdrawal from East of Suez in the early 1970’s, most of the operations in which the UK armed forces have been involved have been ‘contributory’: part of larger NATO or US-led operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans. But there have been two significant exceptions: the Falklands War of 1982, and the decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland. Both could, in principle, raise defence issues for an independent Scotland.
If an independent Scotland were to be considered a ‘successor state’ on a par with the rest of the UK, this would raise difficult questions about how far it should also inherit some share of defence responsibilities in relation to the Falklands and other UK dependent territories. Some in Northern Ireland might also ask questions about why a territory populated mainly by Scots and Irish should still be run from London. Given the close links between Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is possible that the UK authorities could press for Scotland to make some military contribution to support of the civil power there. It will also be in Scotland’s interests to work closely with the UK to counter terrorism on the British mainland, and to acquire intelligence and rapid response capabilities that enable it to respond to developing threats.
The NATO question
But the central driver for the defence policy of an independent Scotland would be how much, and in what form, it decided to contribute to European collective defence. The Scottish National Party has a policy of opposing NATO membership for Scotland. But there is growing pressure on the Party to rethink this position, given the signals it might send to countries on whose sympathy (or at least tolerance) Scotland would depend in the event of independence. It is one matter, like Sweden and Ireland, never to have been a member of NATO, for historical reasons which everyone has long come to understand. It would be quite another to make a deliberate decision not to join an Alliance which has been responsible for the protection of one’s territory since its formation in 1949. Nor would this only be a problem with Scotland’s European neighbours. Close historic and personal links with Australia, Canada and the United States could be an important asset for the new state, helping it consolidate its place in the international order. None of these countries would understand what message Scotland was seeking to send by opting out of an alliance that has been the central player in Atlantic security for the last six decades. The reaction of US opinion, in particular, would be likely to be hostile, with potentially serious consequences for Scotland’s hopes of a smooth transition to being recognised as a ‘normal’ member of the international community of states.
Scotland’s NATO European neighbours – not least the UK – would also be on their guard against what they might see as a Scottish attempt to free-ride on their security protection. A decision not to join NATO would be seen as a signal that the new Scotland was stepping out of the European mainstream (notwithstanding the Irish exception). It would make it more difficult to maintain good relations, and technical cooperation, with UK armed forces. It might even raise questions about an independent Scotland’s application for EU membership, the success of which will be critical for its economic prospects.
Nowhere to go
It has been reported that the SNP is considering a reversal of its current NATO policy. After many years of opposing membership, however, it may not find it easy to move in this direction. A Scotland in NATO would have to endorse a Strategic Concept that states that ‘as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance’ and goes on to agree that ‘the supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States’. Denmark and Norway, both NATO members, endorsed this statement despite their longstanding refusal to base nuclear weapons on their own territories. It would, nevertheless, be hard to square Scotland’s acceptance of the Strategic Concept with an expulsion of the UK’s nuclear force from its bases at Faslane and Coulport. There would be a fundamental inconsistency in accepting the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security, but demanding their rapid removal from one’s own national territory. Even Germany, which has made clear that it wishes to remove US nuclear weapons from its own territory, has made clear that it will only do so on the basis of a NATO consensus. Scotland would be under much greater pressure to delay any action until a negotiated agreement with the UK could be reached.
This need not mean that Scotland would have to keep UK nuclear weapons on its territory for perpetuity. But recent historical precedent suggests that they could remain for some considerable period of time, likely to be measured in decades rather than years. Under the British-Irish treaty of 1921 that established the Irish Free State, the Royal Navy was given the right to maintain three ‘treaty ports’ in Ireland. It did not agree to withdraw its ships from these ports until 1938 when, fearing that their presence might compromise his objective of maintaining neutrality in the coming war with Germany, Irish leader Éamon de Valera insisted on their closure. Russia’s Black Sea Fleet has been in Sevastopol since Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. In 2010, after a close vote in the Ukrainian parliament, the two countries signed an agreement extending the Russian naval lease until 2042.
Moving Trident from Scotland may be even harder than leaving the Irish Treaty Ports. The UK might possibly be able, given a few years and sufficient financial compensation, to find alternative berths for the Trident submarines themselves. But it would be much more difficult, and perhaps politically impossible, to find a suitable alternative location for the warhead storage facility, currently based in Coulport. There would be strong domestic pressure on a new Scottish Government to take a brave anti-nuclear stance, just as New Zealand did in 1984 when it banned nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships from its waters. But the need for Scotland to start off its transition to independence in good standing with its neighbours suggests that a more gradualist approach would probably prevail.
In time, a shrunken UK could find itself becoming uncomfortable with basing its sole nuclear force on foreign (Scottish) territory, and find an alternative means of maintaining its status as a nuclear weapons state. Until this happens, however, an independent Scotland might well decide that it had no alternative but to trade flexibility on the timing of Trident removal for UK concessions on matters that are much more central to its own security, such as support for Scotland becoming an EU member.
There is no consensus amongst international lawyers as to whether or not a newly independent Scotland could claim to have equal rights with the rest of the UK, in terms of status in relation to international organisations. Advocates of this claim contend that independence would take the form of dissolution of the Act of Union, and would therefore take the situation back to the status quo ante of 1706 (leaving aside the awkward question of the Act of Union with Ireland in 1800). Opponents suggest that Scotland would be seceding from the UK, the remaining part of which would – like Russia in relation to the Soviet Union – inherit all previous treaty rights and commitments. Ultimately, however, the answer to this question would be more political than legal. If a newly independent Scotland were to start its existence in a state of unresolved bitterness with the rest of the UK, determined to leave (or not to join) NATO and to expel Trident at the first possible opportunity, it could expect to have few allies in Brussels as it sought EU membership. Were the UK and Scotland to become strong joint advocates for a smooth transition, by contrast, other countries would be much less likely to stand in their way.
Scotland’s Fair Share
Finding a compromise on Trident could be the hardest defence issue facing the Scottish Government in the run-up to independence. In formulating what the defence policy of an independent Scotland would look like, however, it would also have to make hard choices about what sort of armed forces would best suit Scotland’s needs and, importantly, its budget. If Scotland were to become a member of NATO, it would be expected – like Denmark and Norway today – to make a contribution to collective NATO capabilities. But it would have some considerable latitude in deciding what shape this contribution would take.
The most fundamental choice would be a budgetary one. An independent Scotland could decide to spend as much on defence, proportionately, as the UK is expecting to do. The UK now has one of the highest defence budgets, as a percentage of GDP, of any of the European NATO member states: 2.7% of GDP in 2010, due to fall to around 2.2% by 2015. Scotland could decide to match this, with an annual defence budget of between £2.6 billion and £3.1 billion (in 2010 prices) in 2015.
Given the many competing demands that would face the newly independent country, however, it seems unlikely that its government would give defence such a high priority. At the other end of the spectrum, Scotland could reduce its defence budget to the level of low NATO spenders like Belgium (1.1% of GDP) or Lithuania (0.9%), or even that of non-NATO member Ireland (0.6%). This would not be the end of the world for Scotland’s external security. For all its occasional bluster, Russia’s Navy and Air Force are only a pale shadow of the threat that they posed to the British Isles during the Cold War. China and Iran are a long way away. Given the absence of threatening states in its neighbourhood, therefore, Scotland could choose to focus most of its small security budget on countering threats – like cyber-crime and espionage, as well as terrorism (in both its Islamist and Irish varieties) – which are closer to home, and which also require strong home-based capabilities. In relation to Europe’s wider responsibilities – for example contributing to ‘Responsibility to Protect’ missions such as Libya and Sierra Leone – such a Scotland would have to free ride on the efforts that other NATO member states were making. But it could perhaps fulfil its humanitarian instincts, like its Nordic neighbours, by spending more on overseas aid.
A more likely course, taking account of its limited financial resources but also its martial tradition, would be for Scotland to adopt a defence budget comparable to other small NATO member states in its immediate neighbourhood. Denmark and Norway, for example, spent 1.4 and 1.5 per cent, respectively, of their GDP on defence in 2010: a level that corresponds to the overall norm for NATO European states, excluding the UK and France. If an independent Scotland had done the same - spending 1.45% of its GDP on defence - it would have had a 2010 defence budget of between £1.7 billion and £2.1 billion.
Because its GDP would be comparatively small, however, an allocation of this size would leave Scotland with one of the lowest defence budgets in NATO Europe. Denmark (£2.8 billion), Belgium (£3.3 billion) and Norway (£4.2 billion) all spend significantly more, reflecting the greater overall size of their economies. None of these states, moreover, are facing the considerable start-up costs that Scotland would have to incur in order to pay for new headquarter and other facilities, together with all the compensation and other expenses involved in moving people and kit north and south across the border. Expectations that Scotland could quickly obtain military capabilities on a par with those of other north European states, therefore, are likely to be over-optimistic.
What could the Scottish Defence Forces (SDF) get for £2 billion a year? Some argue, drawing on the examples of Denmark and Norway, that an independent Scotland would want to focus its efforts on making a contribution to NATO capabilities in the ‘High North’. The melting of the Arctic ice cap is opening up new opportunities, for shorter trade routes with Asia as well as for mineral exploration. But it is also posing new security challenges, with states competing to get their share of the new resources being made available. And the UK is already signalling its determination to work closely with its northern neighbours on collective security in this region.
There would be a good case for an independent Scotland to contribute to these efforts, perhaps through deploying appropriate naval vessels alongside those of its NATO allies. While the naval capabilities of both Norway and Denmark are in part driven by their need to defend lines of communication with far flung island possessions, however, this is less of a problem for Scotland. Norway, of course, has the added problem of having an extended maritime border (and a shorter land border) with the Russian Federation.
An independent Scotland would want to have maritime forces that have the ability to support a wide range of policing tasks around its coasts, including the protection of oil rigs and fisheries, search and rescue, and limited counter-smuggling functions. Fishery protection is already a devolved activity, with Scotland’s ‘Marine Scotland Compliance’ operating two surveillance aircraft and four fishery protection vessels. Civil agencies currently operating at a UK level, such as the Maritime and Coastguards Agency, will continue to play a role, but presumably under separate national authorities. There could also be a supporting role for military units. For both armed fishery protection and longer-range patrolling in the North Atlantic, for example, Scotland might propose that it takes one of the River class offshore patrol vessels currently based in Portsmouth, and rebase it on its own territory. The UK might resist giving up HMS Clyde since it is not due to return from the Falklands until 2018. But, in the spirit of the ‘social union’ that the SNP has said that it hopes will continue to exist between the nations of the British Isles, it might be prepared to transfer HMS Mersey, HMS Tyne or HMS Severn.
The SDF might also want to build on the capabilities of existing Scottish formations in the British Army in order to maintain a post-independence capability for stabilisation operations, of the sort which have occupied most of the Army’s efforts over the last decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both Denmark and Estonia, for example, have made a valuable contribution, under UK command, to NATO efforts to stabilise Helmand province in recent years. Were the Scottish Army to continue temporarily in this role, it might provide a degree of continuity for Army personnel based in Scotland, who would not have to confront the need for immediate emigration southwards. At least in the short term, it might also be welcomed by a British Army seeking to maintain core capabilities even as it comes under growing budgetary pressure itself. Over time, however, it would become increasingly hard for either country to accept the degree of mutual interdependence that such an arrangement involves. The UK would not want to continue to invest in support elements for Scottish forces on whose presence it could not rely in the event of a future conflict. After the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan, moreover, it would probably be misguided for an independent Scotland to give too high a priority to ground force capabilities, simply because of its inheritance of Army bases (and Scottish-badged units).
As it begins to draw down in Afghanistan, it is clear that the tide of opinion in the US has turned strongly against repeating this sort of extended occupation mission for some time to come. It would be strange, in this context, for an independent Scotland to prioritise military investment in an area where demand may well be more limited for the foreseeable future. And it could also be argued that, for a small country that is (almost) entirely surrounded by sea, it would not make sense to focus primarily on ground forces, especially if – as is almost certain – those forces would be very dependent on a foreign power (the UK) for transport, resupply and other logistic support.
Because of its inherent flexibility, air power might play an important part in the capabilities of the Scottish Defence Forces. The 2012 Libyan conflict demonstrated that relatively small countries, like Denmark, Norway and Belgium, could make a substantial contribution to NATO efforts through the deployment of small numbers of modern F-16 aircraft. Scotland could consider retaining a similar type of capability, perhaps claiming a share of the RAF’s planned fleet of combat-capable aircraft ( such as Hawk and Typhoon) in order to do so.
But, given the costs involved, there will be severe limits on Scotland’s ability to buy or maintain high-end aircraft. A single F-35C aircraft, currently planned for the UK’s aircraft carriers, will probably leave little change from £100 million, with perhaps twice that amount needed for lifetime running and equipment costs. As a result, countries with significantly larger defence budgets than Scotland is likely to have – such as Belgium - are beginning to contemplate getting out of the combat aircraft business altogether, and instead relying on other NATO member states for air patrol (as the Baltic states, Slovenia, Albania, Luxembourg and Iceland already do). Scotland might also find itself going down a similar route, perhaps offering to provide basing rights to (and financial contributions towards) the UK RAF in return for air patrolling assistance. The UK, however, might have other ideas, especially if the planned replacement of Tornado aircraft by a smaller number of F-35’s over the next decade were to require the RAF to make difficult choices between retaining a foreign air base in Scotland or other bases back home.
Given its geographical location and long coastline, there would be a strong case for an independent Scotland to acquire its own maritime patrol aircraft, since it could no longer rely on the other assets (such as frigates and submarines) which the UK is now using for maritime surveillance. There would be considerable risks involved in seeking to develop a new aircraft domestically, as the massive amounts wasted over the UK’s aborted Nimrod MR programme have shown only too well. But other small countries – such as New Zealand, Denmark and Norway – have found more cost-effective solutions (for example through use of upgraded P-3 Orion aircraft). Scotland could do the same.
In this area and in others, rapid developments in information processing and robotic technologies could open up new possibilities for intermediate military technologies, able to deliver significant effects at much lower unit costs. Investment in unmanned surveillance vehicles (‘drones’) might also have some civilian potential, for example for policing. And, providing it were willing to contribute to NATO projects such as the Global Hawk unmanned surveillance drones, Scotland could access capabilities that it could not afford on its own. But high technology is not cheap. And the limited size of Scotland’s defence market means that it would usually have to buy such equipment ‘off the shelf’ from foreign suppliers.
The nationalisation of defence
Once the emotions generated by a ‘yes’ vote had dissipated, good will on both sides should reinforce the clear mutual interest that both an independent Scotland and the UK would have in maintaining close links between their two peoples. Even as new citizenship rules are introduced, ways would probably be found to ensure that people could still move freely between the two states, and gain access to employment without discrimination on the basis of nationality. In the UK armed forces, the long tradition of having Commonwealth and Irish citizens serving in their ranks would provide an important precedent for Scottish independence, enabling Scots to continue to serve as they have done for centuries. It is also reasonable to expect that Scotland will return the favour, drawing on English, Welsh and Irish talents and experience in order to help it meet the challenge of building new armed forces from scratch. Given the disparity in size and ambition between the two countries, however, many of the most ambitious and talented Scots would probably opt to stay in the UK’s armed forces, just as many served in the English Army before 1707.
Where there is a clear common interest in territorial defence, a settled pattern of long-term cooperation could also be institutionalised in bilateral agreements. Both Scotland and the UK, for example, would have a clear interest in providing integrated capabilities for air defence of the British Isles. In this context, and as part of NATO’s integrated air defence arrangements, one could see RAF Lossiemouth becoming a centre for joint operations, in which UK RAF and RSAF forces are collocated, and which might also provide surveillance and resupply capabilities for use by the US and other NATO partners. An independent Scotland might also want to sub-contract significant elements of its military support functions, such as the training currently provided by the Defence Academy, to the UK.
The picture is likely to be much more competitive, however, when it comes to other military capabilities and defence industrial suppliers. Both counties will rely on each other to keep their forces running in the short term. As time passes, however, UK decision-makers will come under strong pressure to buy British where possible, just as defence companies reliant on UK contracts, but currently based in Scotland, may feel that it is better in business terms to relocate southwards. This could have considerable implications for Scotland-based defence companies, currently estimated to employ 12,600 personnel, and to have annual sales in excess of £1.8 billion per year. The decision to proceed with the aircraft carrier programme during the last Labour government was strongly influenced by a desire to maintain jobs in Scotland. If the people of Scotland were to decide in favour of independence, however, its defence industry would no longer enjoy such political protection. The future location of work on the Type 26 Global Combat Ship could be particularly sensitive in the event of an early referendum, with a decision not yet made as to whether this should take place in Portsmouth or on the Clyde. Once Scotland is independent, there will not be many in London who speak up for maintaining contracts with shipyards on the Clyde rather than in Portsmouth. Nor, even if some of their forces remain in Scotland, will any of the UK services want to invest more resources in fixed infrastructure there, given the expectation of future repatriation. If the Trident submarines were eventually to depart Faslane, moreover, so too will the Royal Navy’s Astute class submarines, leaving an excellent investment opportunity for those prepared to invest in cleaning up a nuclear site.
An independent Scotland would be capable of maintaining small, but capable, armed forces. And, in time, these forces could make a useful contribution to international efforts to support peace and security. But the costs of achieving this transition would be significant, with the separation into two militaries creating more organisational disruption than in any other arm of the public services. And there would always be the prospect of a future security crisis, the character of which we cannot now predict, where Scotland could no longer assume the automatic support of its southern neighbour.
A Scottish decision in favour of independence, moreover, cannot simply be about the next ten or twenty years. Insofar as anything ever can be, it would be permanent. In a world in which the security of states is increasingly interdependent, it is hard to imagine why the prospect of having independent armed forces could, in itself, be a good reason to support independence. Some might think that the disruption involved in military breakup will just have to be borne in pursuit of other, wider, benefits of independence. Others might feel that such complications strengthen the case for maintaining a Defence and Security Union that has served Scotland well.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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