AN INDEPENDENT Scotland could not expect to automatically inherit the country’s historic regiments nor the servicemen and women who serve in them, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond will insist this week.
In a new UK government paper on how a Yes vote next year would impact on the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, the UK government warns Edinburgh could not “simply co-opt Scottish personnel or Scottish based units from UK Armed Forces”.
The warning raises the prospect the rest of the UK would want the Royal Regiment of Scotland and battalions such as the famous Black Watch to be retained by UK forces, similar to the continued existence of the Irish Guards.
That runs counter to the SNP’s pledge to ensure that all current Scottish infantry battalions are retained by an independent Scotland and that abolished Scottish regiments are reinstated, as part of a 15,000-strong new Scottish Armed Force.
The UK government paper also argues that “bonds of loyalty” will ensure that many Armed Forces personnel who are based in Scotland would want to remain part of the UK service.
Ministry of Defence sources are also warning this weekend that independence would mean that Scotland “shutting the door” on British military contracts, such as those won by the Clyde shipyards for new aircraft carriers and destroyers. And given the integrated nature of the Armed Forces across the UK, the paper will also claim that a new Scottish defence force would have to start from scratch in finding new support systems.
The claim drew a firm rebuttal from the SNP last night, with a spokesman insisting Scotland would be able to afford a new £2.5 billion Scottish Armed Force, without the cost of paying for the Trident nuclear deterrent at Faslane.
However, Hammond will maintain this week that a newly independent nation cannot simply “carve out” Scottish personnel and units for its own new force.
The paper, to be published on Tuesday, says: “An independent Scottish state could not simply co-opt existing units that are primarily recruited or based in Scotland, as these are an integral part of the UK Armed Forces; nor could those units in themselves provide a coherent, credible and balanced force.”
It adds: “Similarly, individual members of the UK Armed Forces, in whatever units they serve, could not simply be moved into the forces of a separate Scottish state.”
The comments affect “units” including the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which is stationed in Edinburgh, Germany, Canterbury and Inverness, the two RAF bases at Lossiemouth and Leuchars, the Trident base at HMNB Clyde, 45 Commando Royal Marines based in Arbroath, and MoD training facilities.
Pressed on whether the UK would want all of such assets to remain within the UK army, UK government officials said they were “not planning for independence and would not be pre-negotiating”.
However, a defence ministry source added: “It is clear that an independent Scotland could not just carve out Scottish military units”.
Such a system would not constitute “a credible military force as it would lack all the supporting elements,” the source added.
The paper also warns of the complexity of splitting up the UK Armed Forces.
“Personnel might very well not wish to leave the UK Armed Forces to join much smaller forces, not least because of strong bonds of loyalty. From a defence perspective, the transition to independence would therefore be extremely complex, raising serious questions over how an operational capability for an independent Scottish state could be managed.”
And it warns about the knock-on effects of the defence industry in Scotland. The MoD source added: “The livelihoods of many thousands of people in Scotland are reliant upon the defence industrial base and integrated UK Armed Forces. We already know that the Scottish Government would spend less on defence. As we see signs that the economy is returning to growth, the consequence of this position would see an independent Scotland shutting the door to high-value job opportunities for generations of people in Scotland.”
Pro-independence figures claim such warnings are “scaremongering”, however, pointing to the fact that the MoD has a history of procuring military hardware from other countries.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “The idea that Scotland would want to replicate what the UK has on a smaller scale is absurd – we obviously don’t want or need Trident. Independence will also allow us to be rid of these weapons of mass destruction which civic leaders, churches, trade unions and a vast majority of Scotland’s elected representatives want nothing to do with.
“Westminster cuts have hit Scotland disproportionately hard – Liam Fox, when Defence Secretary, admitted this in his evidence to parliament. The UK government has handed out 11,000 P45s to service personnel across the UK and slashed vital capability like maritime patrol aircraft. Service personnel levels in Scotland are at record lows. It is ironic then that Mr Hammond claims there would be problems with recruitment. It is insulting to service personnel in Nato countries of a similar size that somehow Scotland would suffer in this regard.”
Robertson also described the MoD’s record in Scotland as “lamentable”.
“When Philip Hammond visits Scotland next week, he should be apologising for the litany of closures, disproportionate cuts, capability gaps and broken promises,” he said.
“It is so embarrassing that to claim an independent Scotland can’t do better is an insult to common sense and international comparison. It is perhaps unsurprising that the current Defence Secretary has only been prepared to show face in Scotland twice since taking office in 2011.
“The list of poor decisions is so long it is hard to know where to start. Defence personnel numbers in Scotland are, at 11,000, the lowest in living memory.”
He added: “Personnel, their families and defence dependent communities will have greater stability without the same fear of MoD closures or P45s. In Scotland there will be the opportunity for a full and fulfilling military career path, presently denied to so many with most key UK defence jobs not even present in Scotland.
“Scotland can maintain the capable conventional defence forces required for our priorities with independence.
“Our neighbours prove it can be done.”