Jennifer Dempsie: Forcing the issue of Scotland’s defence options
FAR from leaving the nation as a vulnerable target, independence would strengthen our military capabilites in Europe
The union, not independence, threatens Scotland’s defence future. Professor Malcolm Chalmer’s defence analysis in Scotland on Sunday challenges why a Scottish Defence Force (SDF) would be a reason to support independence. For me, the challenge is to find a reason to stay in the union in terms of Scotland’s defence future.
There are several reasons why a SDF would be a reason to support independence.
Firstly, on the basis of democratic consent – because decisions about Scotland should be taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is by the people of Scotland.
That means having the armed forces Scotland wants and needs. Not closing two out of three airbases, getting rid of Royal Marines from Arbroath or scrapping Nimrod. We won’t be consenting to illegal wars such as Iraq… or unethical Trident nuclear weapons based in Scottish waters, which will be removed in the soonest possible timescale.
Secondly, Professor Chalmers’ concluded that an independent Scotland could maintain “capable’ armed forces that could contribute to international peace and security efforts”.
Thirdly, the official Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures show that Scotland contributes £3.3 billion a year to UK defence spending – over £1bn more than Professor Chalmers thinks an independent Scotland would need.
This goes to the very heart of the matter – there has been a dangerous trend of budget cuts and under spends in Scotland.
Under successive UK governments over the last decade, Scotland has experienced a massive £5.6bn defence under spend and 10,500 defence job losses.
And in defence there is nearly £11 million spent annually on London weighting and living allowances for staff.
Last week a report in Jane’s Defence Weekly said: “The assumption is that from 2020 the UK will produce one complex warship – in the shape of the Type 26 frigate – every 12 months, and develop a new ship design every six years. That workload simply cannot sustain operations at three shipyards in their current form.”
After 2015 shipbuilding jobs will nosedive and could result in just 1,500 jobs at BAE after the Queen Elizabeth Class are complete. This is a direct consequence of the 2009 Terms of Business Agreement (ToBA) signed by the Labour government with BAE.
Plan’s devised by Labour to “save” shipbuilding was to spend a minimum 0.68 per cent of the total MoD budget. Not exactly standing up for Govan and or much of a union dividend.
In an independent Scotland our yards will secure orders on the basis of their skills and record – Scottish shipyards already build ships for countries outside the UK.
An independent Scotland could be in enviable position of maintaining capable conventional armed forces with a budget of £2.5bn. This is in-line with average European Nato spend and a significant increase from UK defence spend in Scotland, whilst saving the tax payer hundreds of millions of pounds currently contributing towards Trident.
Interestingly the UK is one of the most prolific users of collaborative defence procurement. The UK already spends 26 per cent of its budget in collaboration with other countries. Of that 26 per cent over 90 per cent is with European countries.
There is no credible reason why Scotland with its unique facilities and skills would be excluded from collaborative projects.
Ironically, the proponent of an independent Scotland’s splendid isolation, Jim Murphy, said in a speech to the Dahrendorf Symposium last November: “Co-operation on defence procurement is critical… Strong national export markets will be bolstered, not limited, by European co-operation…”
Far from being isolated an independent Scotland would be another valuable partner in the ever-closer integration across the defence spectrum in Europe. Nordic defence co-operation shows that size is no barrier to co-operation, nor is membership to Nato. And a large majority of countries which co-operate on defence are also free of nuclear weapons
For Scotland’s future defence landscape the Nordic Defence co-operation is setting the standards. Nordefco has identified over 140 areas of co-operation between the Nordic countries.
The largest ever Nato arctic exercise was hosted by Norway last month using Swedish Regiments, Swedish land and airspace and Swedish jets that operated from Norwegian and Swedish bases. Sweden of course is a Partnership for Peace nation outwith Nato.
Our northern European neighbours are of comparable size – all of which maintain appropriate military capabilities including fast jets, ocean going vessels, and highly trained personnel. Scotland could easily match those capabilities.
As well take seriously the growing strategic and economic importance of the Arctic and High North.
Scotland is badly placed by Westminster decision-making which denies improving conventional capability in maritime control and amphibious trained forces. This has not gone unnoticed by neighbouring countries like Norway and Denmark.
There is a capability gap, one which an independent Scotland would take seriously. And an SDF wouldn’t be built from scratch. Scotland would get at least its population share of defence equipment – 8.4 per cent of all assets.
An independent Scotland could join the rest of the world as a force for good, promoting conflict- resolution, non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and peacekeeping. As good neighbours and allies we would play our part in an ever-growing defence co-operation in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.”
• Jennifer Dempsie is an adviser to the SNP and former special adviser to the First Minister.
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