Jennifer Dempsie: Air base decisions make it easier to defend independent view

IN CASE you missed it as you were too busy smirking over Rupert Murdoch eating humble pie, the UK government announced its long-awaited review of defence this week, which had both sweet and sour ramifications for Scotland.

Lossiemouth has been saved but the Royal Air Force is taking the biggest hit in Scotland, reducing from around 4,700 to 2,500 personnel, as Leuchars and Kinloss become army bases. Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox did have some positives in that the overall number of military personnel in Scotland will increase - which is a welcome yet belated step to address the long-term decline in military personnel north of the Border.

Also, we are to have a new mobile brigade in Scotland. However, this comes at a price with the closure of several barracks. And there is no hiding from the fact that the base decisions represent a cut in capabilities and functions.

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Let's not forget that, while the unethical, expensive Trident nuclear missile system continues, RAF personnel numbers are being cut by more than half, the Royal Marines cut almost entirely in Scotland as well as the other closures.

For a sober reminder we just have to look across to Scandinavia for perspective. With only Lossiemouth remaining, Scotland is expected to have no more than one operational squadron of Typhoon GR4s (12 aircraft) and possibly two squadrons of Typhoons (28 aircraft) yet to be confirmed. This stands in contrast to the Royal Norwegian Air Force, which operates more than 117 aircraft from seven airbases, the Royal Danish Air Force, which operates more than 111 aircraft from three airbases, and the Royal Swedish Air Force, which operates more than 187 aircraft from seven airbases.

Historically, Scotland has punched above its weight in the military, yet we have seen over the past decade an under-spend in relation to both our spending and population share.

According to MoD statistics, the under-spend in Scotland increased from 749 million in 2002-03 to 1.259 billion in 2007-08, which represents a 68 per cent increase in six years.

Fox admitted to the Scottish select committee on 7 June: "I am aware of the fact that between 2000 and 2010 the total UK reduction (of service and civilian personnel] was 11.6 per cent, but the reduction in Scotland was 27.9 per cent." At least Fox has begun to address this.

So what about the positives? Well, First Minister Alex Salmond has an interesting take on this new multi-role brigade. Ever the eternal optimist, he has said that, given the new brigade is to be stationed in Scotland - along with the creation or upgrading of the barracks, transportation and training facilities needed to sustain it - the brigade is effectively becoming "Scotland's army".

So in theory, if the people of Scotland vote "yes" in the independence referendum, a Scottish army is already on the ground and established, the only difference being they would no longer be under MoD command.

But what difference would independence make to Scotland's military and defence policies?

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Scotland has been systematically losing out as part of the union, experiencing a long-term defence under-spend. It has also seen the abolition and amalgamation of historic Scottish regiments, the dissolution of the "golden thread", reduction in our bases, under-spend in the past ten years on Royal Navy vessels, including nuclear submarines being cut by 45 per cent) while having dangerous Trident missiles based on the Clyde. And I don't really need to mention Iraq…

So much for the union dividend. But what can we aspire too? Defence Secretary Fox has been posturing that if Scotland becomes independent then the UK may not want to co-operate and share any defence capability. Sounds like total nonsense. Scotland, like its neighbours, would co-operate as part of the international community on defence. Why would Scotland be unique and isolated?

In his posturing, Fox is ignoring the fact the UK already co-operates with hundreds of nations on defence matters. The UK has signed treaties with nations such as France to share assets such as aircraft carriers. Fox has forgotten that they have to use Canadian planes for maritime reconnaissance over the coast of Libya.

And let's not forget about the Scandinavian model, on 4 November last year Fox said: "We want a closer bilateral relationship with Norway, which is one of our key strategic partners. We want to create a Nato framework that makes it easier for Sweden and Finland to have a closer relationship".

It seems he keeps shooting himself in the foot.

SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson says an independent Scotland would pursue the policy of sharing bases, procurement and training facilities, similar to the Nordic model.

In the past ten years the UK has signed 262 defence treaties and memorandums of understandings with countries all over the world on countless issues of co-operation. Why would Scotland, the UK's closest neighbour, be virtually the only place the UK hasn't signed an agreement with?

Parliamentary questions have revealed military personnel from 154 nations train in the UK - countries from Albania to Zambia do it so why wouldn't an independent Scotland?

The answers are still to come, and I, with many others, look forward to hearing them.

n Jennifer Dempsie is a former adviser to First Minister Alex Salmond

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