Major-General Andrew Mackay, former General Officer Commanding in Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland, will look at what options would be open to the army, navy and air force following a vote for independence.
The study, set up by think-tank the Scotland Institute, plans to provide a “strategic defence and security review” for the country.
Maj-Gen Mackay pioneered the British counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan, before resigning in 2009 over his frustration with the organisation of the MoD.
The Scotland Institute review comes as the SNP is preparing to debate whether to ditch its long-standing opposition to joining Nato, while at the same time pledging to remove Trident nuclear submarines from the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
Other analysts have suggested Scotland could save hundreds of millions of pounds by reducing its defence footprint after independence.
Maj-Gen Mackay is expected to consult Nato figures and former secretaries of state for defence on how best to organise a Scottish defence strategy.
The founder of the Scotland Institute, Dr Azeem Ibrahim, said last night there remained widespread confusion among the general public over what might happen if people vote Yes and that a paper free from “supposition, emotion and patriotic rhetoric” was required to show people what might happen.
Dr Ibrahim said: “The central motivation for producing this report is to give the Scottish people the most comprehensive study to date with regard to this component of the independence debate.”
Maj-Gen Mackay said last night: “I am delighted that the Scotland Institute is prepared to make an important contribution to this debate.
“Safeguarding and defending a nation and its people is one of the most important functions a government has responsibility for. We look forward to examining the findings of the experts and to providing wide-ranging and constructive advice.”
The SNP’s own plans currently propose a defence force of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve troops. Faslane would become a conventional naval base, while both RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Leuchars would remain.
Defence analyst Stuart Crawford has suggested that Scotland could operate a defence force for £2 billion, saving about £1.3bn compared with the total spend by the MoD in Scotland at present. It would mean it would have no Typhoon or Tornado jets, and an army smaller than Denmark’s.
The Scottish affairs and defence select committees at Westminster are also holding inquiries into the issue. The subject of what would happen to Faslane post-independence has been raised, amid claims a decision by Scotland to banish nuclear weapons would effectively disarm the UK as well.
Dr Ibrahim said: “There are many questions that have not been tabled and … there is a pressing need for objective facts and in-depth detail and not mere supposition, emotion and patriotic rhetoric.”
Profile: Experienced soldier who is not afraid to speak his mind
MAJOR-General Andrew Mackay, 55, a father of four who was born in Elgin, is one of Scotland’s foremost soldiers.
He was made commanding officer of 1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1998, and, after promotion to brigadier, served for a year in Iraq, creating a friendship with America’s General David Petraeus.
It was in Afghanistan in 2007 that he made his reputation when, as commander in the Edinburgh-based 52 Infantry Brigade and then leader of the British Task Force, he led the recapture of the town of Musa Qala, an action which was described by the Pentagon as the “best operation to come out of Afghanistan in years”. He was later made a CBE for his role in the operation.
He also pioneered attempts to build relationships with the local population.
“Unless we retain, gain and win the consent of the population within Helmand, we lose the campaign,” he declared. “The population is the prize.”
In 2009, he was promoted to major-general and became general officer commanding of the army’s 2nd Division (Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland); and installed as the governor of Edinburgh Castle. But within a few months, he resigned.
A year later, he wrote a paper declaring that the Ministry of Defence was “institutionally incapable” of succeeding in Afghanistan because of its failure to adapt to 21st century conflicts.
He said the MoD officials in London often had “no relevance at ground level” to troops engaged in contact with the enemy, describing them as “a diluted and distant memory” by the time soldiers reached the front line.