Five defence myths that must be scotched over independence

A Trident missile
A Trident missile.
A Trident missile
A Trident missile

Defence is a touchstone issue for independence: it’s one of those themes that divide people the most when it comes to the shape of a Scotland outside the Union.

So far at least, the SNP has not produced a blueprint of how it would like defence to work in an independent Scotland, and is unlikely to do so much before next November.

As a result, the rest of us are left hypothesising and projecting our best guesses on what might happen.

Yesterday, the Scotsman hosted a conference bringing together the most authoritative best guessers in the country. There were military historians, defence analysts, industry experts, former soldiers, civil servants and lobbyists – all of whom tried to bring their experience to bear on this most central of independence questions.

The result was a picture that was, for the first time, clear – but also salutary. In coming together as they did, the experts also blew apart a number of assumptions which have underpinned the thinking of both sides of the independence argument when it comes to defence. These were:

1 – Scotland will not be able to afford its own defence forces after independence

This was dismantled in a very detailed paper by Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Crawford, one-time tank commander and also one-time SNP spokesman on defence.

Lt Col Crawford was not speaking as an SNP spokesman, far from it. He was speaking as a defence expert, someone who had used all his experience to work out what an independent Scotland would need militarily, and then – with the help of economist Richard Marsh – they worked out how much this might cost.

The result was a “modest” military force, somewhere between Ireland’s small armed forces and Denmark’s relatively substantial one, at a cost of about £2 billion a year.

Given that Scotland pays about £3.3 billion a year to the UK armed forces this would give a so-called “peace dividend” to the newly independent Scotland of about £1 billion a year.

It is understood that SNP planners intend a more substantial military than that envisaged by Lt Col Crawford, something nearer to Denmark’s, but this could still come in well under the £3.3 billion currently spent by Scotland on defence.

2 – Scotland’s defence industries can survive and even thrive after independence

This time it was an SNP assumption under attack. Two leading experts, Professor Trevor Taylor, a professorial research fellow in defence management at the Royal United Services Institute, and Ian Godden, formerly the chairman of the one big lobbying organisation for the defence industry, warned that Scotland’s defence industries would suffer hugely after independence.

There are between 12,500 and 16,000 people employed in the defence industries in Scotland. Most owe their jobs to UK contracts – the shipbuilding centres on the Clyde and at Rosyth, employing nearly 5,000 people between, them are a case in point.

After independence, these centres could not and should not rely on Royal Navy orders. They would have to compete for the orders with every other foreign country and both Professor Taylor and Mr Godden believed that they would find it hard to do so.

More than that, the two experts warned that other key parts of the defence industry in Scotland, including the hi-tech airborne radar work done in Edinburgh, would be under direct threat without the umbrella of support the UK provides.

Mr Godden said the only way to keep a defence industry in Scotland was to have a major, pro-active programme of investment and support from the Scottish Government. Not only has he seen no sign of that so far, but he fears that defence is seen as “too nasty” and that the left-leaning Scottish Government would not adopt a proper policy to save the defence industry anyway.

All of these conclusions suggest, as far as these two experts are concerned, that the once-great Scottish defence industry will disappear after independence, taking up to 16,000 jobs with it.

Scotland will just inherit its share of the UK military, including its own regiments

Professor Hew Strachan of Oxford University was the first to urge caution about this. He warned that, after independence, many Scots would choose to continue to serve in the UK armed forces and would not return to serve in a Scottish defence force.

For career soldiers, seamen and airman, the UK provides the sort of experience they want. They get the best kit, they get to challenge themselves in the harshest environments – including war zones – and they get to train alongside the world’s best, in the United States.

Compare that to the prospect of staying in Scotland in a defence force without any large ships or submarines, possibly without any fast jets or tanks and with a military generally confined to the fringes of the North Sea or the odd humanitarian mission to Africa.

The academics and experts said that while Scotland may be allocated its share of the UK military, it may find it tough to entice the service personnel back that it needs to run it.

An independent Scotland will not be a target for terrorists

Clive Fairweather, former deputy commander of the SAS, seized this particular assumption and took it to pieces.

While it was true, Mr Fairweather admitted, that an independent Scotland might not take part in wars like Iraq or Afghanistan, its oil fields were ripe for terrorist threat, particularly of the more piratical kind from terrorists looking to take hostages and demand money in return.

As a result, Scotland would need its own special forces trained specifically in oil rig work. Not only would these not come cheap, but they would be hard to staff because – as Mr Fairweather said supporting the earlier point made by Professor Strachan – most Scots in the SAS and SBS would choose to stay on in England because the prospects of doing proper, exciting stuff would remain better there.

Trident will go from Scottish waters immediately after independence

The issue of Trident dominated the first half of the conference. Everyone knows it is SNP policy to eject nuclear weapons from the Clyde after independence. But will it happen?

It is possible, but there are those of a more practical bent in the SNP who believe that Trident gives them a powerful bargaining chip with the UK Government, particularly as there is nowhere else for the submarines to be based.

Incidentally, it is not Faslane that is the problem, apparently  it is Coulport, where the missiles are stored. The subs could be found a home in England, but it would cost too much and be impossible to recreate a substitute for Coulport south of the border  that is the sticking point.

The SNP could offer to keep Trident for a few years in return for some major concessions from the UK Government on defence – maybe continuing use of Scottish air bases to provide cover for Scottish waters or use of UK training bases for Scottish personnel, that sort of thing.

But there is also the issue of the Americans. Alex Salmond will be keen to keep in with the Americans after independence. And while the Obama administration is moving towards more disarmament than any of its predecessors, the US would be alarmed if Scotland kicked out the UK deterrent and left the UK without any nuclear weapons, or at least without a base for them.

All these practical considerations – as well as the thorny issue of NATO  suggest that Trident will go, certainly, but perhaps not for some time after independence.

  • There is a 6th myth – that Scotland’s seas are properly protected today within the Union. From the scrapping of the maritime patrol aircraft, the loss of the Coastguard’s Emergency Towing Vessels and closure of Coastguard stations, the “modernisation” of the Royal Navy’s fishery protection force from 8 vessels to 4 etc. 

    Scottish independence shines a light on BAE’s pillaging of the taxpayer by showing just what can be achieved with our taxes. For example, the new Nimrod cost more than Space Shuttle at equivalent time-adjusted prices, 1 Type 45 destroyer costs the same as TEN Type 23 frigates. BAE’s naval export record is woeful too – all those development funds will almost certainly never be recouped by foreign sales. 

  • Robbiewilliams

     Here’s what Mr Strachan said: For career soldiers, seamen and airman, the UK provides the sort of experience they want. They get the best kit, they get to challenge themselves in the harshest environments – including war zones – and they get to train alongside the world’s best, in the United States.
    Compare that to the prospect of staying in Scotland in a defence force without any large ships or submarines, possibly without any fast jets or tanks and with a military generally confined to the fringes of the North Sea or the odd humanitarian mission to Africa.
    Now here’s what Mr Fairweather said; While it was true, Mr Fairweather admitted, that an independent Scotland might not take part in wars like Iraq or Afghanistan, its oil fields were ripe for terrorist threat, particularly of the more piratical kind from terrorists looking to take hostages and demand money in return.
    As a result, Scotland would need its own special forces trained specifically in oil rig work. Not only would these not come cheap, but they would be hard to staff because – as Mr Fairweather said supporting the earlier point made by Professor Strachan – most Scots in the SAS and SBS would choose to stay on in England because the prospects of doing proper, exciting stuff would remain better there……… Please correct me if i’m even slightly wrong here but, as far as i know, a major part of the SAS members have been historicaly Scottish, If the imagination of your own country and one of it’s main commodities being under threat of attack, and knowing you are personally trained SAS, some of the worlds elite. are you telling me that the thought of working ‘abroad’ would be more ‘exciting’ ? 

    • Dmacn

       Serving service personnel would be proud and honored to be part of a fledgling Scottish Defence Force. The prospect of protecting your own, and showing the world you can, is a powerful motivator as is national pride. The same national pride that made Scottish soldiers feared and respected.
      As to not getting ‘international’ experience, tell that to the troops from Eire who have served all over the world with he UN.
      If it means not going to foreign lands to invade and kill their poor people, and steal their resources, on the pretext of made up intelligence, then most reasonable people would buy that also.
      Comparison with Denmark could be embarrassing for the Brits given that Denmark flew more sorties than the UK in Libya with a much greater strike accuracy rate. Lord West has already had to apologies to the Danes, for his insults.
      The Scandinavian Defence Force is a quite formidable machine, who can quickly mobilise large numbers of trained personnel due to their unique conscription systems. For example: Sweden employs 53 500 people in its armed forces. This
      translates into 0.6% of the population of 8.9 million. Furthermore Sweden
      can call on its mobilized force of 500 000. The country is also well-equipped
      with 540 armoured tanks, 300 aircraft, 12 submarines and 30 surface vessels.
      Sweden has always put a great deal of emphasis on its defence forces.
      It is hard to protect a large and sparsely populated country. It is especially
      difficult and expensive for a non-aligned country that did not want to
      become too dependent on arms systems supplied by other countries. For
      this same reason Sweden has also had a very strong defence industry that
      has not only manufactured small arms but also the most advanced fighter
      jets that are really the prerogatives of such giants as U.S.A., Russia,
      Britain and France.”http://www.nordicway.com/search/Armed%20Forces.htm

  • Norman

    A couple of thoughts the folk working at Rosyth are temporary migrant workers, these coded welders move with the work, there was not 5000 unemployed folk around Fife who suddenly found work.

    When the carrier is built cherrio temporary jobs, the carrier will also not be refitted at rosyth as when fitted out it will not fit under the forth bridges.

    Does the UK purchase any kit from outside the UK?  If the answer is yes scratch that one as well then.

    As Hamish covers in his last point, It all boils down to trident. They know Eck has them by the short and curlies, Eck knows this the Americans know this.  THIS is the major issue about Scottish independence, the UK does not have an alternative to coulport.

    BIG SMILE FOLKS.

    • Here’s another thought – the RN is on a deathslide – 12 Type 45’s got salami-sliced down to 6 over several rounds of defence “reviews”

      How many future RN ships are actually projected to be built by BAE anywhere, anyway? Allegedly 13 Type 26 are to start building from 2018  – but does anyone believe that now that BAE have gotten their sticky paws on it. Look at their triumph over the Astute submarine when they were so late that US consultants were brought in to finish the design (HMS Astute ordered 1997, laid down 2001, in service 2010 …). 

      Look at the naval export record of Blohm & Voss by shameful contrast. BAE have sold precisely zero ships for export since they entered shipbuilding – that is what will kill Scottish jobs, not independence

      • Norman

        Indeed looking at the capability of the type 45 it has massive holes, it isn’t a arleigh burke that is for sure.

  • Norman

    Of course this is nothing more than holding a gun against folks heads as in vote NO or bairns will get it, so everyone of those jobs will have a legal cast iron guarantee of a job for life from HMG then?

    Thought not!

  • john lamont

    It’s amazing that Scotland is uniquely incapable of being an independent country.  Whether it’s defence or the economy, diplomacy, politics or trade, it falls at every hurdle.  

    What is it that makes Scotland so different to Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, or all the other small independent European countries? 

    I think we should have a conference about it, maybe organised by the impartial Scotsman, with a panel of unbiased, objective experts with no unionist agenda whatsoever.  Just like the one above on Defence.  

    It would be a salutary lesson for all those deluded Scots aspiring to self-determination. In the meantime, we should thank our lucky stars that we are looked after by our carers south of the border, because without their altruism, Scotland would definitely end up in complete ruin. 

    We need to come to terms with our uselessness, and realise that we are totally incapable of running our own affairs. Once we do this, we can get back to normal: being run by unaccountable, unelected politicians in London.   

    All this talk of self-determination is turning the Scots into a laughing stock.

    How many more UK expert opinions do we need to hear before the truth finally sinks in?  How many times does a child or a pet have to be told NO?

    After all, Wha’s like us?

    • Stuart Crawford

      Excuse me, BTW, but since when did I become a unionist?  Do your homework before you sound off!

      • john lamont

        Stuart, It was more about the overall tone of the conference, which was clearly biased in favour of the union, rather than any individual contribution. 

        The fact that it was arranged by the Scotsman only galvanizes this; it would have been extremely unlikely for such a partisan newspaper to extend a fair and balanced hearing to supporters of independence

        .Regardless, apologies as I should have made this more clear.

  • bellebrise

     Professor Hew Strachan

    Professor Strachan is a Professor of History, with special interest in the military.  As he is not a clairvoyant it is difficult to see that his view is any more meaningful than any other.
    As for Scots staying in the (English) SAS because it would be more exciting than the Scottish version, the point is contradicted by the expectation that the Scots would be continually fighting off repeated terrorist and pirate raids on oil installations.  (Exaggerated for dramatic effect and Roger Moore – you’ll have seen the film?)

    The latest update is that the rump UK government will not give any RN shipbuilding contracts to Scottish companies as they will not award contracts outside the UK.  Whoever said that was either not properly briefed on, or chose to ignore, the fact that two tankers for the RN Fleet Auxiliary Service are being built by Daiwoo in Korea. 
    This kind of rather insulting threat ignores the fact that the shipyards can seek contracts wherever they like. and that their expertise may be needed for RN contracts.
    This”threat” has itself been updated by the claim that public service offices in Scotland will be pulled back to England.  Ignoring the fact that Scotland will need to provide its own passport offices, DVLA, etc, unless sensible reciprocal arrangements are made.  Quid pro Quo.

    • Col McGillveray

      “Most Scots in the SAS and SBS would choose to stay on in England
      because the prospects of doing proper, exciting stuff would remain
      better there.” You see Antione whatever happens in Scotchland is not the “proper” or “exciting” stuff the modern man of action is looking for.

      Was Clive actually in the SAS or did he just write the scripts for the Professionals ?

  • Callumwinter

    If we don’t currently have special forces on the oil rigs, what is it about Scotland becoming independent that means it would suddenly become a beacon for terrorists? What a load of mince.
    Hamish, you make out like you are dispelling myths when actually you are supporting them.  You never fail to disappoint these days.

  • Georgie_Kent

    Good piece. However the subject was flawed as defence is but a subset of foreign policy and that part of the Independence debate has not taken place so the conference was essentially a talking shop for the toys for the boys brigade. As an example, very interesting analysis of what defence Scotland might need costed out at £2bn, but based on one possible view of an Independent Scotlands foreign policy. As another, retaining Coulport based on Hamish’s view of the foreign policy of a newly Independent Scotland.

    Without debate of the foreign policy, debate on defence is bashing gums to no purpose.

  • Alasdairmmsmith

    Given that the government in s scotland envisages the future military being akin to that of denmark then I assume it will have the same level of professionalism, equipment and experiences as that of Denmark, in which caseaking it a very attractive proposition for potential soldiers. Furthermore, given that Scotland would be an independent country and a sovereign state, it is far from certain that scots would be welcome in the remaining uk army.

  • Angus McLellan

    With respect to the first of the five points, I am not convinced that Col. Crawford’s scheme can really be called “modest”. Modest compared to what? I can imagine far more limited defence forces without trying too hard at all.

    Iceland has modest defence capabilities. Based on those, £250 million would seem to be more than enough to run a Coast Guard with ships and aircraft and a paramilitary police special forces unit like France’s GIGN or Germany’s GSG9. Capital budgets for equipment would be low too. Scotland could join Costa Rica on the list of countries with no armed forces. And why not?

    Alas!, one reason why not is that the SNP and others make a huge fuss about Ukanian military tradition. (Who knows what Winston Churchill said about Navy tradition?) So probably an army is unavoidable. The trick would be to keep it as small as possible, not just on grounds of cost but also because a large army would just vegetate at home. Rather than talking about brigades or battalions, the army should be designed to provide company-sized deployments – around 100-150 infantry plus a variable number of support and supply personnel depending on the mission – because that’s all that will ever be needed unless things change enormously.

    Based on MoD practice ten infantry companies would be enough to cycle through training, deployment and rest so as to have one company deployed on operations and one on standby at high readiness. In terms of total strength, we could guesstimate that an army with ten infantry companies and supporting units in proportion would number around 5,000 at most. It would provide a core on which to expand if circumstances change. And it doesn’t take a genius to work out that such an army has enough people in it to “recreate the historic regiments”, albeit that they wouldn’t be purely infantry units. But then why should they be? Even today infantry battalions aren’t just infantry as a look at the army careers website will easily demonstrate.

    And if, as the likes of Francis Tusa have it, the threat is in the Arctic – “Oh, those Russians”  again – what use are minesweepers and frigates? In the High North the requirement would be for more near-copies  – the Canadians have ordered six to eight – of the Norwegian Coast Guard’s ice-breaking ocean patrol ship Svalbard. It seems to me that dedicated minesweepers are a luxury which a small country doesn’t need, especially for a small country with a strong interest in funding R&D in autonomous underwater vehicles for military and civil applications. A modern multipurpose patrol vessel, whether a supersize one like
    Svalbard or a smaller (but still frigate-weight) one like the Icelandic
    Thor can be fitted for minehunting using a combination of containerised
    control rooms and remotely operated vehicles – surface or underwater, available today from all good suppliers – and they normally have a helicopter or two which could also be used to sweep mines in shallow water.

    Independence would be the best and perhaps the only time to escape the dead hand of MoD groupthink and reinvent defence for the 21st century. Instead of worrying about 3rd Shock Army storming across the Inner German Border – the border disappeared 20 years ago and the Russians went home – start with a blank sheet of paper. Look at what we want to do. (As little as possible?) Look at what the real threats are. And look at what technology can deliver in the next 10-15 years. After all, a defence force won’t be created overnight and time is something we’d have enough of. So long as Trident remains, Westminster and NATO have to look after us.