In the last thousand years, only one nation has ever attempted a land invasion of Scotland. (In the interests of tact we won’t name it, but it’s to the south and not very far away.) Modern-day Scotland is a country entirely without military enemies.
Our near-neighbours Iceland have managed with no armed forces at all - except a couple of small coastguard ships - for the last 100 years, and the constitution of Costa Rica, which has a population almost the same size as Scotland’s, has explicitly forbidden the possession of a military since 1949, without being attacked by anyone.
Scotland would maintain an army, although in truth it has little need of one. What Scotland really needs are naval and air forces, chiefly to guard the North Sea’s oil rigs (although nobody has ever actually tried to attack them).
Unfortunately, within the UK Scotland’s coasts and maritime assets are almost totally unprotected. When a Russian warship ventured close to the Moray Firth in December 2013, the Royal Navy had no vessels to intercept it except HMS Defender, which took a full day to sail from the south of England to monitor the intruder.
“The missile-carrying Russian warship came within 30 miles of the coast before Christmas. Portsmouth-based HMS Defender was the only ship available to respond due to Ministry of Defence cutbacks and had a tense stand-off with the Russian ship.
The Type 45 took 24 hours to reach the coast of Scotland.”
Meanwhile the UK government has also closed RAF Leuchars, leaving only a single air base in the whole of Scotland, and is reducing the size of the British Army by a quarter, cutting 20,000 jobs.
All this is being done in order to continue to afford the Trident nuclear weapon system and its replacement, at a projected cost of £100bn. Yet almost everyone acknowledges that Trident serves no military purpose. Tony Blair said of the system in his 2010 autobiography that:
“The expense is huge and the utility [is] non-existent in terms of military use.”
While former Conservative defence secretary Michael Portillo said of Trident in 2013:
“It’s completely past its sell-by date. It’s neither independent, because we couldn’t possibly use it without the Americans, neither is it any sort of deterrent, because now largely we are facing the sorts of enemies – the Taliban, Al Qaeda – who cannot be deterred by nuclear weapons. It’s a tremendous waste of money, it’s done entirely for reasons of national prestige.”
And the UK’s major allies also want the system abandoned. The right-wing UK magazine The Spectator reported in 2013 on claims that the US military was urging the UK to scrap it, noting that:
“From the American perspective Trident serves no useful purpose whatsoever whereas other things upon which Britain could usefully spend the cash presently earmarked for Trident DO matter to the Americans or would, that is to say, be useful to them. And to NATO.”
Trident didn’t deter Argentina from invading the Falklands. It didn’t prevent the 7/7 terrorist attacks. Indeed, even the vastly larger nuclear arsenal of the USA didn’t stop Iraq invading Kuwait, nor avert the destruction of the World Trade Centre.
Other large European nations such as Germany don’t feel the need for an “independent” nuclear deterrent, despite being far closer to potential hostile forces like Russia. Even South Korea, which borders the extremely hostile and nuclear-armed North Korea, has no nuclear “deterrent”, yet David Cameron suggests that North Korea poses a nuclear threat to the UK which demands a nuclear “defence”.
(It’s worth pondering for a moment what would happen in the event that North Korea DID somehow attack the UK, and the UK retaliated with nuclear weapons. It seems unlikely that South Korea would be terribly happy, and nor might China, which also borders North Korea - the Chinese city of Shenyang, which has the same population as London, is less than 150 miles from North Korea, well within the range of deadly fallout clouds. Trident is simply not a credible threat against North Korea, because it could never be used.)
The UK has the sixth-highest defence spending per head in the world. It spends £3.3bn a year “on behalf of” Scotland for defence purposes, as part of an overall military budget which is roughly 2.3% of the UK’s GDP. Germany spends just 1.3% of its GDP on defence, Norway 1.4% and Japan 1.0%.
The Royal United Services Institute calculated in 2012 that Scotland could have a “feasible and affordable” armed forces, including a surface fleet of 20 to 25 ships, for slightly over half the current expenditure (£1.8bn rather than £3.3bn). The SNP proposes to spend £2.5bn, which would still represent a saving of £800m a year on the current bill. Other parties have not issued detailed proposals.
Q: “But if we get rid of Trident, what about jobs?”
A: According to the Ministry of Defence, just 520 civilian jobs in Scotland depend on Trident. In coming years, the cost to Scotland of Trident and its replacement (because for several years we’ll be paying for both the maintenance of the existing fleet and the construction of the replacement) will range between £200m and £400m a year.
If we take the average at £300m, that’s roughly £600,000 per year per job. We could afford to pay every single worker supported by Trident half a million pounds a year to sit at the side of the road and wave at tourists, and still be saving enough money annually to fund free prescriptions for the whole country.
More sensibly, it seems reasonable to say that that money could be invested in the local area in such a way as to provide a dramatically better return in terms of employment.
Q: “But if we join NATO, won’t we be forced to keep nuclear weapons?”
A: Of the 28 current NATO members, only three countries (the US, the UK and France) possess nuclear weapons. Norway refuses to have nuclear weapons on its soil, as does Spain, yet both are in NATO.
Indeed, the new Director-General of NATO is Jens Stoltenberg of Norway. In March 2013, Norway hosted a conference attended by 130 nations in which it called on the entire world to abandon nuclear weapons. So it seems reasonable to assume that a Norwegian head of NATO wouldn’t block Scotland’s membership on the grounds of it rejecting such weapons.
Q: “But what about shipbuilding?”
A: Within the UK, the Scottish shipbuilding industry has declined from 34,000 jobs in 1972 to just 6,000 jobs now. It seems something of a cheek for the UK government to warn that it’s independence that poses a risk to the shipbuilding industry.
Q: “But what about the UK warship contracts?”
A: The UK government frequently asserts that the UK has never built complex warships in a foreign country in peacetime. Yet in July this year, the UK’s then-defence secretary Phillip Hammond confirmed that the second Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier will be built at Rosyth no matter what the outcome of the independence referendum, saying:
“Contracts are already placed, the seal is set on that whatever happens and the Prince of Wales will be assembled here.”
So Rosyth is already safe, and the convention of not building complex warships outside the UK will have been broken by the Prince Of Wales, leaving no barrier to the Type 26 frigates being built on the Clyde.
BAE Systems, the sole contractor for the Type 26s, has announced the closure of its Portsmouth yard (which in any event isn’t equipped for the job) and will have nowhere else it could possibly assemble the ships. It has already stated that it has no intention of building them anywhere but on the Clyde.
“A shipbuilding boss has insisted he has no proposals to shift production out of Scots yards if voters back independence.
BAE Systems chief Ian King said the firm had ‘no contingency plans’ to alter working patterns at Govan and Scotstoun if a split goes ahead. And he warned the Ministry of Defence will have to ‘deal with’ a Yes referendum victory.”
But even if the Type 26 orders were somehow to be lost, an independent Scotland will need its own navy. Just the “modest” fleet of 20 to 25 surface vessels proposed by the Royal United Services Institute would keep the Clyde yards in work for many years.
Also, despite competition from places like Korea, Norway manages to maintain an extremely healthy shipbuilding industry by having diversified into non-naval vessels. There are 25 shipyards in Norway purely concerned with building new ships, and another 50 which repair and maintain existing ones. The maritime industry in the country supports 90,000 jobs.
Q: “But what about terrorism?”
A: The UK government warns that “an independent Scotland would be less safe and more vulnerable to a terrorist attack”. But Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, said in 2010 that it was UK foreign policy - particularly the invasion of Iraq - that made the UK a terrorist target in the first place.
“Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller told the Chilcot inquiry into the UK’s role in Iraq: ‘Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people – not a whole generation, a few among a generation – who saw our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as being an attack upon Islam.’
Asked by Sir Roderic Lyne, a member of the inquiry, to what extent the conflict [increased] the threat from international terrorism facing Britain, she replied: ‘Substantially.’
She was not surprised, she said, that UK citizens were behind the 7/7 attacks in London nor that increasing number of Britons were ‘attracted to the ideology of Osama bin Laden and saw the attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan as threatening their co-religionists and the Muslim world’.”
An independent Scotland focused on defending itself and participating only in legally-sanctioned UN peacekeeping missions would not be a target for terrorists. The needless deaths of hundreds of our own soldiers and countless thousands of innocent civilians are a direct result of foreign policy decisions made by UK governments, not because of dangers facing Scotland.
Since 1990, the UK has spent tens of billions of pounds on efforts to police the rest of the world, in foreign interventions which are now judged to have been “strategic failures”, where the only things which seem to have been achieved are an increased danger of terrorism at home and murderous chaos and carnage abroad. Iraq is now on the brink of full-scale civil war, and the Taliban have already regained control of large areas of Afghanistan.
The biggest single step Scotland could take to improve its domestic security would be to extricate itself from UK foreign policy, saving billions of pounds in the process, as well as many lives.