scottish independence - the effect on the uk's defences
Defence UK works to ensure the security of the United Kingdom. With this in mind we are concerned that the Scottish Independence debate is not addressing sufficiently the issue of defence.
This is the first article of several which will attempt to redress the balance.
“If Scotland were to become independent in the next few years, what would be the implications for the defence of the British Isles (including the defence of Scotland itself)? The only honest answer is: “don’t know”. The Scots voters themselves cannot know what they might be voting for where defence is concerned. If Scotland is not properly defended against the threat from Russia it exposes the rest of the British Isles to greater danger also. The greatest benefit that Scotland brings to the defence of the UK is geography. It dominates the north-eastern North Atlantic and looks directly to the Arctic, from where a major threat may emanate. This gives over watch capability, forward basing for deploying forces into that region and forms a link in the defensive ring of choke points, from Scandinavia, through Scotland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.
It is reasonable to assume independence will be the slow death of the warship building industry in Scotland. There will inevitably be pressure from Portsmouth and Merseyside to transfer shipbuilding from the Clyde. The SNP say that RN nuclear submarines must vacate Faslane (despite it being one of the biggest employers in Scotland) and that will be a crisis for the Westminster government. There are no easy alternative bases for the nuclear deterrent force. It is easy to imagine that the government of a newly-independent Scotland would like to have its fair share of the Royal Navy, 2 or 3 frigates perhaps and also a couple of squadrons of Typhoons maybe? But so far the hints dropped by the SNP have been contradictory. The biggest uncertainty revolves around how much money an independent Scotland could afford to spend on defence. Not much, if the gloomy predictions about Scottish finances are to be believed. Figures of 1.6% and 1.1% of GDP have been suggested. In principle an independent Scotland could go one of two ways: it could aspire to have armed forces like those of Norway and Denmark, two similar-sized countries. These two countries have small armed forces but they are of high quality – modern guided missile frigates, modern fighter aircraft (both have F-35s on order) and modern main battle tanks. Or it could be like the Republic of Ireland with no real armed forces at all. The Irish Naval Service is a perfectly respectable coastguard force but it aspires to fishery protection, anti-smuggling and other ‘constabulary’ duties only. The Irish Army has two infantry brigades with a few medium armoured vehicles. It is orientated to internal security and peace-keeping duties, not proper war-fighting and Ireland has no air force (there is agreement that the UK will protect Irish air space). So, if the Scots vote for independence, which of these alternatives are the SNP promising? So far as we can tell, the SNP are not saying, although high-end armed forces like those of Norway and Denmark seem unlikely.”
Stephen Coltman - Director, Defence UK
5th May 2021
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“Defence UK is an independent pressure group that campaigns for a strong and well-resourced Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force, to ensure the security of the United Kingdom, her Sovereign Territories, trade and commerce, and to protect her citizens wherever they may be. We also call for a greater commitment by the UK Government to the nation's defence industries, and to non-military services such as the Merchant Navy, Coastguard, Border Control and Homeland Security that are essential to the Defence of the Realm.”