Today I want to make an argument about the world to make the point about Scotland’s defence capabilities and strategic need for enduring political and military alliances.
Defence policy is defined by a series of globalised challenges, whether climate change, extremism or nuclear proliferation. The necessary breadth of our required policy response is reflective not just of the number of threats we face, but of their diverse and diffuse nature.
We meet at a moment of immense change. The world is more interconnected than ever – global recession, global terrorism, global warming prove that to any doubters. And yet this is a world where the actions of an individual can quite literally change history. Many of us join South African’s today in the hope that Nelson Mandela survives his latest illness but I want to talk about another African whose global impact is at least as great. Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian fruit seller who most people have never heard of started a chain of events we will never forget. Events which saw our military called to action Libya and which may be influencing the thousands in the streets of Turkey today.
For all international policy-makers – and those in defence policy are no exception – this is a time of transformation.
The global population is growing rapidly, putting a massive pressure on resources, space and forcing migration from rich to poor states.
Climate change will reduce available land, food and water, exacerbating the drivers of state failure.
Weak and unstable states outnumber strong and stable states by more than two to one.
A youth bulge is seeing rising aspiration and greater emotional urgency in the desire for change.
The advance of information technologies and biotechnologies threatens international security infrastructure, while nuclear proliferation and cyber attack pose potential for mass destruction.
These trends will drive state-on-state violence and increasingly internal conflicts between peoples. What is clear is that in today’s interdependent world risks are increasingly shared and interconnected – so so too must be the solutions.
I have worries about the current UK government’s short term approach to defence strategy and how it focuses on the enormity of that change but thats a subject of a different speech.
By contrast to that short termism today we are here to discuss wether the most effective way of us as Scots to influence the world is to take the permanent decision for Scotland to leave the UK.
One of the major threats democracies face is that lack of genuine military and political alliances in the world. The fact is there are currently too few partnerships. But the SNP believe that the UK is one partnership too many.
But faced with huge uncertainty effective defence demands a greater focus on international alliance-building. Shared threats and financial challenges require the pooling of resource and expertise; multilateral institutions from NATO to the African Union must be strengthened; increasingly regional solutions will lead to conflict resolution.
Within this context, why would it be in Scotland’s interest to leave our primary defence alliance?
While many experts see increased partnership on a global scale as a prerequisite for strong defence, the SNP see separation as a means to assert influence.
It doesn’t help Scotland get its way in the world to leave the UK, the one country with the unique influence of being in the EU, UN Security Council, NATO, the Commonwealth and the G8. How does it help the worlds poorest to walk out on the country with which is the second largest donor of aid to the poorest countries administered by 500 Scots in East Kilbride. Nor does it strengthen Scotland’s businesses and workers to separate from the third largest economy in Europe. And Scotland’s desire to be a force for good in a dangerous security landscape is undermined by leaving the UK which is the fourth biggest military budget on the planet and one of only 5 countries out of 198 in the world with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. In recent years we have had a Scottish UK Prime Minister sitting with China and America at that top table.
No country in peacetime history has ever given up this degree of influence and Scotland shouldn’t be the first. We have never been a passive people. Scots have helped shape the world and created some of the greatest inventions. The country that gave the world the television shouldn’t be reduced to a spectator watching world events unfold beyond our influence on our TV screens.
It is vital that we look at the specifics of the SNP’s plans.
The SNP say they will spend £2.5bn on defence annually and increase security for Scotland, but for just 6-7% of the annual MoD budget, from which Scotland currently benefits. How can that add up?
Scotland is part of an annual UK Defence budget of approximately £35bn. That money is distributed on a UK-wide basis – there is not a pot for Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland as Angus and his colleagues may suggest. Every UK citizen benefits. This means Scotland is part of a military which delivers global reach no small European country can claim; the 4th largest military budget in the world; the second largest contributor to Afghanistan; the most militarily capable European nation; a leading country in operations from Sierra Leone to Kosovo. Separation will not diminish the forces of change sweeping the world but it will hinder Scots ability to influence them. It is simply ludicrous to suggest that an annual defence budget of £2.5bn would provide comparable protection or influence to today.
The SNP say they will inherit their “share of current assets”, but there is no precedent for this and no negotiations have begun so the SNP cannot begin to tell us about the size of their Services and what the running costs will be.
To make matters worse a recently leaked cabinet paper from John Swinney made clear than an independent Scotland would have to accept “a much lower budget” for defence.
This lower expenditure comes as blackholes in budget plans have been revealed. Professor Chalmers of RUSI, a Scot and a patriot has written: “The separation of the UK’s armed forces into two distinct entities would require Scotland to spend a significant amount on one-off set up costs.” Nowhere – whether in terms of hiring and skilling staff, establishing headquarters or infrastructure or buying kit off-the-shelf – has the SNP told us what this is.
The SNP cannot cobble together an air force, army and navy by spending 6-7% of the defence budget from which Scotland currently benefits. They do not know what capabilities they may inherit. And their limited plans do not even have the consent of their Finance Minister.
Today cyber security and intelligence architecture must be central components of any national defence. The UK Government has pledged £650m for cyber security, and we all benefit from the efforts of GCHQ and MI6. But intelligence-sharing would not be guaranteed under independence. The Deputy First Minister has said she “envisage[s] Scotland having independent domestic intelligence machinery,” but Scotland would be without the international expertise of MI6, integrated with the intelligence services of our major allies. An independent Scotland would not benefit from the same, strong international alliances as the UK, which could increase vulnerability. As Professor Strachan has said, “vulnerability to attack includes both the capability of defending but also the capability to anticipate to some degree.” A Party that hasn’t even started its homework on the design and cost of an independent intelligence service doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously on defence.
And how do the SNP respond to all of this? Their usual reply is “Don’t ask us look somewhere else”. Remember their economic policy was about mimicking an Arc of Prosperity and casting an admiring eye to other nations especially Iceland and Ireland. Once that turned into an Arc of Instability we hear little of that. And on defence spending plans it’s not Iceland or Ireland but Norway and Denmark. But the SNP would have a defence budget significantly less than both countries. Denmark has no submarines and Norway builds all its Naval ships abroad as its Navy is too small to sustain even one domestic shipyard and yet both have GDPs much bigger than that of Scotland, meaning Scotland would need to spend over double the proportion on defence to maintain even similar Force levels.
Unanswered questions / NATO
Every time the SNP defence policy is raised questions emerge.
Their plans for a 15,000 Force just don’t add up, how many civilian staff would be employed; the responsibilities of a Scottish Ministry of Defence; the size of Scottish Special Forces; the size of Naval or fast jet fleets; or the per unit cost any spending projections are based on.
Perhaps most concerningly for all those with an interest in Scotland’s future, some of the most serious questions which have gone unanswered linger over claims on NATO membership.
It is claimed by the First Minister that Scotland would be “a member by virtue of our membership of the United Kingdom”. NATO, however, have confirmed that Scotland would become a ‘successor state’, and so not a member, and would need to join. No country has joined NATO within 18 months of applying, with the average being 5 years.
More widely the SNP now seem scared of their own shadow. In fact they are now feart of full independence. Thats why they now say vote for independence and keep the pound, the monarchy, NATO, EU membership and even UK welfare system when only one of those five seem certain. But the SNP defence policy is based more on faith than fact. Its an ‘it will be alright on the night approach’. But you can’t defend a nation and it’s interests on wishful thinking and quarter baked ideas. Defence more than any single policy area exposes the intellectual weakness of the claim that the way to increase Scotland’s influence in an interdependent world is independence. When it comes to defence it’s clear that Scottish independence is a powerful idea from the 19th century ill-suited to the complexity of the 21st century.
Not only are the SNP’s policies more hopeful than tested, some are incongruous with NATO membership. NATO’s Strategic Concept states that the Alliance will “maintain an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces” and yet the SNP remain committed to unilateral disarmament. For a NATO member to give up their nuclear deterrent is unprecedented. Of course you don’t have to have nuclear weapons to be in NATO but you do have to accept the Strategic Concept but they will not tell us whether they accept it in full or if they will participate in planning for operations regarding nuclear deterrence – both requirements for membership.
As a future member of NATO, would the Scottish Government contribute personnel to Afghanistan post 2015? How much will the Scottish Government contribute to NATO’s common-funded activities, which is another criteria for membership? These are all open questions which the SNP haven’t given the time of day. As Stewart Crawford the former SNP Parliamentary candidate and British Army Captain has said of the SNP’s NATO ambitions are “irreconcilable in the short to medium term”.
Why is this so important? John Dyrby Paulsen, of Denmark’s Social Democrat Party has put it perfectly when he said, “The best way of defending Denmark would be somewhere far away from the borders of Denmark; being a part of an alliance. That’s why we’ve decided to play an active part in what the NATO alliance is doing”. The SNP say they want to be like Denmark but their plans risk denying Scotland the very alliance Denmark prioritises.
Part of the reason for this is not just a lack of planning in defence, but an absence of a foreign policy. All national defence policy should be based on an articulation of international ambition – the interests to be defended, the principles to be promoted and the ideas to be advanced. As a forthcoming report for the Henry Jackson Society will say, “The SNP’s defence strategy does not articulate a foreign policy based on the priorities of an independent Scotland, nor is there an assessment of the risks to national security and Scottish interests necessary to enable defence planners to envisage the role of Scotland’s defence forces.” There is a strategic and intellectual vacuum in to which a hopeful and flawed policy has been poured.
Turning to the crucial issue of Defence Industry
Amidst all the uncertainty, however, there is a definite. As the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee has said in stronger language than I would have chosen, Scotland’s shipyards ‘are doomed’ if Scotland leaves the UK.
If we wave cheerio to the UK we can kiss goodbye to the thousands of UK defence jobs in Scotland. Like many of us my dad work in the yards and the shipyard trade unions are clear that Royal Navy orders have kept the Clyde afloat for years. But if we leave the UK we leave the Royal Navy and would join the long queue of foreign countries bidding for Royal Navy work. The Royal Navy doesn’t build complex warships in foreign yards so workforces in the Clyde and Rosyth will be at risk from SNP plans. Scotland’s future can be building the best warships in the world for the Royal Navy not being locked out of that work as a foreign country.
Defence jobs are vital to the Scottish economy and yet independence puts thousands at risk. As Dr Phillips O’Brien of Glasgow University has said, “It is hard to see how Faslane/Coulport, even were it the home of half of the Scottish navy and one of its infantry brigades, could support more than half the jobs it does at present.”
The SNP’s own submission to the UK Government’s SDSR said apparently with no sense of irony: “Defence procurement, such as the Aircraft Carrier orders are vital to the economies of Glasgow and Fife as well as the maintenance of a skilled engineering sector.”
It goes on: “From a capabilities standpoint, if Scotland were to lose elements or all of its shipbuilding expertise, this would present a huge challenge in retaining a shipbuilding presence.”
Many will be wondering whether they have read their own submission as their policy runs directly counter to its arguments. As professor Chalmers has written: “defence companies reliant on UK contracts, but currently based in Scotland, may feel that it is better in business terms to relocate southwards. This could have considerable implications for Scotland-based defence companies, currently estimated to employ 12,600 personnel, and to have annual sales in excess of £1.8 billion per year.”
Let’s consider what’s at stake. Scotland is set to have one of three fast jet operating bases, the entire UK submarine fleet, 1 of the Army’s adaptable Brigades and one of the three Naval Bases.
Scotland’s largest single workplace is Clyde Naval Base at Faslane which employs around 6,500 people.
The 4,500 strong workforce at shipyards in Glasgow and Rosyth are sustained by MOD work.
There are almost 400 individual MoD sites in Scotland.
The MOD has over 700 direct contracts in Scotland which directly fund approximately 7,000 non-MOD jobs.
Much of this is put at risk by SNP plans.
Finally turning to the ideas of separate Armed Forces
Members of the UK Armed Forces vote in all different ways but they serve with pride and patriotism.
When visiting Afghanistan I have met troops from across Scotland and the rest of the UK. I’ve met Royal Navy Scots returning from Libya, from Alloa, Kilwinning, Coatbridge and so many other Scottish towns. What always strikes me is how young these men and women are, but also how indifferent they are to where they or their comrades come from. It is a sense of shared endeavour and experience which unites them.
But a future Scottish Force would arbitrarily split them. Being part of British Forces means more expertise, experience and excellent equipment which will attract those who want to serve. Those who join the Forces want to join Services with ambition in the world, which is why so many Scots join the UK forces. And its no surprise that many Scots who have served remain so unconvinced by independence defence plans.
As our own former NATO General Secretary George Robertson has said, “Britain’s defence is highly integrated, professional and effective. Our Forces are admired and envied throughout the world.”. The experiences and opportunities available to SDF recruits would be inferior to the point of creating a potentially debilitating skills gap.
All political politics believe that the first duty of a government is to protect our nation’s borders, citizens and interests. However the SNP ‘will the end’ but because of their fixation with independence they don’t ‘will the means’. We are all determined to protect our country from attack from a hostile force or malevolent elements, conventionally or otherwise, and to be able to project force in the world to defend our interests. Our disagreement with the SNP lies in how this is achieved: through isolation or searching out closer alliances. This debate is as much about how we conduct ourselves in the world as it is practical defence policy. I don’t believe that we should rely on the hope and assertion inherent in independence. Instead in a world whose pace of uncertainty will quicken still we should seek influence and project power through our closest political, cultural, economic alliance of the United Kingdom.
I want to end where I started. Think about all the problems facing the world that we want to play our part in trying to address. Don’t just think of it as a list of issues; think of the images. A friend of mine told me that when he visited Chad he saw mothers scratching with their bare hands at ant hills and why? To steal the food from ants mouth to feet their children. A resurgent China whose growing industrial strength is so powerful that its pollution blocks the sun from its capital city. Think of the Afghan/Pakistan border where the Taleban are determined to reintroduce their Shariah philosophy and who kill a teacher for the crime of teaching schoolgirls. Think about the ideology that is fermenting in ungoverned spaces abroad that motivates men t home to ram into Glasgow airport with a jeep full of explosives on the first day of the school holidays. We’ve all seen the images of the rising sea levels denying wildlife its natural habitat in rain forests and ice caps. Think really hard about all of that. Then think about our response. And then consider which of these problems does Scottish independence solve? Or even less ambitiously if we were to leave the UK which of these terrible situations of climate change, terror, cyber or global poverty does it even make it more likely that we can even influence?
The unavoidable truth is that the world is too complicated a place for the answer to be independence.