Fast forward to 18th December 2014, a week before Christmas. It’s 3 months after the Scottish independence referendum and let’s suppose that Scotland voted narrowly for separation. With defence and security the first and most fundamental responsibility of any government, already the Scottish Government is running into difficulty.
NATO. On 4 Sep 14 NATO announced in Wales that ‘all member states have committed to spending 2% of GDP on defence, and new candidates must meet that condition’. That’s an additional £500 million of your money the SNP will now be looking for. Where will the cuts fall to find it? And, by Christmas, Scotland will have to make a pledge to join a first-strike nuclear alliance. It remains to be seen whether the anti-nuclear wing of the SNP will be able to embrace this important condition. Whether or not it does, it has become pretty apparent that Trident will not be leaving the Clyde anytime soon.
Armed Forces. By now most Scottish servicemen and women in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army and RAF have voted with their feet and decided to stay. For a start, UK Armed Forces pays their salaries in hard currency; UK pounds. Then, they’ve realised that the Scottish Government’s limited defence budget means they’re unlikely to participate in the sorts of humanitarian and peacekeeping operations of the past that have made real improvements to peoples lives in places like Kosovo and Sierra Leone. They’ve also realised that the broader professional horizons and scope for promotion offered by the larger UK Armed Forces much better meets their career and personal aspirations. The bottom line is this; every professional soldier, sailor and aviator now knows that the SNP defence proposals didn’t stack up. They know that you can’t start with 6 battalions, then reinstate all the old Scottish battalions and then end up with 3! It is basic primary school arithmetic. As for equipment, already questions are being asked about the effectiveness (or even the point) of a Scottish Air Force without air to air refuelling capability, and the Scottish Navy’s aspiration to inherit two Type 45 air defence destroyers has come to nothing. The Type 45 is designed to provide area air defence for an aircraft carrier, and there are no plans for an aircraft carrier for a separate Scotland. The conspicuous absence of mountain or sea rescue in the SNP’s plans has prompted a number of understandable concerns from Scotland’s tourist industry. From canoeists to sailors, trekkers to mountaineers, rescue capability is a vital capability for Scotland.
Intelligence and Security. For most, the world of intelligence and security is completely invisible. And it was certainly invisible in the White Paper. Although the former heads of MI6 and GCHQ gave the clearest possible warnings, the Scottish Government in its hubristic and triumphalist pre-referendum wisdom took no notice. But now it realises, too late of course, that it needs to act quickly if valuable financial and technical data is to be protected. Without comprehensive cyber protection, companies will leave and jobs will go with them. Neither can it wait for serious organised crime or terrorist threats to exploit the absence of proper defensive measures; it will need to stop them well beforehand. Although Police Scotland will continue to provide effective law enforcement and tactical intelligence gathering, the absence of strategic capabilities provided by MI5, MI6, SIS and GCHQ will leave gaping holes in Scotland’s defences. Other nations such as Denmark, The Netherlands and Norway have developed competent security and intelligence organisations, but they cost money (which has not been found) and they take time to develop (which we do not have). So just a few days before Christmas, we discover that the Scottish Government will be reigning back on promises for childcare and education in order to divert resources towards vital intelligence and security apparatus, aspects of responsible government they willfully ignored prior to the referendum.
Employment. SNP proposals to locate Scottish Defence Force HQ at Faslane have been exposed as a sop to the electorate. Nobody locates a military HQ in a cul de sac so far from the capital city. And without serious work to the Forth Clyde canal, the Scottish Navy would find itself a very long way from where it is likely to be needed. Instead, it has been announced that the Scottish Defence Force HQ will be at the existing British Naval HQ (Scotland) and Rosyth. Renegotiating important defence contract licenses such as ITAR have started though realistically they are unlikely to be renewed before the decade is out, with serious damage to Scottish defence exports in the meantime. This and no new contracts for rUK warships on the Clyde or Rosyth paint an increasingly bleak picture for defence jobs in Scotland.
Protecting Scottish Citizens Abroad. With plans for the 2015 Royal Military Tattoo in disarray, it has been revealed that UK Special Forces (SAS and SBS) will no longer provide the cover for Scottish citizens around the globe from March 2016. For most who may never find themselves in that sort of difficulty, the withdrawal of this capability of last resort will matter not. But for some, it may make the difference between life and death.
As we approach Christmas, it has become apparent even to the irrepressible Mr Salmond that Scottish Government can no longer take the world as it wishes it, but must instead take it as it finds it. Although the inadequacies of the White Paper’s defence proposals have been laid bare, things don’t end here. Proper defences can certainly be built over time and with investment. But the inescapable reality for Scottish Government is that it simply doesn’t have the time or resources to do everything. Far better to have sheltered under the umbrella of the UK than to attempt to replicate expensive capabilities of its own. It simply didn’t make sense to divide the island in two and expect defence costs to go down. Two Armed Forces, two MI6s, two MI5s and two GCHQs could never be better or cheaper. But it’s too late for that now.
Or it would be too late if this were really 18 December 2014. As they take their final drink in the last chance saloon, Scottish voters still have the opportunity to pull back from the brink by voting to remain part of the UK and therefore within the protective care of the world’s finest defence, intelligence and security services.
General Sir Richard Shirreff is a senior British army officer and the former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe