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Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland

Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland

05 July 2013 

The decision on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country is a momentous one, and at the heart of the idea of sovereignty lies the first duty of any state - the duty to defend its citizens. The question of how an independent Scotland would and should defend itself is therefore fundamental to the debate, and the Scotland Institute’s investigation is the foremost publication on the subject. 
Simon J. Smith, Teaching Associate in Politics and International Relations at Aston University, has been a lead researcher on the project.

For this comprehensive report, academics interviewed former Secretaries of Defence, Generals, Admirals, Air Commodores, and officials at NATO and EU headquarters. The conclusions of the paper were reviewed by a team of top academics and overseen by General Mackay, one of Scotland’s most respected soldiers.

Chief Researchers:
  • Dr Azeem Ibrahim, Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute Adjunct Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College
  • Dr Simon J. Smith, Senior Research Fellow, The Scotland Institute, Teaching Associate in Politics and International Relations, Aston University
  • Professor Mark Webber. Professor of International Politics Head of the School of Government and Society, University of Birmingham

Executive Summary:

Separating an independent Scotland (IS) from the rest of the UK (r-UK) would be a monumental task. Nowhere would that task be greater and more complex than in the areas of defence and security. Here, the advocates of Scottish independence have yet to demonstrate how separation would be beneficial. Our report concludes that the consequences of separation will, in fact, be deleterious: IS will not be able to reach the level of defence that Scottish citizens currently enjoy within the UK. As such, it will be less prepared and less able than the UK (or a Scotland in the UK) to discharge the fundamental responsibility of protecting its citizens. Separation, in short, will only compromise Scottish security.

That conclusion is derived from the following central findings:

  • Burdens and benefits – Advocates of independence argue that Scotland shares more of the burdens and less of the benefits of defending the United Kingdom. This report shows that this argument is fundamentally flawed. It is premised on the assumption that Scotland is defended by the assets and capabilities that are in Scotland. This is clearly not the case. The United Kingdom does not organise its defence posture based on the defence and security interests of any particular region of the UK but rather for the whole of the state. 
  • New facilities – IS would have to develop its own fleet of ships, face a strategic imperative to reinvigorate the Rosyth base, and open an armed forces headquarters, defence research establishment, defence academy and Ministry of Defence. These moves would be costly, and there is no reason to think they would make Scotland any safer. 
  • Economies of scale – The SNP’s intended defence spend would be able to deliver a notional Scottish Defence Force. However, its roles would be limited and modest, and it would lose some of the economies of scale currently enjoyed by the UK Defence Forces. Materially, IS would be no better positioned to promote Scottish security interests than the UK. 
  • Armed forces recruitment and retention – Scottish independence will lead to difficulties in recruitment and retention. The Royal Regiment of Scotland’s infantry battalions have already suffered long-term difficulties in this area, and an even more limited international role than at present would make service in an IS Scottish Defence Force an unattractive proposition to ambitious recruits. If an IS did find it hard to fill its ranks, it would need to either disband its battalions or fill them with foreign recruits. 
  • Intelligence – UK intelligence structures are, to a large degree, state of the art, complex, expensive and depend on privileged relationships, not only through the bilateral relationship with the US, but as part of the Five Eyes intelligence arrangement, with the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  IS would likely have to both pay for and set up its own facilities as well as make its own alliances. This would be far beyond the proposed defence budget for an IS. It would likely mean considerable uncertainty in exchange for no extra security. 
  • Cybersecurity – The SNP has said that cyberattack is one of the main threats facing Scotland, but it would take years and billions of pounds of investment to reproduce the intelligence and cyber security arrangements which already protect Scotland as part of the UK. If instead IS were to gain access to r-UK facilities, there is no reason to think it would be left any more secure than at present. 
  • NATO – IS would have to carefully navigate the diplomatic issues related to joining NATO. If negotiations between the r-UK and Scotland were deeply problematic, the Alliance would be apprehensive towards importing r-UK and IS acrimony into the organisation. A likely dispute over Trident would also make accession tricky. In the final analysis, Scottish membership of NATO (even if it is accomplished) would add nothing to Scottish security that is not already enjoyed through UK membership of the Alliance. 
  • Defence contractors – Independence would threaten Scotland’s defence contractors. At worst, this would lead to the dismantling of an industry on which billions of pounds of turnover and thousands of jobs depend. At best, it would require a very proactive defence industrial strategy on the part of a future Scottish government, but even that would be very unlikely to pump in sufficient demand to compensate for lost orders. Further, independence would leave the Scottish defence industry having to compete against outside markets in a way that it currently does not. There is no reason to think that independence would be good for Scotland’s defence industry. 

If a Scottish government is prepared to dedicate the political will and financial resources to the task, then, ultimately, an independent Scotland would be able to provide for its defence and security in some form. Our view is that this would be no better – indeed, significantly worse – than the provision currently enjoyed by Scotland as part of the UK.  Having separated, IS would be characterised by a diminished defence capability and a small role in international affairs.  The attenuation of security that would result hardly adds to the case for independence.

Media Coverage:

Key quotes:

Sir Menzies Campbell said: “This comprehensive report effectively torpedoes the SNP’s defence proposals. It provides answers to all the questions which the SNP consistently dodges. It should be compulsory reading for anyone who might have any faith in the defence profile provided by the current Scottish Government.”

The Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore said: “This is a hard-hitting expert report by the Scotland Institute on defence and security implications for Scotland independence which puts the challenges of leaving the UK into stark relief.

“The report is in line with the UK Government’s position that Scotland is stronger and safer as part of the UK and benefits from a large defence presence and a world class defence industry. 

“There is an overwhelming weight of evidence from leading defence experts that Scottish independence would result in very considerable start-up costs, loss of capability and disruption to our integrated Armed Forces.  It also supports our view that NATO membership cannot be taken for granted.

“These are serious questions for the Scottish Government which cannot be easily dismissed. Those proposing independence must explain how they propose to maintain Scotland’s security, and sustain thousands of jobs in Scotland’s defence industry.”