On Scotland’s Military


by Ross and Doug

This past weekend has witnessed two contrasting yet similar military celebrations in Stirling. They have much to tell us about the state of the Independence campaign on both sides.

We have the utmost respect for all those who have put their lives on the line for us now and in the past, but we don’t support militarism or war. Might is not right and we like to think that we live in an age when we should be distancing ourselves from resorting to violence to solve problems. We recognise that we must be able to defend ourselves – the world is a dangerous place – but both celebrations seemed to be at best anachronistic and at worst downright dangerous. The military, past or present, shouldn’t be the focus of jingoistic celebration.

Bannockburn & Armed Forces Day

The 700th anniversary of Bannockburn hasn’t been a big deal for most Independence activists. Quite the opposite: this referendum is about civic nationalism, and about looking to the future not the past. But it does seem that’s why Armed Forces Day was held this weekend and was (surely not co-incidentally?) in Stirling of all places. It seems that someone somewhere thought it was a good idea to overlay these two events.

Then there is the media weighing in with saturation coverage of Armed Forces Day. News outlets claimed it was attended by over 35,000 people, although only 1,500-2,500 was verifiable. At the same time the media virtually ignored Bannockburn Live, attended by 20,000 people (verified by ticket sales reaching the capacity of the venue).

So are the British establishment trying to use militarism to bolster the lacklustre No campaign? Perhaps, perhaps not. But it does turn our attention to current military spending and procurement. Does Scotland get a good deal and can we hope for a better one post-independence?

Defence Spending

Scotland contributes around £3.3 billion to the Defence budget, and in return only £2 billion is spent in Scotland. Over 10 years, the MoD has spent £7.4 billion less in Scotland than taxpayers have contributed. The White Paper from the SNP government suggests a Defence spend in Scotland of £2.5 billion, comparable to other similar sized nations. That’s an increase in spending on Defence in Scotland and also a budget saving that could be put to good use elsewhere. Professor Patrick Dunleavy has described potential cost savings for Defence in an Independent Scotland, noting that small and medium sized states have more effective systems and incur relatively lower costs in these realms.

Trident costs Scotland £163-250 million every year and these costs are rising.  Westminster’s planned replacement for Trident will cost a staggering £100bn. £100bn to build and maintain an inhumane, illegal, genocidal weapon. In contrast a Scottish Defence Force could focus on defence and humanitarian relief, instead of warmongering and following at the heel of the United States.

Military Jobs

Alongside rising costs to maintain Trident, the overall defence spending footprint in Scotland has fallen faster than the rest of the UK. Between 2000 and 2012 it fell by over 35% in Scotland, compared with 20% in the UK as a whole. Indeed, Westminster cuts mean that regular army personnel numbers in Scotland are as low as 3,300 – much less than similarly sized Slovakia (over 6,000), Slovenia (over 7,000), or Denmark (over 8,000). The White Paper suggests 15,000 regular army personnel. The Scottish Government also supports no compulsory redundancies and plans include reinstating Leuchars, safeguarding Lossiemouth and Faslane, and possibly reinstating Rosyth.

The MoD has not been doing a good job for Scotland recently with a series of ill-advised cuts, closure and procurement decisions. For instance, the current deal between the UK Government and BAE requires BAE to downscale from 5,000 to 1,500 personnel over the next few years. This will leave only enough people to sustain one shipyard capable of building warships in the whole UK. Furthermore, a Parliamentary Answer from 3 October 2011 revealed that of the 6,000 Small and Medium sized business (SME) contracts recently placed by the MoD only 50 were in Scotland. That is 0.83% near 10 times less than Scotland’s UK population share. In other words Scotland gets less than 1% of the direct SME MoD contracts but contributes 9.9% of UK tax revenue (in 2011/12) and represents 8.4% of UK population.

Scottish Navy?

Perhaps most shocking is the fact that Scottish waters currently have no significant conventional naval presence, and no maritime reconnaissance capability. Early in January 2014 a Russian vessel (full of missiles) was within 30 miles of Scotland and it took 24 hours for a British ship to arrive from Portsmouth.

Scotland has a longer coastline than India, China or Brazil, the 10th longest in the world at 16,500km, yet we have no major surface vessels or any airborne maritime patrol. This is despite the fact that offshore oil and fisheries are a major part of our economy. As an Independent Scotland we could provide employment and revive our shipyards, create jobs and spend money in Scotland by building a conventional surface navy.

Reviving the Shipyards

We have the industrial and engineering capacity and experience, not only to supply our own navy, but to sell vessels around the world. It would not be unusual: France makes ships for Russia, the UK has built for Malaysia, and Norway has built for the UK. BAE Systems recently sold two Clyde-built ships to Brazil. Scottish shipyards could even expect orders from rUK. EU Article 346 would permit the rUK to specify its warships are built in Scotland for national security reasons. There is nowhere in rUK that can currently build ships like this.

Beyond military contracts, we could diversify into other large scale projects, not just warships. Moving beyond a weapons based economy we could build wave and tidal turbines on the Clyde. The expertise in the offshore sector as oil production starts to decline could also be channelled into this sector.

Future Visions

An Independent Scotland could have a positive international footprint, particularly in terms of defence and security. We could have a constructive role in diplomacy and peacekeeping and a more strategic approach to defence; as in the Danish model of Defence Commissions, rather than the politically motivated policy and spending we have now. A new written constitution could detail Parliament’s role in overseas deployment decisions, based on consensus and UN Charter. Contrast that possibility with the Prime Minister’s current power to send us to war at the UK level.

Scotland’s Veterans Minister Keith Brown points out that Scotland’s ‘key geo-strategic position’ would mean ‘international partners will be keen to cooperate with an Independent Scotland on defence and security issues’. Scotland occupies a unique position in Northern Europe, with the Atlantic to the west, North Sea to the east, and the Icelandic Gap to the north. Indeed, the emerging importance of the Arctic region might be one such area. Climate change and global warming are changing the Arctic landscape at pace. Melting ice has opened new avenues: new trade routes from Asia to Europe, mineral extraction, fishing grounds – but also sensitive ecology.

Scotland could join the Arctic Council to investigate new opportunities while also safeguarding the environment. We could build icebreakers and offer our vast oil and gas experience and capability, whilst also cautioning against excessive, insensitive developments. Sustainability should be a watchword. When we consider security in the broadest sense we must see environmental challenges as well as defence security. Some of the most serious threats to our security in the 21st century will be environmental rather than military.

International developments in the North could also stimulate local aspirations; Aberdeen, Inverness and Orkney and Shetland are all well positioned to take advantage – a possible antidote to Central Belt bias? Lateral North, a group of Strathclyde architecture graduates have imagined Scapa Flow as a key shipping hub and Orkney as a ‘Scottish Singapore’, a critical trading juncture between Russia and China and the US and Europe.

In short, the military planning that Westminster is doing is backward looking and ties us to a nuclear weapons system that will be of no use. In contrast, an independent Scotland can invest in military and other industries that are useful and relevant for the challenges we face in the 21st century. We are more than capable of defending ourselves and we will be an inspiration to the world.

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About RIC Aberdeen

The Radical Independence Campaign sees Scottish independence as the first step towards creating a fairer, greener, more democratic place. RIC Aberdeen are a local campaigning group, ordinary people who want to make a difference. We do canvassing every Wednesday night, along with other events. Please get in touch for more info.

3 responses to “On Scotland’s Military”

  1. Hugh Wallace says :

    Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    Excellent work chaps! I would add, that in addition to the ship types you mentioned, there is no particular reason why the Clyde shipbuilders couldn’t also build a whole range of other types of civilian ships, just as Norway does. Aberdeen is one of the busiest harbours in the world in terms of ship movements (if not tonnage) and the majority of vessels using that port are Norwegian built offshore support vessels, most built in Norway. Think how wonderful it could be to see these vessels being replaced in time with Scottish built ships crewed by Scottish seafarers? It is almost enough to tempt me back to sea!

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