Defense Implications of Scotland’s Possible Independence

One major aspect of Scotland’s eventual accession to independence is the implication for both its defense and that of the remaining parts of the United Kingdom. The later’s massively integrated military organization would no doubt go through some severe reconfiguration. But how would it affect both nations? Would it be a good or a bad thing? For someone living in Québec, this is an interesting topic since pretty much the exact same questions would arise here too should La Belle Province ever get back to its now twice repealed independence fever.

Generally, people defending the YES option appear to be sugar-coating their forecasts. Conversely, people for the NO team do the exact opposite and tend to form a rather bleak picture of the future. Nothing new here. But what are the defense topics currently at stake?

French publication Défense et Sécurité Internationale #105 has an article from defense specialist Romain Mielcarek who wrote a quick and dirty overview of some of the hot topics. Here’s a quick rundown of a couple of aspects of Scotland and United Kingdom’s defense that would be affected by Scotland’s independence.

Complete Reconfiguration

In recent months, numerous instances from Britain have been fairly vocal about the fact that the YES team has been overly optimistic with their forecasts. For instance, about a year ago, UK Defence Commitee published a report in which it noted that propositions from the proponents of Scotland’s independence were suggesting a course of action that would not permit continuation of defense integration with the United Kingdom. Simply put, Westminster considers their plan entirely underfunded. An independent Scotland would invest a yearly sum of £2,5 billions, or roughly 7% of today’s UK defense budget. Not nearly enough, concluded the committee, to allow for any sort of serious air defense, for instance. Not enough to acquire decent aircraft, let alone maintaining acceptable capabilities.

UK Defense Ministry echoed the committee by stating that Scotland defense was benefiting from its complete integration within UK’s, and that the benefits (namely “Greater security and protection through integrated defence; Greater security and influence in the world through international alliances and relationships; and Greater opportunities for defence industry“), largely in favor of Scotland, would not be carried over independence.

Nuclear submarine HMS Vanguard arrives back at HM Naval Base Clyde, Faslane, Scotland following a patrol. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Nuclear Question

Another key aspect of UK’s defense is of course the question of the nation’s nuclear capability. Again, to put the matter bluntly, Britain’s four SSBN are currently operating from Faslane Bay, which is, you guessed it, in Scotland. Since SNP has announced that an independent Scotland would not accept the presence of nuclear weapons on its soil and waters, this would require work that is not without considerable logistical challenges. Keeping the Vangards in Scotland would be much simpler, and quite a bit less costly too. So much in fact that it may well be on the list of things that London would include in negotiations for Scotland’s keeping of the Pounds as its official money. So says the rumor. Others went as far as saying that Scotland’s departure might lead to the UK stepping down entirely from the nuclear club. No matter how unlikely, this would not be a good news for NATO.

Scotland and NATO

An independent Scotland would likely wish to join NATO. It does, after all, offers a remarkable position to control what is going on in the North Sea and not a bad spot either for watching traffic in the Norwegian Sea and North Atlantic. But as recent NATO talks so aptly demonstrated, low defense budgets aren’t exactly the order of the day and it appears those without the coins are not considered to be interesting recruits.

Industrial Upheaval

The industrial side of Scotland’s independence is also a sizable part of worries. UK Defense ministry has said that Scotland defense industry would no longer be eligible for UK’s programs, for security reasons, and would also loose London’s support to it exports. Defense industries like Babock, BAE Systems, Thales, QinetiQ, Raytheon, Selex ES and Rolls Royce could consider moving their factories back in England.

Toward a Scotland Defense?

The plans for an independent Scotland defense, considering its budget (£2,5 billions, or €3,07 billions), calls for about 15 000 men and 5000 reservists. Considering Scotland’s geography, one can pose that its defense would be largely set on oceans, and its priority would likely be set on this domain of operation. To put things in perspective, Denmark invests €3,4 billions (18 000 men) and Norway, €5,4 billions (24,500 men from extended draft). Ireland has the smallest defense budget in Europe with €860 millions (less than 10 000 men and an essentially internal security mission).

All in all, Scotland’s independence doesn’t appear to be a matter of life and death in terms of defense. The nation isn’t directly threatened, but there are some challenges that will undoubtedly requires careful study. For instance, how will it properly defend its numerous offshore infrastructures? If one considers that the main threats to be faced by Scottish armed forces are to include “cyber crime; instability overseas; disruption to oil and gas supplies; and international terrorism“, it may require some careful thinking as to how to best spend the limited available sums, and to consider when those investments would actually convert into a credible, efficient national defense.

A full transcription (in French) of Mielcarek’s article can be found here.


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