by Hazel Lewry
There has been much hysteria and scaremongering in the mainstream media over the future defence of Scotland. Combine that with the waffling utterances emanating from Westminster about who pays to relocate various military establishments, principally Trident, and the strong rhetoric from Holyrood about who pays for the clean up after MoD abuses of our land and there are some potentially interesting situations brewing.
It is interesting because the division of assets between diverging nation states is clearly laid out in international law. The disintegration of the totalitarian USSR and the restoration of the peripheral states gave us some examples of how the process should work.
Scotland’s mainstream media again obtains a failing grade for not even bothering to look into such situations.
In simple plain English, and although there can be thousands of articles in a final treaty of settlement, it works like this: assets of the original state devolve to becoming assets of the new states.
Who then gets what is generally determined by the geographical location of the asset. So in its most basic terms Scotland keeps Holyrood and England keeps Westminster, they’re both well within the geographic boundaries of the restored states. Land boundaries remain static, sea boundaries are by agreement or international convention.
Horse trading comes into play with such items as debt and foreign held assets. It is by no means either a legal or moral requirement for a nation restored to sovereignty to assume any debt, Ireland leaving the UK being but one example of this principle in action.
Although an argument exists for assets and debts to be divided up based upon territorial area, the norm is for these items to be divided up by relative population. Scotland could expect around 8.3% of the UK’s extraterritorial assets to accrue to its national ledger.
The more interesting part is when an asset is in one resurrected nation state but is desired by the other resurrected nation state. The case in point is Trident.
The simplest resolution to this issue is for the UK government to move these weapons prior to the vote and effectively resolve the issue. Holyrood would rightly demand the sites restored to virgin territory, or acceptable civilian or military use as required to suit Scots purposes.
That Westminster can’t afford to either move Trident or buy aircraft for two new aircraft carriers is self evident, so Trident will stay where it is and Scotland can expect a massive bargaining chip in the upcoming talks. In fact Westminster projects being so broke, by the time these aircraft carriers are commissioned it won’t be able to afford the diesel or the crew to run one of them, so London is already planning to sell it.
The restoration of the aforementioned European states showed us clearly that it is incumbent on the state which wishes retention of items such as this to fund the relocation and new installation costs of any repatriated items.
Basically if Westminster wants Trident, Westminster pays for it. If Westminster were to refuse to accept such a precedent it would then be up to Holyrood to decide the disposition of the weapons.
A likely outcome in such a scenario is that Westminster will “repatriate” Trident to a newly created deepwater port in England and pay for the clean-up and value of the system as a condition of handover. Most likely that payment would be in exchange for any voluntarily assumed debt load by Scotland. Westminster could take an alternative viewpoint and scrap the idea of having an independent nuclear deterrent. Holyrood could then flog it off or unilaterally decommission it.
In reality Westminster scrapping its deterrent is unlikely in the extreme, as that body places a premium on having a permanent and often vocal stance in many of the world’s top councils.
It now becomes time to look at the overall UK defence budget; Whitehall data puts it at £43.6 billion in 2011.
Based upon population, Scotland should have seen around £3.62 billion in current defence spending.
Scots should clearly understand that although their nation’s defence contribution to Whitehall is about £3.62 billion, the defence spend in Scotland is reducing in both actual and real terms. According to the UK parliaments strategic defence review document, it dropped by 68% over 6 years. In 2008 it was down around £1.57 billion.
As things stand, Scotland therefore subsidises the UK defence budget by over £2 billion a year and London and the SE of England enjoy a massive defence overspend.
This week the First Minister announced that after independence the Scottish Defence Force (SDF) would maintain one air base, one naval base and one land force. But what would that really mean and what’s it likely to cost our newly restored nation state?
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director at London-based Royal United Services Institute, an independent military think-tank, quoted a £2.2bn price tag for an SDF.
This would be an increase in real terms on current UK under spend of £500 million each year, available for direct injection into the Scottish economy.
It also appears enough to ensure a world class rapid deployment land force with specialist divisions for highly technical missions, several air sea rescue stations, and an ability to reverse the Westminster coastguard cuts.
In addition we might choose to look at resurrecting our military shipbuilding for vessels designed to protect our oil and fishing interests, also making these ships available for export. Although we might have one central naval port, like Portsmouth in England, there would be secondary bases.
We also have a situation where Westminster’s defence secretary Philip Hammond said the thought of Scotland’s remaining three regiments forming the spine of a new SDF was “laughable” and that no one can “break off a little bit” of the UK’s armed forces and hand it to Scotland.
Actually that’s pretty much what happened right across Europe over the last two decades as states restored their sovereignty.
Professor Chalmers’s figure of £2.2 billion, as an estimated requirement for Scotland’s security needs, still represents a significant underspend against what we now send to London for defence.
The extra £1.4 billion plus currently going to London would also remain in Scotland in some fashion, either in our own pockets or put to the common weal.
A simple summary could describe the current situation like this; if an independent Scotland were to match today’s Whitehall defence spending we could increase our national defence spending within Scotland by close to 50%.
Once we have done this and obtained better equipped, paid and trained Scottish forces we could take the remaining money that would have gone south, and by using Holyrood’s published 2012 budget we could double our national spending in housing, sport, marine and fisheries, transport projects and ferry services.
After that with a somewhat nonchalant shrug we could give every person in Scotland a £100 tax rebate and spend what’s left on a heck of an independence party.
Defence, it’s a massive independence dividend.