Independence offers Scotland a defence dividend

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Independence offers Scotland the opportunity to reverse decades of UK defence decline Veterans Minister Keith Brown will say today (Sunday) as he dismissed the latest attempt by the No campaign to talk down Scotland’s defence prospects.

Recently a report from the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) estimated that the costs of defending an independent Scotland would be around that £1.8 billion annually, the equivalent of 1.3% of Scottish GDP.  The UK currently spends around 2.6% of GDP on defence.  The potential saving to the Scottish taxpayer in an independent Scotland would be more than £1.5 billion a year.

In a recent opinion poll, a majority of those questioned they would support independence if it meant Scots would be better off by £500 a year.  The reduced defence expenditure forecast by the RUSI study would alone represent an annual saving of £633 for each of Scotland’s 2.37 million households.

However, anti-independence parties have quickly tried to rubbish claims that an independent Scotland could defend itself.  Last week former Labour defence minister and Secretary General of NATO George Robertson claimed that when terrorists attacked Glasgow airport “it was British military intelligence which went to work”.  

Critics immediately pointed out that British intelligence had failed to stop the terrorist cell from attempting to carry out an attack in London in the days before their attack on Glasgow airport.  The attempted attack on a London disco failed because the bomb did not go off as it was badly prepared by the terrorists, and not because of the actions of British intelligence.  

The failure of the London bomb to explode, leaving evidence that could be linked to the terrorists, led the terrorist cell to mount an attack on Glasgow airport, which was only foiled due to the diligence of airport security staff and passengers.

Writing yesterday in Conservative Home, former Tory defence minister Liam Fox mounted another attack on the possibility of an independent Scottish armed forces in an article eulogising the role of Scottish service people in the British armed forces.  Dr Fox claimed that Scottish independence would “undermine our collective security”.  

In a romantic and nostalgic article laden with references to the role of Scots in the Battle of Trafalgar, Dr Fox omitted perhaps the most famous quote from the battle, Admiral Nelson’s injunction: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”  In the context of a debate on Scottish independence, the Admiral’s phrase unwittingly summarises one of the key complaints of independence campaigners.

The former defence minister, who was forced to resign due to inappropriate contacts between his personal aide Adam Werrity and defence contractors, argued that a Scottish defence force would be “unbalanced”.  However he also conceded that “the UK has neighbours in Norway and Denmark who are busily equipping their navies and air forces with the state of the art equipment needed to protect their interests in the High North and Arctic.”  Dr Fox did not explain why an independent Scotland would not be able to do the same.

Scottish Government’s Veterans’ Minister, Keith Brown, who served with 45 Commando during the Falklands conflict, said:

“After a decade of Westminster decline in Scotland’s military footprint, independence now offers Scotland the opportunity of a defence dividend. It is disingenuous for politicians in the No campaign to talk down Scotland’s defence industrial prospects while ignoring their own record which has seen 11,000 military job losses and a mammoth £5.6bn underspend in Scotland.

“At our conference in Perth, the SNP set out proposals that will deliver an increase of service personnel in Scotland, restore and protect Scottish units and bases as well as address significant UK capability gaps.

“By setting out such an ambitious and positive agenda it is now incumbent on other parties to lay out their plans, in as much detail.

“Will they commit to defence decision making in Scotland? Will they match SNP proposals to increase in manpower and conventional defence spending in Scotland? Will they restore military units and protect bases? Will they commit to a partnership of equals with our neighbours, including cooperation on conventional procurement, training, basing and logistics?

“The UK is making really bad defence decisions leaving Scotland exposed. We should make better decisions ourselves in Scotland – we only need to look to our northern European neighbours of comparable size all of whom maintain appropriate military capabilities including fast jets, ocean going vessels and highly trained personnel.”