New report says independence would mean ‘substantial savings’ on defence


  By Martin Kelly
Scotland would benefit from “substantial savings” on the costs of defence in the event of independence, a newly published report has concluded.
According to the Institute for International and European Affairs, an independent Scotland would be able to create a defence force “of which the Scots people can be proud” for considerably less than its current contribution to the UK’s military budget.

The UK defence cost to Scotland is currently £3.3bn, of which only £2bn is actually spent in Scotland.  A new Scottish Defence Force would cost £2.5bn which would mean a saving to the Scottish taxpayer of almost £1bn, but crucially more being spent in Scotland.

The report by the respected Dublin based think-tank titled: “Reflections on Defending an Independent Scotland: a View from Ireland” was written by retired Irish Defence Forces Colonel Dorcha Lee.

The report says there “is a strong argument in favour of NATO membership for Scotland” and concludes, “The decoupling of Scotland’s involvement in UK’s strategic operations, and the creation of the SDF, should favour the Yes campaign.”

The report argues that a newly independent Scotland with adequate defence capabilities will be in the interests of both the newly independent nation and its former UK partner south of the border, adding that compromises and commitments will have to be given.

It says: “Scotland will most likely have to give assurances to UK (sic) that Scotland’s land, sea and airspace, will not be used by a potential enemy to attack the UK.  Scotland will have to have the military means to back up these assurances.” 

It adds: “This will apply whether Scotland is a member of NATO or not.  Nevertheless, a Scotland that is weak, militarily, could be seen to present problems for the UK.

“Of course, if Scotland is a member of NATO, Scotland and the UK will be committed to mutual defence under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty”

On defence it highlights the need for cross border co-operation not just with southern neighbours but, with the impact of climate change, Scotland’s Northern European allies.

“The strategic importance of Scotland will increase with the on-going melting of the Arctic icecap.  This will have profound implications for Scottish National Defence, with the opening of new shipping routes and increased access to energy resources. 

“In the future, the SDF will be required to cooperate closely, not just with the UK, but also with Denmark, Norway and Iceland.  This is a strong argument in favour of NATO membership for Scotland, as these nations cooperate and conduct exercises in the NATO framework.”

Pointing to any future conflicts that may result in an invading force attempting to attack, the author says: “In my view, the most likely scenario is that the UK and Scotland will stand together in any future conflict that threatens these islands.”

On the issue of participation in United Nations missions the report says:

“An independent Scotland with a professional, well trained and a well-equipped, SDF, will be a welcome participant to any mission.  Such involvement would be greatly appreciated by the international community, and would enhance Scottish foreign policy.

“Ireland’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations has, on occasion, greatly helped getting a rotational seat on the UN Security Council.  This might be of interest for those considering Scotland’s future foreign policy objectives in the UN.”

The author also highlighted the benefits of Scotland disentangling itself from the former United Kingdom and its controversial past:

“In time, as an independent nation Scotland will be accepted as an honest broker on peacekeeping missions, without the baggage of a colonial past.”

The author points out that independence will not be a bar to ambitious Scottish military chiefs, saying:

“Like Ireland, the SDF will be asked to fill senior military positions in international missions.  In this regard, Scotland could also look to Canada and Norway, two NATO member states that have played a high profile role in peacekeeping operations.”

The report also argues that a smaller Scottish Army will need to have at its heart a culture of encouraging its personnel to consider recruitment a long term career.  The author envisages an Army, Navy and Air Force with separate budgets, but sharing logistical and training facilities.

According to the report, the Army strength would consist of around 11,000 regulars and 5,000 integrated reservists, the Navy a strength of around 2,500 regulars and 1,500 reservists and a Scottish Air Force consisting of 2,000 regulars and 1,000 reservists.

Set up costs, the author concedes are difficult to estimate and could range from as little as £1bn to as much as £10bn.  However, the possibility of savings is possible as Scotland receives ten per cent of UK military assets – which Westminster may be more inclined to hand over as it looks to down size its own military in order to meet required cutbacks.

The author adds: “To offset defence costs, Scotland could develop its own armaments industry, to meet its own requirements but mainly aimed at international markets.  This has been done very successfully by small countries such as Switzerland, Austria and Sweden.

“Niche areas can be identified.  Ireland lost the opportunity to develop such an industry due to political woolly thinking back in the 1970s.  However, Irish companies have at least made an impact on the dual use market.”

On the current independence debate, the report says: “The decoupling of Scotland’s involvement in UK’s strategic operations, and the creation of the SDF, should favour the YES campaign.  It will result in substantial financial savings, and still provide for Scottish Defence Forces, of which the Scots people can be proud.”

Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:

“This report highlights the positive roles a Scottish Defence Force can play in national defence and support for international peace and humanitarian operations.

“There are some very thoughtful options outlined for the SDF in terms of strength and composition, training and military education, SDF brand, conditions of service, deployment and costs.

“Scotland has vast defence assets, and an independent Scotland would of course not be starting from scratch. The key difference is that after independence, Scotland would decide how to spend the money it already contributes to defence.

“A sovereign Scotland can increase spending on conventional defence in Scotland while making savings from Trident, which the vast majority of Scots are opposed. An annual defence and security budget of £2.5bn would be around £500m more than is currently spent by the UK government in Scotland- but some £1bn less than Scots taxpayers currently contribute to the UK’s defence policy.

“Independence for Scotland would mean a defence force which represents the will of the Scottish people while making substantial savings, as this report highlights.”