Defence policy for an independent Scotland

This post was contributed by Ron Smith, Professor of Applied Economics in the Department of Economic, Mathematics and Statistics.

Scottish independence is a low probability event, but low probability events like the break-up of the Soviet Union or of Czechoslovakia do happen, so it is sensible to do some contingency planning. The Scottish Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has been examining the defence policy for an independent Scotland as part of its enquiry into The Referendum on Separation for Scotland. Together with Professor Malcolm Chalmers of the Royal United Services Institute I gave evidence to the Committee on January 23.

The Scottish National Party, SNP, has suggested a defence budget for an independent Scotland of around £2.5 billion with armed forces of 15,000 personnel. A comparison with other small countries with populations of around 5m, like Ireland, Norway, Denmark or New Zealand suggests that these are reasonable numbers for steady state spending and armed forces. However, the transition to steady state is likely to be difficult.

The sort of equipment that Scotland might inherit from the UK is unlikely to be appropriate for an independent Scotland. The obvious example is the Trident nuclear deterrent, which is located in Scotland on the Clyde, on which the Scottish Affairs Committee has already reported.

Scotland is likely to follow those other small countries which inherited nuclear weapons on separation. Belarus, Ukraine & Kazakhstan all denuclearised, and that is SNP policy.  They had aid under the US Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program to help them repatriate the weapons to Russia. How one would repatriate Scottish nuclear weapons would be a central issue.

A major problem in the transition is that the military or defence civil servants that Scotland inherits from the UK are likely to have UK preconceptions and a mindset that is inappropriate for a small country like Scotland. They would face the same problems that somebody leaving a large company for a small firm faces. Some of the suggestions that have been made for a possible Scottish force structure reflect that mindset.

Because of the SNP’s commitment to the traditional Scottish regiments, their proposed structure is rather infantry heavy, whereas it is likely that naval and air assets for protection of fisheries and oil fields will be more useful. However the ships and aircraft they might inherit from the UK are not likely to be suitable, so they would need to buy new equipment appropriate for a small country.  Heavy investments in infrastructure may also be needed to provide for command and control, training and intelligence.

My suggestion would be that an independent Scotland should follow the example of the appointment of a Canadian as Bank of England Governor and hire a foreigner. Scotland should bring in a defence planner from somewhere like Ireland, Denmark or New Zealand, who understands how to run the defence of a small country.

One thought on “Defence policy for an independent Scotland

  1. Well made arguments. It would not be a simple task, but one that can be managed, just like the current police reform process. It need not happen overnight, and there is room for inovative thinking – strong links and joint forces with the rest of the UK, etc. However, as a low probabiltiy event, one would gess it reasonable to start looking at these options only at a latter date, i.e. ex post facto.

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