Defence in an Independent Scotland


STUART CRAWFORD gives a brief synopsis of the issues surrounding an independent Scotland’s defence forces.

Another week, another study into how an independent Scotland might formulate its defence policy. Think tank the Scotland Institute has announced that Major General Andrew Mackay is to chair a major new study will look at what options would be open to the army, navy and air force following a vote for Scottish independence in 2014, with a report to be with us by the end of the year.

Although entering the arena somewhat late in the day, the study and its report will be a welcome addition to the paucity of material published by anyone else. Defence has always been the SNP’s Achilles Heel, and – without prejudging the outcome – perhaps the good General will help dispel some of the more ridiculous arguments on defence propounded to those who seek to sustain the Union.

As ever, some folk will ask why a small country like Scotland would need any defence forces at all, and it’s a good question to ask. At its simplest, defence is like a car insurance policy; you have to have one but you hope you never have to use it. Car users do not, as a rule, wake up one morning and think “Hang on a minute, I’ve been paying my insurance for a while now and not used it. Better go and wrap the motor round a tree and get my money’s worth”. So it is with defence. But the expenditure has to be made all the same.

And why do we need defence forces? Well, nobody in their right mind thinks that an independent Scotland is at risk of invasion or attack by another country, not in the immediate future anyway – although that’s probably what the Falkland Islanders thought in 1980. But what if someone wants to exploit our fishing grounds illegally, or fly over Scotland without our permission, or say “No, it isn’t your oil, actually; it’s ours”. Or stage a terrorist “spectacular” on, say, one of the oil rigs or on the Forth Bridge. Without armed forces we have a stark choice; fold our arms (no pun intended) and watch the fireworks from afar or, rapidly swallowing what’s left of our pride, ask for help from elsewhere.

Plus, let’s not forget who picked up the bodies and debris from PanAm 103, or who emptied the bins when the binmen went on strike, or who regularly assist our civilian authorities and population in time of crisis. Yep, it’s the armed forces, usually in conjunction with the other emergency services, which tends to fill the gaps. To dispense with them would be foolhardy.

The big question is, of course, what sort of armed forces do we want to have and how big should they be? Again, let me return to the car insurance analogy. We can have fully comprehensive armed forces or third party, fire and theft. Deciding which is an important risk analysis beyond the scope of this article, but it’s as much a political decision as a military one because costs, or budget, is an important factor. That’s largely one for the politicians (God help us) but by and large you get what you pay for.

No doubt Andrew Mackay and his team will have plenty to say about all this in due course!

Contributed by
  • Stuart Crawford

    Stuart Crawford

    Stuart Crawford was commissioned from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, into the 4th Royal Tank Regiment (Scotland’s Own) and left the army in 1999 to stand as a candidate for the SNP in the first Scottish Parliamentary elections. Stuart writes frequently for the print and online media and appears regularly on radio and tv commenting on military, political and social matters. 10 Posts

I am of the belief that Scotland as part of the British isles would be better served by being part of NATO and thus would need to pull its weight as far as commitments to NATO are required. At the moment we are served by Scots being in the British Army, Royal Navy and the RAF. I see no reason that this should change. Would an independent Scotland at the start of WW2 have chosen to stand with England against Fascism or have taken Eire's route and actually helped the Nazis?

Ian Patterson
Ian Patterson

This is an interesting article, the general topic being one from an area with which I have had some familiarity (TA Major, RCT, retired). I'd like to add a point that would be relevant to anyone charged with developing serious ideas concerning it, and that is the matter would necessarily be inextricably tied to the envisaged foreign policy of a future independent Scotland. I wonder what framework, in that sense, Maj Gen Mackay might be expecting to operate?