The economics of defence is an important factor in the referendum debate and Scottish independence provides an opportunity to re-prioritise defence spending so that it makes the people of Scotland safer and allows us to play a sensible role in global affairs. There are numerous examples of other medium sized European countries that set out this path that we can learn from.
However, the clearest benefit of a Scottish Defence Force is combination of both a financial and defence dividend. Scotland ploughs a large proportion of its national wealth into defence structures, yet receives far less investment in Scotland by return.
The UK military overspend driven by the continuous ‘at war’ status, and projects like the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons, result in Scotland paying billions of pounds in defence costs every year on projects that are not wanted by Scots. An independent Scotland can save money and build a better equipped Defence system that meets Scotland’s needs.
Westminster military waste
There are many examples of wasteful Westminster spending in defence which wouldn’t apply to a Scottish defence force. The latest Ministry of Defence figures said there was £1.57 billion spent on defence in Scotland in 2007/08. However, in that year Scotland paid in £2.84 billion towards UK defence spending. (GERS 2010-11). There is a huge gap in how much Scotland pays for defence and how much is actually spent in Scotland.
With recent cuts to RAF Leuchers, the downgrading of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the amalgamation into the ‘Scottish regiment’, this gap is set to continue if not increase. In terms of contracts, Scotland also received £1.9 billion less that its population share should merit between 07-08 and 11-12.
While Scotland pays over £1 billion extra in defence costs to Westminster every year, the most basic of Scottish defence interests are not in place. The Royal Navy does not have one single major surface vessel based in Scottish waters. This is despite the fact that providing protection to offshore oil assets and fishing vessels is of prime importance to Scotland’s defence, security and economic interests. UK military priorities are instead focused on the Gulf and in maintaining the ability to ‘punch’ above its weight. Major naval vessels are therefore deployed to support strikes in Iraq, Libya, Syria or elsewhere. Billions of pounds are squandered every year on the Cold War Trident weapons system that Scots don’t want. Scottish MPs and MSPs have both voted against maintaining nuclear weapons.
- One, Scotland would be in control of its own decisions and not be dragged into wars that Scotland Parliament has voted against such as the second gulf war.
- Two, Scotland will get a defence system that meets its needs.
- Three, the people of Scotland will save a substantial sum of money every year. It really is one of the best bargains of a ‘Yes’ vote next year.
Defence savings – protection boost
Financial spending projections of politicians and academics for a Scottish Defence Force include these three advantages. The most expensive projection, by Angus Robertson MP, proposed £2.5 billion to be spent on a Scottish Defence force. This would save almost £1 billion a year. Defence analyst Stuart Crawford, in his report ‘A’ the Blue Bonnets’, calculated that a Scottish army, airforce and navy can be supported for between £1.5 and £1.8 billion. This spend would place Scotland alongside the likes of Norway and Denmark who spend around 1.5% of their GDP on defence. Either funding system would represent a significant saving from the £3.3 billion Scotland has to pay for UK military endeavours.
Aircraft-less aircraft carriers!
To take the example of the aircraft carriers, we are told that we run the risk of losing such related military contracts for our defence industries but Scotland has received £300 million in military contracts as a result of the aircraft carriers. However, the total cost is over £6 billion. Scotland – in contributing 9.9% of total UK taxation – subsidises such projects to a much larger sum of £614 million.
The costs continue to sky-rocket, with the end product is impotent for Scottish defence, not least as the UK government has admitted it doesn’t have any planes to put on the carriers!
The comparison with other medium sized nations is also useful to point out the opportunities Scotland has in reshaping its military priorities. The likes of Ireland, Norway and Denmark remain heavily engaged in peace-keeping deployment through the United Nations, in providing trade security from piracy and providing delegations for delicate conflict negotiations. Their role in shaping and often leading global affairs is undisputed. Medium countries can provide crucial support for peace and security.
Not projecting power but protecting peace
The clearest example of these diverging priorities is Trident. Westminster is determined, whatever criticism it receives, to waste billions of pounds on another generation of nuclear weapons. Army generals, foreign policy experts, former Defence Ministers, Scottish MPs and the Scottish Government are all opposed. Even the United States has briefed the media saying the UK would be better scrapping the missiles. Yet without an independent defence policy Scottish taxpayers will continue to subsidise weapons of mass destruction that we don’t want and will never use. The Scottish Trade Union Congress carried out an economic evaluation of the project and found that it costs Scottish jobs, if the money was spent elsewhere, it would generate far stronger economic outputs.
Trident is not actually a military weapon!
Feargal Dalton was a Nuclear Submarine Commander at Faslane naval base. He was a senior officer responsible for maintaining the UK’s nuclear weapons deployment. His impression – both of Trident and of UK military policy – is that Scotland would do better as an independent country. “Trident is not actually a military weapon as such, it is a Strategic Weapon System which gives the UK political leverage on the global stage”, he told Business for Scotland.
As for UK military policy as a whole, Dalton says: “Like many areas there is an increasing divergence between the wishes of the UK government and the people of Scotland and Scotland’s ability to influence the political composition of Westminster Governments is limited or non-existent. An independent Scottish Defence Force can operate differently”.
Dalton goes on: “A Scottish Defence Force will be set military tasks by a sovereign Scottish Government based at Holyrood. These tasks will be very similar to those currently set for the UK Armed Forces and other European armed services; tasks such as defending Scottish territory and providing support to civil emergency organisations during times of crisis. But where the UK has a military task of projecting power globally, I would hope to see the SDF set the task of projecting global justice and peace.”
Scotland can save money and get a better defence service than we have at the moment. Dalton notes: “It will be up to future Scottish Governments to decide on defence spending but I would envisage that a great deal less would need to be spent but that more protection could be gained from increased conventional forces spending. It’s appropriate to say that Scotland will have a defence service that will execute tasks more representative of the aspirations of the people of Scotland but that the world renowned tradition and heritage of highly professional Scottish service people will continue long after independence.”
“Being a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy for 17 years is still one of the proudest and greatest personal achievements in my life; second only to being a husband and father.”
“Like all retired submariners, I still refer to myself as being a submariner not an ex-submariner. I wear my submarine dolphins and veteran pin with pride. I could write a book on my experiences over those 17 years but suffice to say that there was never a dull moment. I have many, many fond memories that I will cherish forever. I met many great people and many will be my friends for life. Some good friends, of course, made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. I think about them daily and especially during the month of November.”
The independent defence dividend
Pride in service and solidarity, for Dalton, are intertwined with a support for Scottish independence: Like all areas, Scotland’s future policies should be decided by those who are best placed and who care the most about Scotland. Beyond that democratic opportunity, there is a chance to develop a Defence model which meets Scotland’s needs. A better and more efficient lower cost conventional Defence Force, that is the Defence dividend for an independent Scotland.
Following a Yes vote Scotland can be better protected, get rid of nuclear weapons and save billions which could be used pay down our debt or be invested in growing our economy.
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