By Dr Azeem Ibrahim

Monday saw the publication of the Scotland Institute’s flagship report on Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland. The report is the most comprehensive study to date on the subject and was covered extensively across major publications making the front pages of both The Times and Scotland on Sunday.

We interviewed and took contributions from former Secretaries of Defence, Generals, Admirals, Air Commodores, senior officials at NATO and the EU as well as dozens of top defence academics. 

To ensure its academic robustness and neutrality we asked two of the leading defence scholars in the UK to independently review our methodology and findings: Professor Sir Hew Strachan (Oxford) and Professor Brian Holden Reid (Director of War Studies, Kings College London).  

Since publication a number of criticisms have been leveled at the report. This is excellent news. It means that one of the principal aims of the Institute and the report – fostering a lively and evidence-based debate – is being fulfilled.

However, it seems most of the critics did not actually bother reading the report as it addresses most of their arguments. Here are the most common and their rebuttals.

Q: Scotland does not actually need a large military budget as we don’t wish to get involved in foreign wars and are hardly likely to get invaded anytime soon.

A. If the SNP’s post independence plans were to have a ‘homeland security’ approach to defence – no force projection or international missions, that may be a reasonable and realistic approach as Scotland does not face territorial threats nor is it surrounded by hostile nations. A case could be made that in such a situation all that would be needed is an effective coast guard, reliable police force, good intelligence etc. No membership of NATO would be required as Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty provides EU States with collective security.

But that proposal is not on the table. It is not the policy of any major party. And it is certainly not the SNP’s policy. In their 2009 paper “Your Scotland, Your Voice” they are clear that an independent Scotland will “help to prevent and resolve conflicts and war anywhere in the world” and “further peaceful development in the world…” “like those in the Balkans” – a NATO mission.

They also suggest they would “actively participate in the European Security and Defence Policy of the European Union.” And a 2012 SNP Conference resolution is clear that an independent Scotland under the SNP would participate in UN and EU missions, requiring “military capabilities, including a cyber security and intelligence infrastructure”. At their last party conference, the SNP reiterated their commitment to seek NATO membership.

This clearly implies that the SNP desire an independent Scotland to be capable of contributing to missions conducted far afield and project force globally (as well as the Balkans and the Middle East the EU operates a number of missions in Africa)

If you want a homeland security defence posture, the SNP is not your party.

Q: Scotland would inherit defence assets from the UK – your report makes it sounds like Scotland would have to start from scratch.

A: This argument is based on a simple misconception: that Scotland would automatically inherit any assets from the UK. It would not. This is one of the questions our report looked into at length. All military assets in Scotland legally belong to the UK government and if Scotland were to inherit anything it would only be by virtue of negotiations, not automatic inheritance. With defence cuts and an over stretched military, Westminster is hardly likely to give away its prized assets very easily. 

Q: The SNP’s proposed annual defence budget of £2.5 billion would be £500 million more than the UK currently spends in Scotland on defence.

A: This is based on a misconception that countries and regions ‘get their fair share’ of defence according to what they spend. The UK does not organise its defence posture on the needs of each region but as a whole. Defence can only ever be collective.

Arguing that Scotland gets a raw deal from the UK’s defence spending is like arguing that one part of Scotland – Renfrewshire, say, or Leith – would ‘get a raw deal’ from defence spending in an independent Scotland. The reality is that in the same way that the radio and radar stations in the Outer Hebrides and Shetlands are not there just to keep the islanders secure, the assets and capabilities in Scotland are not just there for Scotland’s use, but to play their part in defending the whole of the UK. When it comes to defence policy, these kind of claims do not make sense.

Q: A post-independence budget would be adequate as it is comparable to similar sized countries like Denmark and Norway.

A: There are two problems with this line of attack. The first is that Norway and Denmark both spent a great deal on the big initial costs of defence equipment and infrastructure during the Cold War and are reaping the benefits today (EG Norway has 58 F16s and Denmark has 30 with Norway just having ordered 52 F35 Joint Strike Fighters at a cost of 10.6 billion dollars).

The second is that Scotland would have to spend a great deal in ‘startup costs.’ To approach current levels of defence that would have to include a new defence academy, a defence research establishment, reinvigorating the Rosyth base so that we have two naval bases, a new Scottish Ministry of Defence, and so on.

Expectations that we could achieve a military par with these nations are over optimistic.

Q: An independent Scotland would still be able to retain defence jobs – to say otherwise is just scaremongering.

A: An honest assessment suggests otherwise. Over 15,000 jobs in Scotland depend on the defence industry.  Labour’s 2005 Terms of Business Agreement Defence Industrial strategy guarantees a minimum level of orders to build Royal Navy ships to keep the yards viable. This agreement has been extant under the Coalition government.

The MOD is currently reluctant to sign a contract to build thirteen Type 26 Frigate on the Clyde until after the referendum as they would not be keen on contracting a foreign country where they would not have full freedom of movement.

In the unlikely event the contract went to open tender, the Clyde yards would face stiff competition from the likes of Poland and South Korea.

Best case scenario would be for an independent Scotland to have a very pro-active defence industrial strategy to make up for lost orders.

A Scottish defence equipments budget would, according to RUSI, likely be between 272 and 336 million pounds per annum. At the very high end it could reach 1 billion – the cost of one Type 45 Class Destroy.

The worst-case scenario would be the wholesale dismantling of the defence industry.

Q: After independence Scotland will get rid of the nuclear weapons in Scotland.

A: Getting rid of Trident implies that the UK is able to relocate them. At the moment there are only three navel bases outside Scotland which could house them: Barrow (Cumbria), Milford Haven (Pembrokeshire) and Devonport (Devon). All three are unsuitable for a variety of reasons (not deep water ports, near gas plants etc).

Most likely scenario is that a new facility will have to be constructed which could take up to twenty years. The UK will therefore likely lease HMNB Clyde from the new Scottish government and in such a scenario both sides will have to compromise. The UK by basing is strategic nuclear deterrent in a foreign country and the SNP by allowing Trident to remain until it can be relocated.

We are delighted to see such a robust and evidence-led debate on the effect of independence on Scottish defence. The SNP is the party that is advocating significant constitutional change. It is therefore incumbent upon them to provide evidence as to why that change is desirable and workable. As our report has shown, so far their post independence defence policy is critically wanting.


2013-06-30 12:38

Your article risks falling at the very first hurdle with:

A: This argument is based on a simple misconception: that Scotland would automatically inherit any assets from the UK. It would not.

Ignoring for now the unresolved question of whether a “continuity” UK would exist at all if the union is dissolved, the $64,000 question is whether the Kingdom of Greater England or whatever it calls itself wants Scotland to share any of the UK’s debt.

If it does not, you may be partially right in that England might try to remove all military assets from Scottish soil, perhaps even destroying the bases before leaving.

That strikes me as pretty unlikely, though, given the scale of said debt. If it wants only a share then international rules will apply and the assets will be shared too, after negotiations where Scotland’s energy wealth could not be ignored.

2013-07-01 20:09

There are always the nuclear options, too.

Nuclear option 1 – The Trident conundrum

Nuclear options 2 – We win the referendum and declare independence.

2013-06-30 13:22

I can’t understand why everyone insists on continuing to massage this guys already over inflated ego. The first paragraph pretty much defines this. If he’s so concerned about the future of Scotland, rather than his own, he’d be urging people to vote YES!
2013-06-30 13:51

Somewhat disingenuous; spend a 100 million on offence or else a couple of bob on defence and degrade it to homeland security. No mention of tailoring security to needs and aspirations.

Start-up costs will be involved, but thats the point. Instead of all our money heading South for little return and less investment, the money stays here as do the benefits. The Clyde yards already face competition but following independence may feel its prudent to invest in training and technology, thus becoming more competitive in the long term. Not all benefits though are economic; what price is an efficient Air Sea Rescue?

Like many others, Ill happily lend the SNP my vote on behalf of my children. Nuclear weapons, however is not part of their future that Im prepared to negotiate on. No matter how attractive the proposition, becoming a Westminster whore is a deal breaker.
2013-06-30 14:01

If the military assets belong to the UK, then a proportionate share belongs to us already since we are part of the UK. What grounds has the rUK to deny us what is already ours?
H Scott
2013-06-30 14:52

‘To ensure its academic robustness and neutrality we asked two of the leading defence scholars in the UK to independently review our methodology and findings: Professor Sir Hew Strachan (Oxford) and Professor Brian Holden Reid (Director of War Studies, Kings College London).’

I read some of Strachan’s work for my recent degree. It was clearly influenced by his political unionism. Academic robustness is not necessarily neutral, often to the contrary.
2013-06-30 15:26

Bending over backwards to accomodate Westminster’s nuclear folly is only something we HAVE to do under the union.

There are plenty of places the UK could store the nuclear warheads and there are plenty of berths they can tow their unarmed subs into. Its not Scotland’s business if Independence renders Trident operationally unusable for 20 years, even if it is completely hilarious.
2013-06-30 17:51

The same old story for Scotland, someone else telling us were “too wee, too poor, too stupid” but for the rest of the world independence is ok.

Frankly your ‘Scotland Insititute’ has as much credibility as the Dandy & Beano but without the humour or the expertise.

I look forward to future reports by the so called “Scotland Insititute” as I can guarantee each and everyone of them will be to the denigration of Scotland and its people of being able to govern themselves in an independent Scotland.

We can expect no less from “unionist think tank”.

Saor Alba.
2013-06-30 20:05

I guess this is in response to the blistering take-down of the so-called ‘Scotland Institute’ by Mark McNaught of the University of Rennes the other day.

A few things leap out straight about the attempt at a rebuttal here:

It accepts not a single criticism, and acknowledges no weakness. In the real world that just doesn’t happen. It is, as McNaught said, an ideological document from a political source.

The rebuttal is written by….who? Not the hired ‘experts’. So…clearly by the ‘impartial’ guy who paid for it! Hmmm, so much for objectivity, impartiality, etc.

Lastly, Scotland will inherit nothing….except Trident! Now you’re just having a laugh. Sorry Azeem, you’ll need to shell out for better arguments than this.
2013-06-30 20:10

The UK will therefore likely lease HMNB Clyde from the new Scottish government and in such a scenario both sides will have to compromise. The UK by basing is strategic nuclear deterrent in a foreign country and the SNP by allowing Trident to remain until it can be relocated.

is this author for real? even in the very unlikely agreement by a Scots and rUK govt on this assertion, who would/could get it past the un and the nuclear proliferation treaty which would expresely forbid any such arrangement no matter who proposes it?
2013-06-30 22:25

While it is SNP policy not to have nuclear weapons on Scottish soil, they may not win the first Scottish General Election. The Lib-Dems/Labour/Conservative MSPs could outnumber all the SNP MSPs put together and form a coalition Government. They share similar policies, so leasing Faslane to the rUK will seem like a natural thing for them to do.
2013-06-30 23:16

To be fair, in the event of independence any party willing to agree to that might as well stop contesting elections in Scotland.

2013-06-30 21:20

Know what I like about this response/rebuttal? The professed integrity; the plea to be taken seriously.

All that we hear is yet another unionist crying wolf in yet another part of the forest; but maybe, just maybe, far away in the shadows, there’s the sound of a penny dropping too.

It might be a pound coin of course, but that’s an immaterial issue over the choice of appropriate currency.
2013-06-30 22:23


All three are unsuitable for a variety of reasons (not deep water ports, near gas plants etc)

Yet Faslane, which is right in the middle of the largest concentration of people in Scotland is a suitable location is it? Better to flatten Glasgow and irradiate Scots than loose a gas plant.

And you wonder why we want to get out of this poisonous relationship.

2013-07-01 09:29

I have taken issue with other points raised elsewhere but would like to add that his rebuttal of the £500 million doesn’t make sense to me.
Of course we realise that the defence policy of the UK is not organised on a regional basis. When Scotland is independent our defence policy will be collective within Scotland. And the reality is that there will probably be some cross border agreements with the rest of the UK as well. The point is that we will choose where to spend that £500 million in a way that best benefits the defence and economic interests of Scotland.
2013-07-01 09:40

‘To ensure its academic robustness and neutrality’

Breaking news:

Pope declares he’s not a Catholic, but he just wants everyone to know what a damn fine religion Catholicism is.
2013-07-01 17:57

Obviously Mr Ibrahim in addition to being a unionist sympathizer is a bit of a cold-war warrior. Why should Scotland be a clone of the UK with its perceived divine right to interfere, as a world policeman, in the affairs of states is may have issue with. An independent Scottish state would have different priorities and alliances and very likely a more enlightened worldview. As to the question of what we might inherit we would not be seceding from the UK we would be ending the political union which created it. This is a totally different ball game. We will get what we are entitled to as a former “partner”.
2013-07-01 18:20

Straw man, the SNP. What about the Greens, Solidarity, the SSP? What about the fact there is to be a Scottish General Election in 2016? Does he believe that we will have a permanent SNP dictatorship after YES? Did he not notice how there was strong debate over the SNP policy anent NATO. I do not see the future of Scotland in the terms of the premises of the argument his responses address.

I do see the results of his UK based collective defence in the fiasco of the Russian Navy’s holiday in the Moray Firth.

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