By Brian Currie, Group Political Editor.Jobs will be the key factor in the battle between the SNP and Westminster Governments over defence. Whether they are the soldiers, sailors and air force personnel and their families billeted in Scotland or serving with Scottish regiments, the warship builders on the Clyde and their suppliers, or the manufacturers of sophisticated electronics and many other companies, the referendum will decide the size and the financial value of the military footprint north of the border.
Worries over local economies, exemplified by the recent closure of air bases in Moray and Fife, will influence how many people vote. Those closures took place under a UK Government but how would the Clyde submarine bases fare in an independent Scotland with the SNP intent on removing nuclear weapons? How would that affect the economy?
Defence of the realm is unlikely to be at the forefront of most voters’ minds but within that broad description fall the North Sea oil fields and fishing grounds. In or out of the UK, they must be protected. And with the Russians replicating Cold War manoeuvres and testing UK air space near the Outer Hebrides over the last couple of years, another dimension is added to the debate.
Below, we outline the contrasting arguments for Scotland becoming independent, or remaining in the UK, and hear the view of an impartial expert on how important this subject will be to the decision.
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The SNP would set up a Scottish Defence Force – armed forces with an air base, a naval base without nuclear submarines, and a mobile armed brigade. It claims its military capability would be similar to countries like Norway and says the £3billion it currently contributes to defence spending means there is no doubt it could match the fast jets, ocean-going vessels and highly-trained personnel of its Northern European neighbours. The SNP points out that there are 12,320 service personnel in Scotland compared to 26,200 in Norway, 34,700 in Finland and 22,000 in Denmark.
Scotland has one base with 40 fast jets compared to seven bases, 57 fast jets, 18 utility helicopters, four transport aircraft and 16 trainers in Norway.
The party maintains that independence would give Scotland the opportunity to develop a defence policy based on foreign and security priorities that were right for the country including territorial defence, civil power security, supporting neighbours and allies and the United Nations. The multi-role defence force would “bring home” Scottish service personnel and Scottish recruited units would inherit the same or enhanced terms as they have now.
With the removal of Trident, the nuclear base at Faslane would become a conventional naval base. The SNP’s view is that no independent nation of five million people has nuclear weapons and there would be no place for the nuclear deterrent in Scotland.
Because of nuclear weapons, the SNP is officially pledged to retain a long-standing policy which would mean opting out of Nato, but it says having full responsibility for defence would ensure Scotland could choose which theatres to be involved in. It uses the 1991 Gulf War as an example of how the Scottish Defence Force could be deployed. That involved more than 30 coalition nations acting under the authority of a specific UN Security Council Resolution.
But, by contrast, it would have been free to decline to take part in the second Gulf War based on its lack of a legal mandate. The SNP also insists that it is perfectly possible to share basing, training and procurement facilities with the rest of the present UK.
The position of the UK Government and the other pro-union parties on defence is clear and applies across the referendum debate – Scotland is stronger in the UK and the UK is stronger with Scotland in it. They say the SNP must provide more detail about its plans, rather than simply saying they intend to operate a single air base, naval base and mobile armed brigade. The pro-union lobby asks which threats they would intend to counter, what military personnel and equipment would be needed and what foreign policy objectives would it pursue.
At the heart of the UK argument are jobs and the economy. The Scottish aerospace, defence and marine sector have a combined turnover of £5.2billion and are worth £2.1bn to the economy, employing about 40,000 people in more than 800 companies, many of which are small and medium-sized enterprises. The biggest, and most visible, current MoD order is for the two giant aircraft carriers helping keeping workers employed on the Clyde and at Rosyth. The UK Government estimates their value at around £1.3billion and they sustain thousands of jobs directly and in the supply chain.
The UK position is that the Royal Navy has never had a warship built overseas in the last 50 years and the underlying threat is that an independent Scotland would be seen as a foreign country and would not win this type or order, consequently putting jobs at risk. It also points out that the nuclear base at Faslane employs around 6500 people, making it Scotland’s largest single workplace. Although the SNP plans to retain the facility as a conventional base, the implication is that without the nuclear submarines, jobs would be lost.
The unionists’ position is that providing security for the nation remains the most important responsibility of government and that Scotland benefits from the UK’s membership of United Nations Security Council and Nato. They also point out that the UK armed forces are a highly integrated and sophisticated fighting force and extricating a Scottish element was not, as Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said, “as simple as breaking off a little bit, like a square on a chocolate bar”.
An expert's view, from Dr Phil O'Brien, director of the Scottish Centre for War Studies at Glasgow University: Defence is going to have a big role in the overall debate, particularly for the SNP, who have had difficulty establishing their policy. They've promised to keep Faslane and its 10,000 jobs, but they've also promised to get rid of nuclear weapons. Without Trident, there's no point in Faslane. The leadership also wants to adopt a pro-Nato policy, even if all the members don't.
The unionists basically don't want to talk about defence at all, and say independence isn't going to happen. It could be argued that it would be more responsible to have a policy, just in case.