That is why, on Wednesday, Scotland International releases its first major piece of work, a 50-page report examining this issue.
Recent reports on defence in an independent Scotland - and recent committee hearings in Westminster - have consist-ently tied their focus to the question of whether or not Scotland should be an independent state. The Scotland International report, co-authored by myself and Andrew Parrot, a retired British Army lieutenant-colonel, adopts no such stance. We seek as much as possible to ignore the politicking.
Entitled Securing The Nation: Defending An Independent Scotland, our report takes as its starting point the current Scottish Government's expressed desire that an independent Scotland would be a militarily capable state, able to both protect Scotland's national interests and also to engage with a wider range of trans-national security agendas, including those befitting a member of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato).
Our report thus seeks to paint an informed picture of what the security priorities should be for the government of a newly independent Scotland, and how that government should look to structure and provision a Scottish Defence Force (SDF) in order to allow it to address those priorities.
Securing the Perimeter
In our research, we highlight what we think the "security focus" of an independent Scotland should be. Central to developing this focus, we argue, would be the development of a Scottish National Defence Academy (NDA) tasked with firstly crystallising and steering a "Scottish defence focus" and secondly training and educating the officers, civil servants, diplomats and other agency officers with the task of defending Scotland and conducting its international relations.
We argue, first and foremost, that military planners in a newly independent Scotland should look to develop a military force in keeping with what Scotland actually needs. A Scottish Defence Force would be smaller than the UK military but the model we propose would allow the SDF to retain a "hard military edge" while offering a more comprehensive defence of the domestic revenue base, citizens and physical environment than the UK model currently facilitates.
Absent the likelihood of military invasion in the foreseeable future, we contend that military planners in an independent Scotland should prioritise the principle of "securing the perimeter", an approach which would see a Scottish Defence Force tasked and equipped primarily to patrol and defend Scotland's sizeable coastline, sea and airspace. This commitment would require a holistic approach which would rely upon a proficient Scottish navy, air force, coastguard service and customs agency. The need for such an approach is, we argue, great.
A Scottish Customs Agency
The National Audit Office estimates that the trade in illicit tobacco cost the UK Exchequer £1.9 billion in 2010-11 alone. Smuggling activities also fund the criminal gangs who typically run these activities and who are also involved in fields such as people trafficking and weapons procurement. Human trafficking to the UK rose by one-quarter last year.
In Scotland, tobacco smuggling is rising. It is thought that Triad gangs operating between China and Scotland make more than £10 million per year through illicit sales of rolling tobacco alone. The Northern Ireland authorities contend that the illegal tobacco trade channels tens of millions of pounds each year towards dissident republican groups. Arrests in Scotland this week of armed individuals allegedly intent on terrorist activity remind us that Scotland cannot be complacent on this issue.
Despite the significance of this security issue, the UK Government continues to struggle in addressing it. Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, recently admitted that Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs had "not got a grip" on smuggling and the agency was "falling short" in its efforts to address the problem.
An independent Scotland should, we contend, strive to make progress towards securing the integrity of Scotland's borders. A dedicated, well-funded Scottish Customs Agency would spearhead this effort. If annual revenues lost to smuggling can be counted in the billions of pounds, we might speculate that even modest successes on the part of a Scottish Customs Agency would more than justify its existence.
Maritime security also comes under the spotlight in the security model we propose. Scotland's interests in its seas are certain to increase in the coming decades and those interests will need to be secured. Scotland's waters are also set to become far busier as the opening up of the Northern Sea Route - facilitated by the rapid melting of key areas of Arctic sea ice - brings greater shipping volumes past Scotland's western and eastern coasts.
The Russian government estimates that this year, around 1.5 million tonnes of traffic will be carried through the Northern Sea Route; it predicts that by 2015 that figure will reach four million tonnes.
These developments must, we assert, be properly attended to. A lack of understanding of, and careless engagement with these developments could have devastating consequences for Scotland's fisheries industry, for Scottish tourism, and for the wellbeing of Scotland's people and wildlife. A well-funded coastguard service is, we contend, of fundamental importance in maintaining the integrity of Scotland's coasts and seas.
However, provision in this area is in grave decline. In 2012, the UK Government shut the coastguard stations in the Forth and the Firth, leaving Scotland's central belt without a single station. This decision has left coastguards, in the words of the Commons transport committee, "disillusioned and confused" and the Public & Commercial Services Union (PCS) contends that coastguard officers are "leaving in droves". It is widely considered that Scotland's coastguard service now suffers from an acute staffing problem.
The capacity to assist shipping in Scottish waters has also been questioned as a result of Westminster cuts. Our report raises concerns over whether a "full complement" of just two emergency tugs is adequate to provide effective emergency coverage of Scotland's busy seas, and we are greatly concerned by the UK Government's reluctance to fund even this limited capacity. Its opting instead for letting the private sector "take care of things" reflects a worryingly dismissive view of the risks that maritime accidents pose to fragile marine environments. Just 20 years after the MV Braer ran aground off Shetland, spilling 85,000 tonnes of crude oil into the sea, we contend that a far greater commitment needs to be shown to Scotland's marine environment.
We argue that these concerns can only be addressed by a security model which places an emphasis upon domestic defence and which prioritises maritime and aerial surveillance and patrol. Only with this capability can various important tasks - anti-smuggling operations, maritime asset protection, environmental monitoring, aerial surveillance - be facilitated. Under the current UK model, there are deficiencies in all of these areas and these deficiencies invite various harms upon tax revenues, the physical environment, and human wellbeing.
Scottish NATO membership
Beyond wishing to develop a solid model for defending and independent Scotland, the Scottish Government also desires Scottish participation in trans-national alliances, including Nato. We acknowledge that the prospect of Nato membership is not welcomed by many Scots. However, it is equally the case that eschewing it would, for many other Scots, lead to a unwelcome softening of Scotland's military posture.
We contend that an independent Scotland would have assets that Nato would value and expect in a member state. Certain also is that Scottish membership of Nato would ensure that a Scottish Defence Force would be developed and trained with an eye on Nato's capability and inter-operability standards, thus ensuring the SDF's proficiency on land, sea and in the air.
In describing the structure and size of the Scottish army structure of the SDF, we come up with a force which totals around 17,000 troops. We contend that this will allow an independent Scotland to make - consistent with other similarly sized states in Nato, such as Denmark - a sustained contribution to a variety of multinational operations, including those under the Nato umbrella.
It is interesting to note that the total number of Scottish army personnel we specify for the SDF - 17,000 troops - is, in fact, smaller than the number of the Irish Army, which between its regular and reservists has a total of around 22,000 personnel.
Dr John MacDonald is director of Scotland International, an independent research institute dedicated to analysis of policy issues relevant to Scotland and its place in the world.
Securing The Nation: Defending An Independent Scotland is released on Wednesday
THERE is little to suggest that an independent Scotland would face any great challenge in funding its defence.
Assuming that the defence resource of a newly independent Scotland would initially be based upon its 8.4% 'population share' of UK defence assets, Scottish military planners would have perhaps around £9 billion to start up an SDF.
Turning to running costs, recent UK Government figures suggest that Scotland's annual contribution to defence is around £3.4bn. The current Scottish Government proposes an annual defence spend of £2.5bn, a figure which would align it with Denmark. After independence Scottish citizens would therefore be paying nearly £1bn less in tax contributions.
Although Scotland contributes £3.4bn towards UK defence the figures suggest that Westminster spends only £1.9bn in Scotland. The evidence suggests clearly that the citizens of an independent Scotland would be paying less, but would have around £500 million more per year to spend on their defence.