DURING the 2014 independence campaign defence policy was perhaps the greatest handicap for the Yes side. It was torn between supporting a vocal section of its electorate that was so anti-nuclear and unilateralist that it not only worried many moderate Scots, who consistently are pro-Nato, but also many of the UK’s closest European defence partners.

These nations, such as the United States, France, Denmark and Norway were rightfully concerned that one of the great pillars of European defence would be nobbled, and in its place would be an isolationist, pacifist Scotland and a diminished England.

These worries fed into threats that, if the SNP did not change its defence policy, it could find itself on the outside looking in on the EU. If there is a new referendum campaign in the next two years, however, the role defence would play in the campaign could be very different and might even end up playing into the hands of independence supporters.

For this, the Yes campaign can thank two things, the majority of the supposedly Unionist, Brexit-backing population of the UK and the Conservative Government’s huge cuts in defence spending.

The British Government used to boast that excellent UK armed services helped the country punch above its weight. That may have been true in the past but, in 2016, the UK has dropped down a number of classes. Between 2010 and 2015, UK defence spending was cut by 19 per cent and the Government had to rely on childish tricks such as including international aid spending in the defence budget to reach the Nato target of two per cent of GDP. In percentage terms the UK spends less on defence than Nato allies France, Turkey, Greece and Poland.

At the same time, the money that is spent is creating a force unsuited to Britain’s role. The cuts have fallen disproportionately on the guts of British defence: the army and logistics. The army is smaller than it has been for centuries. Yet, as it is being slashed, money is being lavished on two glamorous, big-ticket items that have little benefit for British security: the Trident system and the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.

The carriers, first dreamed up by the Blair Labour Government in a testosterone-fuelled rush, are coming online. They are hugely expensive, require much of Britain’s remaining naval assets just to go to sea and have no real role in the present environment.

Trident is likewise a weapons system whose value is political more than actual and I write this as someone who is not in favour of unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Trident is maintained to support Britain’s position as a UN security-council permanent member more than to counter any real security threat and is equally useless against Russia or so-called Islamic State.

Then we have Brexit which, for all of the fine words of Brexiters about creating a more international Britain, is and will continue to do precisely the opposite. To Britain’s European partners, focussing increasingly on European-wide defence initiatives, Brexit makes Britain less reliable.

It is unlikely that a Brexit Britain can play a leadership role in determining Europe’s future defence structure. For the US, Britain’s most useful role has been its ability to play this leadership role in Europe. If forced to choose, America will always opt to work with the EU as a whole over a Brexit UK with an ever shrinking military.

Do not think for a moment that Britain’s Allies in North America and Europe are not aware of the growing weakness of Britain’s defence posture and the impact of Brexit? They have remarked on it widely and, were Scotland to have another independence vote, they would not intervene nearly so much as before to try to convince Scots to maintain the status quo. If the SNP and the Yes campaign develop their policies in a centrist, cooperative way, they could turn what was the biggest handicap in the last campaign into a possible plus. They could run on confirming Scotland’s commitment to European institutions and Nato.

It would mean that, far from using defence issues to try to scare Scotland into voting to stay in the Union, America and the EU would, at worst, stay out of the fray and, at best, might look benignly on what would be a reconfirmation of European unity.

Phillips O’Brien is Professor of Strategic Studies at the University of St Andrews.