Defence decisions should be taken in Scotland

SNP Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson exposes the truth about the decline in Scotland's defence footprint under successive UK Governments.


Over recent months there has been all sorts of scaremongering over Scotland’s post independence prospects.

People have been treated like fools with bizarre scare stories, for example, claims that the NHS would cease to exist, that ‘English’ would no longer be taught on the school curriculum or that there would be a custody battle over the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo!

But, perhaps some of the worst scaremongering has been in relation to Scotland’s defence prospects.

These scare stories are all the more ludicrous because, in contrast to the conventional wisdom about a significant and well-funded UK defence presence in Scotland, the facts are entirely different.

This week further deep cuts to Scotland’s defence footprint were revealed by the UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

While the SNP’s campaign to secure the future of cap badges and the historic regimental names was successful, the UK Government have cut personnel numbers drastically. Under these plans Scotland will have a smaller infantry than the Irish Republic.

It is expected that four of Scotland’s five recruited units will have their strength cut to 450 personnel each. And the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who won battle honours in the Great War and Second World War, are to be reduced to Public Duties Company of about 150.

Compare that with the ‘super-battalion’ of 700 press officers employed by the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall to spin these cuts.

During the last round of amalgamations and disbandment’s seven years ago we were told that regimental units would be protected within the Royal Regiment of Scotland – the “super-regiment” created with the merging of historic units.

This was supposed to safeguard regimental names and numbers. But the latest cuts suggest this was nothing more than an empty promise.

And it is no use the Tories complaining that this was a promise made by the last Labour Government – because the Conservatives themselves promised, when they were in opposition at Westminster, that an incoming Tory administration would reinstate Scotland’s regiments.

At the time, the Tory Shadow Scotland Secretary said: “A Conservative government will reverse any Scottish regiment cuts made by Hoon, Brown and Blair. We will reinstate six distinct Scottish regiments. All Labour offers is a cap badge and a war memorial. We will save the Scottish six.”

Instead of restoring the Scottish six, the Tories have cut our capabilities again.

In fact, successive Westminster governments have run down Scotland’s defence capabilities, with more than 11,000 defence jobs in the last decade – including more than 600 redundancies since the beginning of the year. That, combined with the fact that there has been at least a £5.6 billion underspend on defence north of the border according to the MoD's own figures.

It is only when you put these cuts in context of the army presence across the UK as a whole that the full, shocking scale of what has been done to the military footprint in Scotland becomes clear.

Before these cuts the MoD quietly disbanded the 40th Royal Artillery Regiment which meant that only eight of 140 regular units will be raised here in Scotland. And even more shockingly, only two per cent of those regular units are actually based in Scotland.

The previous Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, admitted to parliament that over the last decade military personnel numbers in Scotland were cut by 27 per cent, compared to 11 per cent across the UK as a whole, showing that these further cuts again hit Scotland disproportionately.

And it is not just Army numbers where we have seen cuts. The UK government is leaving only one operating air base as well as operational capability gaps like maritime patrol aircraft that could be used for search and rescue operations.

Westminster Governments, whether Labour or Tory and Lib Dem, have been happy to allow the steady decline of conventional defence capabilities here in Scotland, while at the same time continuing to waste billions of pounds on Trident nuclear missiles dumped on the River Clyde.

Small independent nations across Europe maintain armies much greater than the numbers currently based in Scotland after successive UK cuts. These facts expose the nonsense of claims that an independent Scotland would not be capable of recruiting and maintaining a defence force.

The exact configuration of Scottish Defence Forces will be shaped by the outcome of a strategic defence review, but we can look to our European neighbours of comparable size for an indication of how the defence landscape of an independent Scotland will look.

After this weeks announcement by the MoD, it must now be clear that Scotland’s defence interests, and the need for a well-funded conventional defence presence based here in Scotland, would clearly be best served by making these decisions here and not leaving it to London.‪