Stuart Crawford, who was also a British Army officer in addition to being an SNP defence spokesman, has said the Scottish Government should focus on specialising in certain areas.
Crawford told me that the military of an independent Scotland shouldn’t feature fast jets, big surface ships, tanks or nuclear weapons. Instead, it should exploit international alliances and specialise in areas that would benefit NATO, to make it a more attractive member despite lower spending.
It is understood that the annual share of defence spending in Scotland is £3.2bn, but under Crawfords post-independence plans, this would be £1.1bn. While defence spending below the requisite level for NATO membership could cause a headache if Scotland decided to join the alliance, Mr Crawford advises that the strategically-placed RAF Lossiemouth could be used in negotiations.
“This would fall short of the NATO spending target. However, Scotland’s strategic location and military assets could be also offered, including the development of a NATO or European base at Lossiemouth or leasing Faslane.”
The report also states that an independent Scotland could shift its defence and military emphasis away from the army-focused model proposed in 2012 by Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh.
The report advises that most, if not all, of the defence inventory would still come from Scotland’s inherited share of the UK current assets. Whether or not this will happen however is somewhat unclear as the Scottish Government 2014 white paper on independence said an independent Scotland would “inherit a share of existing UK defence assets, giving us most of the equipment we need to establish Scotland’s defence forces”.
However in March last year, Brendan O’Hara, the party’s former defence spokesman at Westminster, called the document “absolutely first class given the circumstances” but added it was now “out of date” because there has since been a UK Government Strategic Defence and Security Review. The MP for Argyll and Bute claimed that the country would now start from scratch and not inherit any assets.
“One of the big debates we want to have is what do we do with the military assets? Do we start from scratch, do we take an eight per cent share or a nine per cent share of them? If we do take a nine per cent share, what do we take? What about the maintenance contracts?
I’m personally very much of the opinion that if we adopt a nine per cent share of the hardware then you are pushed down a road from which it’s sometimes very difficult to come back. I don’t think you can have a bespoke independent Scottish defence policy if you’re immediately saddled with taking eight or nine per cent of military assets.”
Despite the lack of official clarity on current SNP defence policy regarding whether or not an independent Scotland would in fact inherit UK military assets, Crawford points out that the inheritance of assets “would be subject to negotiation” should Scotland ever vote to leave.
“There are many items which independent Scotland would either not want or not be able to afford. There would be no utility for high-end weaponry, and aircraft carriers, submarines, tanks, army attack helicopters, heavy artillery and fast jet attack aircraft can be discounted. And, of course, no nuclear weapons.”
The report also advises that a Scottish Defence Force could comprise a navy of some 20 hulls, including two frigates, Mine Counter Measure Vessels (MCMVs) and Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and approximately 2500 personnel.
Crawford believes that an independent Scotland would require an army able to produce one deployable brigade (with details of units and equipment to be the subject of further study) of some 6000 personnel, and an air force with approximately 50 aircraft and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with some 2000 personnel.
“With an allowance for HQ and support staff, this gives a total of 11000 personnel, about a third less than the 2012 RUSI report. A ratio of 70:30 in terms of regular and reserve personnel might be appropriate, subject to further examination.”
In conclusion, Crawford writes that geopolitical developments over the past six years require an update to the model for how an independent Scotland might defend itself.
“A full spectrum military capability is neither necessary nor easily affordable, and specialisation and exploitation of potential military alliances to cover capability gaps, particularly with European partners, are the way forward. The updated model summarised here shows a possible Scottish Defence Force model which is smaller by a third and considerably less costly than our previous one. It is also approximately half the costings identified for defence in the Growth Commission Report.”
It should be noted that the Sustainable Growth Commission prospectus proposed a defence budget of around £2.7bn.
Andrew Bowie, the Scottish Conservative MP, branded the plan “very worrying”, he said: “To propose a plan so substantially short of the 2% of GDP minimum demanded by the alliance (NATO) is frankly irresponsible and short sighted.”
A spokesman for the SNP said: “The positive debate about Scotland’s future as an independent country includes the wide range of views held across Scottish society. The SNP is absolutely clear that we should get rid of costly nuclear weapons and instead invest in conventional defence.”
Of the many forms an independent Scottish military could take, should Scotland ever become independent, this appears to be the most credible.