HMS Penzance (pictured here leaving Faslane) and other ships of her class carry one 30mm gun and two smaller machine guns to deal with armed threats

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond seems to have put his foot in his own mouth when he made a speech in Lerwick, the capital and main port of the Shetland Islands in Scotland. The speech was centred around what appeared to be a significant misunderstanding of Royal Navy basing procedures and operational doctrine. For the sake of simplicity and ease of understanding, I have broken down the speech into relevant points.

“The navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland.” – This is a curious statement in my opinion, while true it seems to be disingenuous. He seems to have forgotten the role played by the submarines HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious and HMS Vigilant, HMS Vengeance and HMS Astute. He has also forgotten the armed patrol ships HMS Tracker, HMS Raider and HMS Pursuer. The armed minehunters HMS Penzance, HMS Pembroke, HMS Grimsby, HMS Bangor, HMS Ramsey, HMS Blyth and HMS Shoreham. He also seems to have forgotten that HMS Tireless, HMS Torbay, HMS Trenchant, HMS Talent and HMS Triumph (followed by their Astute class replacements) are soon to move to HMNB Clyde.

While many are major sub-surface vessels not “major surface vessels” as Alex Salmond was keen to stress, they are all capable of providing support when needed against the range of possible threats in Scottish waters. With a deliberate choice of words, he’s ignored the most capable anti-surface warfare vessels in the British fleet, the nuclear powered (not armed) submarines.

“The largest protection vessels stationed in Scottish waters are those of the fisheries protection vessels run by the Scottish government.” –  The basing of a large surface warship, such as a Type 23 frigate, would make little sense not least due to the ridiculous logistics trail it would create but due to the fact that the vessels already based in Scotland are perfectly capable of dealing with the roles they are assigned from patrol to war-fighting. If the need ever materialised to station a major surface warship in Scotland, a handful are always within half a days sailing away.

“It is absurd for a nation with a coastline longer than India’s to have no major surface vessels.” – This completely ignores the fact that the primary anti-surface platform in the Royal Navy is the nuclear powered (not armed) submarine of which there are many in Scotland which even more to follow in the next few years.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: “Yet again the Scottish Government have passed up an opportunity to share a coherent, positive and substantive plan with the people of Scotland on how they propose to maintain Scotland’s defence and security, and sustain thousands of jobs in Scotland’s defence industry.”

It seems evident that Scottish FM Alex Salmond seems to be playing politics, as politicians do, however with a sensational slip of the tongue he’s dismissed 20 vessels ranging from nuclear powered submarines to armed patrol vessels, making up over 100,000 tonnes of shipping.

Unless the First Minister wants a £1 billion anti-air warfare destroyer conducting fisheries patrols off Aberdeen, it’s hard to see this as anything other than nonsense.

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Stewart Dredge

So UK Defence is confirming the First Minister of Scotland’s assertion that does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. Can someone explain, therefore, what was the point of this article?

Stewart Dredge

So UK Defence is confirming the First Minister of Scotland’s assertion that the navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. Can someone explain, therefore, what was the point of this article?

George Allison

Stewart, with all due respect, if you had read the article you would have seen that our point is simply that the basing of a major surface ship is unnecessary given the assets already based in Scotland that are easily capable of performing the roles outlined by the FM. As a man with briefings on these matters, the FM of Scotland would likely know that and it’s very evident to us in the industry that he’s simply playing semantics given that there’s no call for a large surface vessel to be based in Scotland.

Thanks for your question!

Scott Hadden

Can I ask what the purpose of this article is? Is it to show the lack of knowledge on naval defence matters by the Scottish first minister? I am no expert on the subject myself . I am sure if the prime minister of the UK were asked the same question’s he would struggle without a full briefing from more learned defence experts. The defence of Scotland will be dependent on what is agreed by the UK and Scottish government’s should Scotland become independent . One thing I am aware of from a naval defence matter is that the Trident… Read more »


What a pity that a submarine was not able to surface close to the Russian ships in the Moray Firth. Although that does highlight the difference between submarines and surface ships, I guess a few shore stations might have scared them off.

Lewis Benzie

So correct me if I am wrong but did or didnt a Russian Guided Missile ship walk into our ‘perimeter’ unchecked & unquestioned? I think your tagline impartial & current needs to be checked.

George Allison

You are indeed wrong, the Russian vessels announced their intention to shelter near the UK, OUTSIDE of UK waters in fact, long before their arrival. The sending of a surface ship was nothing more than PR exercise given the fact that the job of investigating and shadowing such vessels falls to the SSN fleet, the primary naval asset for anti-submarine and anti-surface operations. It’s the same way in most navies that use submarines, very rarely do surface ships investigate ships travelling near national waters. In this case however I’m sure you can guess the outrage that would be fostered if… Read more »

Jim Simpson

With respect Mr Allison I believe this is a politically biased article. I read the article about the First Minister’s statement published in The Herald and happen to agree with much of what he said. I don’t want nuclear weapons, in this country and, if the Westminster government are so fond of them then park them in London. Also, if you want to know how useful a minehunter is as a combat vessel I suggest you check what an AK47 does to a sheet of GRP, they’re not called the tupperware navy for nothing. These vessels are also excellent at… Read more »

George Allison

I do apologise but why would you expect a vessel on fisheries patrol off Aberdeen to engage in combat and meet AK47’s? Additionally, the fact that Lossiemouth is on the Moray Firth does strengthen the point made here that large surface vessels are not required to meet the roles undertaken by vessels in Scottish waters.

Angela Simpson

Why ask for comments and then remove them because you cant back up what your statement is saying!! I.e. Jim Simpson, comment written on 22.02.2014

George Allison

I’m sorry but what comment has been removed?


He made a correct, if completely irrelevent statement. Why put the emphasis on things that are on top of the water rather than under it?

A Carmichael


The four ships which form the core of the Royal Navy’s amphibious fleet are helicopter carriers HMS Illustrious and Ocean and assault ships HMS Albion and Bulwark – the latter is also Britain’s flagship. With the exception of Portsmouth-based Illustrious, the amphibious force – which deploys as part of the UK’s Response Force Task Group – is concentrated in Devonport, close to many of the Royal Marines’ assault and raiding units, and the commandos’ training centre in Lympstone.

David O'Neill

If Im not mistaken the submarine elements you sppeak of are to be moved to the clyde to be stored as a nuclear hazard, not for future operational reasons. So we will have the Polaris scrap, trident dangers and the hunter killer wrecks to keep for a million years!

George Allison

No, that is incorrect. The submarines moving to the Clyde will be in active service and include the newest submarines to enter Royal Navy service, the Astute class.


If these ships are already in position, and are all we need then a Scottish Defence Force should be ready made, and easy to transfer. If they are to be retained by rUK they must be surplus to their requirements.
The Scottish share of UK defence is currently ~£3.5bn the suggestion is that this should reduce to £2.5bn.

How much should rUK e looking for to sell on their surplus vessels?


Mmm really….
Isn’t it the fact that what he says is that as you point out we have no “surface vessel” in Scotland ? So let me ask i/we pay our share to the mod/ uk government as part of a so called union yet we have not one based in Scotland ?
For political gain or not it is a simple fact and it’s true and enough to make you vote yes.


not at all, the services provided cover the needs… if there is no need for it, it is a waste of tax money to impliment it… why cant you see that, its clearly stated in the article! its like demanding a gold toilet seat because ur not happy with the carved oak one you already have!


Cracking comments guys 🙂 very interesting article that someone just totally misquoted !!! Facebook queen Elizabeth class carriers an unofficial page entering into political debate , using this article then deleting all my comments , nice reading though 🙂


why does Scotland need to defend Scottish waters at all. It will be in the UK’s interest to defend Scottish waters if they are part of the union or not. I can foresee an independant Scotland subcontracting defence in exchange for access to existing defence facilities in scotland.


Why? Well because me Redmond keeps telling me I should vote no on the basis of job security ( it’s really a facade to get me to vote no) and you really have to include the defence of my shores as well As well rest of the UK no? Or if not can you explain where my share of defence goes ? Cos let’s be honest the UK has diminished the Army and it’s bases to almost nothing no?


I for one appreciate the article – contrary to the parsed out truth (that’s being generous – as Salmond was clearly lying) it good to have the record set straight. Of course not everyone is interested in facts – as evidenced by some of the preceding comments. But that says more about them than it does about an accurate record.

A Minister of the Crown really ought not mislead so wantonly. So. thank you for the post and the factual account.

[…] fleet, Scotland is also protected by three armed patrol ships and seven armed mine-hunter ships. As the UK Defence Journal reports, five more submarines are set to move to the Scottish base within the next few years. The U.K. […]

Andrew Hall

Strange then it took 24 hrs for the English Royal Navy to sail from Portsmouth to Scotland to ask a Russian ship to leave Scottish waters. Scotland is ill protected better to go our own way and have a handful of ships ourselves.