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.