This article was submitted by Alastair Cameron, a former British Army officer and the founder of Scotland in Union. He is writing here in a personal capacity. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the UK Defence Journal. We aim to encourage debate around defence as part of our new ‘Views on Defence’ series, a look at opinions of major political parties and other organisations in the UK in the run up to the Modernising Defence Programme defence review being released.

In May 2018, the SNP published their new ‘Growth Commission’ report. The wide-ranging document was produced by a commission appointed by the party, and led by Andrew Wilson, a former SNP MSP and founding partner of PR firm Charlotte Street Partners.

The report proposes various policies as a path to Scottish independence, and suggests how a separate Scotland could manage its fiscal position. It makes a range of assertions about how a separate Scotland would manage, and has been billed as a new blueprint for independence. As part of that process, a separate Scotland would of course have to take responsibility for the defence and security of the new country.

Yet another Growth Commission blog?

Since the publication of the SNP’s ‘Growth Commission’ report, many commentators have discussed the assertions, recommendations and inconsistencies in the 354-page document.

Experts, such as those at the Institute of Fiscal Studies, have noted the austerity which Scotland would experience if it were to follow the report’s recommendations [1]. Others have provided analyses of specific areas of the report, [2] including its apparent incompatibility with EU membership [3]. However, as far as I am aware nobody has yet looked in detail at the report’s claims and assertions about defence spending in a separate Scotland.

Of course, nobody who knows me would be surprised to hear that I think there are many reasons why Scotland, and the UK, would suffer if Scotland were to leave the UK: defence is only one of many area for consideration. However, I believe it is worth looking at what the SNP’s new flagship report says (or doesn’t say) about defence strategy, policy and costs. I don’t want to position this as anything other than a theoretical exercise, but if the SNP’s assertions are not reviewed and challenged, they could become orthodoxy. [4]

Defence matters

The basic contract between citizen and state is for people to provide support to the machinery of state (usually through taxes, but in some countries the support could include labour as conscripts) in exchange for the state’s guarantee of security [5]. In extremis, this means defending the country’s borders against invasion, but it can also extend to defence diplomacy; contributions to alliances; dealing with natural disasters at home or abroad; or specific military missions to support citizens, such as when UK armed forces rescued hundreds of oil workers from Libya in 2011 when civil war broke out.

Pictured is an RAF C-130 Hercules, the type that helped evacuate Britons from Libya.

At present, all of the UK benefits from the collective defence of our country, including our shared airspace and surrounding seas, thanks to capable and integrated armed forces and intelligence networks. These help to protect all of us from threats such as terrorism, cyber security and organised crime. Our UK defence policy and capability keeps Scotland safe, and enables us to exert influence and support peace, security and disaster relief in other parts of the world. Scottish units and individual Scots play important roles in the British armed forces, and have done so for hundreds of years [6]. As part of the UK, we are also leading members of NATO, influential players in allied intelligence networks and have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The UK currently spends over £35 billion a year on defence, [7] including investing in ship-building in Scotland. There are currently about 18,000 Ministry of Defence personnel in Scotland, of whom about 14,000 are serving army, navy and air force personnel [8], and it is reasonable to assume that this will rise once the entire UK submarine fleet is based at Faslane. There are benefits to the local economies around these bases, as companies provide direct services to the bases, and as a result of economic activity by the forces personnel and their families. [9]

HMNB Clyde at Faslane.

An independent Scotland would need to create its own military and security forces and infrastructure. So, can the ‘Growth Commission’ report convince us that we’d be more secure if Scotland were to separate from the UK? That is surely an important test for the report, and a significant challenge for the SNP when it comes to defence and security.

Random number generator

The Growth Commission report’s defence paragraphs are in Part B of the report, which is snappily entitled: ‘The Framework & Strategy for the Sustainable Finances of an Independent Scotland’. Some commentators have suggested that many of the Growth Commission’s recommendations could be followed with Scotland still in the UK. Part B of the report, though, is overtly an ‘if we were independent’ pitch, making it an attempt to replace the ‘White Paper’ of the 2014 campaign.

That ‘White Paper’ made some specific claims about troop and equipment numbers, but without much in the way of financial calculations to back them up, other than to claim a defence budget of £2.5bn would be adequate. Given that budget, the SNP’s claims that a separate Scotland would have 15,000 armed forces personnel, and equipment including two frigates and a squadron of Typhoons were at best optimistic [10]. The degree of accuracy was always suspect, and some comprehensive analyses at the time cast doubt on the realism of the SNP’s plans. [11]

Typhoons from RAF Lossiemouth.

The Growth Commission report takes a slightly different tack, effectively starting with the assertion that defence spending would be 1.6% of GDP. It also states that the armed forces would number 12,600. However, there is a disconnect between the two paragraphs in the report: one is based on a % share of GDP, and the other is based on a population share (see below). This chopping and changing could be called trying to have one’s ration pack and eat it. Whether this is due to sloppy drafting, or deliberate obfuscation, only Andrew Wilson and his team can answer.

The next question should be: where does 1.6%, or indeed 12,600, come from anyway? On what threat assessment is it based? What assumptions about the land, air, sea (surface/ subsurface) and space capabilities a separate Scotland would need to counter a range of threats? What assumptions on the proportion of reserves to regulars? What assumptions about whether Scotland would be a member of NATO? I’m not sure the Growth Commission report really needs more padding – it’s already a 50-page report squeezed into 354 pages – but shouldn’t there be some strategic basis for the numbers articulated?

Absent any strategic statements in the report, let’s consider from where the 1.6% figure might come. My guess is that it’s a number which is simply (1) less than currently the case, so that some notional savings can be banked (2) not very far from 2%, so that people who think we should be in NATO might imagine a separate Scotland could join the alliance. There’s even a possibility that it’s in there to imply, for those that want to read it that way, that there’s a dividend from not having nuclear weapons – even though cutting Scotland’s ‘share’ of Trident would save less than c£200m a year, [12] and thus isn’t that relevant to overall budgetary considerations. If anyone has some better insights into the origins of the figures, by the way, I’d be delighted to hear from them.

Moving target range

There are some other defence-related lines in the report which appear to have been drafted by a PR agency rather than a defence economist. For example, there is a suggestion that there would be benefits at the point of separation because defence activities to which Scotland contributes currently take place outside Scotland [13]. Is the implication of this really that soldiers shouldn’t go on defence missions outside their home country, or that the putative (Royal?) Scottish Navy would only patrol within coastal waters? Perhaps the SNP don’t value our current garrisons in Cyprus, Gibraltar, the Falklands and elsewhere; but are they really suggesting that we wouldn’t have strategic bases and multinational exercises outside Scotland, and that this would be a sensible way to make savings, or to afford home-based forces?

HMS Queen Elizabeth leaves the port of Gibraltar.

Similarly, there is a broad assertion that in general a separate Scotland could save money by doing less, because it would be small [14]. There might be some merit to this, if we are prepared to accept less influence (e.g. in the UN) as part of the cost of doing less. Indeed, we could even take this to conclusions such as: ‘if we don’t have any early warning aircraft or surveillance satellites, we won’t need any intelligence analysis of their output, so we can save money on analysis’. However, I am unconvinced by the ‘smallness’ argument, mainly because there will be a huge loss of economies of scale. If we needed to train one squadron of fighter pilots, we would still need pretty much the same training operation as if we had six squadrons; or if we needed a forces postal service, it wouldn’t be a tenth of the cost if our forces are a tenth of the size; specialist and senior levels of training would need to be contracted out, unless a top heavy training structure was established, and the bill would add up.

Two British F-35Bs, arguably the most advanced combat aircraft in the world.

In another section of the report, there is an estimate that average pay for armed forces personnel would be just over that of a private soldier, at about £20,000 a year [15]. In this section, which is in itself interesting for the way it claims the tax benefits of public sector employees (perhaps assuming that otherwise these people wouldn’t be employed at all), it is actually prudent to low-ball the average. However, this assumption about average pay shows a lack of research and insight: the fully loaded ‘capitation’ rate for a private soldier is actually about £35,400 a year,[6] and the average UK armed forces person costs well over £50,000 a year. Even reverse engineering from this estimate makes the average base salary over £30,000 a year [17].

Soldiers of 2 SCOTS.

For the Growth Commission report to float the £20,000 figure at all implies a disregard for the value of military personnel; a misunderstanding of the real world of defence budgets; and a blindness to the need to recruit high calibre people into the armed forces. Perhaps, of course, the SNP really are saying that the Scottish armed forces are simply going to pay their people less. If so, it seems optimistic to expect people to transfer from the UK armed forces to the new Scottish Defence Force, with fewer opportunities, for less money; particularly if the option of remaining in the UK forces was open to them.

The report also makes a nod to some kind of ‘buy local’ policy for defence, with the assertion that spending, ‘likely to be heavily focused on procurement’, would have ‘potentially very significant positive effect on domestic growth and jobs’ [18]. Many countries support their domestic defence industries, including in the awarding of armed forces equipment contracts (for example, the policy of Royal Navy warships being built in the UK), but we should bear in mind the likely impact of separation on Scotland’s defence industry. For advanced weapons, an independent Scotland would be unlikely to benefit from the technology transfer partnerships which the UK has with the US, for example. Buying materiel locally in Scotland is unlikely to provide the kind of technologically advanced equipment that is currently available to the UK armed forces.

HMS Forth in build at Govan. Photo Ian Dick, ‘HMS Forth’ via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

My final point on the origin and details of the defence numbers in the report is that budget allocations are a political choice. The report asserts that there savings possible following a budget review. In defence, these could be hard to make without cutting capability further. Given the need to reduce Scotland’s deficit (a need which the report acknowledges, even if there are flaws in how it calculates the reduction) [19], I suspect even the 1.6% assumption might come under pressure if a populist government sought to provide more immediately popular hand-outs for its citizens. Of course, we could simply say that we won’t support UN operations, or come to the aid of allies, or rescue our citizens stuck in war zones.

“But those rules wouldn’t apply to us”

During the 2014 campaign, the SNP said that Scotland would be in NATO, but at the same time the Yes campaign repudiated nuclear weapons. However, NATO relies on nuclear deterrence, provided by some of its members for the benefit of all, as the ultimate guarantee of security against a potential nuclear-armed foe. A separate Scotland might choose not to operate nuclear weapons (indeed, it would almost certainly lack the money, facilities and expertise, given other assumptions around spending), but it would need to be open to hosting other countries’ nuclear weapons and it would need to commit to a nuclear alliance [20] if it wanted to benefit from NATO’s collective defence.

The language used in the report suggests that Scotland would be in NATO (for example, in comparing defence spending relative to GDP to that of other NATO countries [21]), but without actually saying Scotland would join. This is similar to the report’s sections on the EU, which imply but never say directly that somehow a separate Scotland would get a special deal and might be able to join the EU without committing to joining the Euro. In both cases, this is probably wishful thinking.

My guess is that the report is deliberately unclear because it wants to appease the Scottish Green Party (on whom the SNP currently rely in Holyrood), just as it’s unclear on the EU because many Scottish nationalists are anti-EU [22] – and also because it’s obvious that 1.6% of GDP is below the 2% expected threshold for NATO members.

Troops from the Welsh Cavalry on a NATO deployment.

With regard to NATO, I suppose the SNP might claim that we’d get a special deal. I would merely ask why they think that would be the case – not based on existing members as examples, but based on the circumstances which would prevail at the time of separation. Is it really likely that the alliance would make a special exception for a Scotland which has just weakened one of its most significant members? Specifically and locally, NATO is unlikely to look kindly at separatists who have managed to undermine the alliance’s ability to project force into the strategically important ‘Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap’ area.

A Royal Navy Astute class submarine with a Type 45 Destroyer in the background.

I know I’m not the only person who is sceptical about NATO receiving an independent Scotland with open arms, just because we’re Scottish, or something like that.

Wha’s like us? Damn few (or actually: nobody)

Given my scepticism about the origins of the Growth Commission report’s assumptions and presumptions about defence, I’m a bit wary of going further into the detail to analyse them, as it might imply I think there are some realistic scenarios presented. However, I think it is still perhaps instructive to consider what the figures could mean if we did take them at face value. Let us do that by indulging in the Growth Commission report’s favourite tactic of comparisons with other countries. (Spoiler: no other country is really that much like an independent Scotland would be, particularly when it comes to defence).

Because of the way the Growth Commission report flits between % of GDP, population share, and absolute numbers (and also leaps forward to 2021), it’s a bit of a challenge to decide which factor to pick as a comparator. Given that the report is mainly about the economy, let’s use the 1.6% of GDP figure as our starting point. Obviously picking countries with similar % of GDP defence budgets is pretty useless, as the total sizes of their economies are very different, but just for the record: Nepal, Bulgaria, Norway, Honduras and the Seychelles all spend 1.6% of GDP on defence [23].

Soldiers from 1st Battalion the Irish Guards assist in training South American forces.

Let’s be a bit more realistic, and consider what 1.6% of GDP would mean in monetary terms, today (remember, this is still a theoretical exercise – obviously Scotland isn’t independent today, but if we’re to do a comparison we will need to compare with other countries today). The Scottish Government’s National Accounts publication gives Scotland’s estimated GDP as £152.1bn to £165.4bn, so we’ll take the highest number and start from there. 1.6% of £165.4bn [24] is £2.65bn (rounding up, again).

If we’re going to compare with other countries, we need to deal with currency conversion. We could do that simply by converting to a common currency (say US dollars) at current exchange rate, giving the notional independent Scotland a defence budget of $3.49bn [25]. This would put it close to Morocco ($3.46bn), South Africa ($3.6bn), Bangladesh ($3.6bn), Ukraine ($3.6bn) and Finland ($3.6bn).

If we want to be a bit more rigorous, we should consider what the money buys. This means we should use some kind of ‘purchasing power parity’ (PPP) conversion, and also that we should probably only use advanced economies as comparators, as they would have similar salary costs and similar equipment types. This means we are not going to compare a notional separate Scotland with a country with thousands of poorly paid conscripts and a fleet of cheap ex-Soviet T55 tanks (even if we think that might be what we’d end up with). This approach will probably do for our purposes, and is certainly no less precise than large chunks of the Growth Commission report.

The destroyed remains of Iraqi T-55 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) litter an Iraqi military complex West of Diwaniyah, Iraq.

Ideally we would use some kind of defence-kit-and-soldiers-specific purchasing power parity (PPP) ratio, but for now we can use the World Bank’s PPP rates (based on dollars)[26] and assume they are sufficient. Using the UK pound as though it was a separate Scotland’s currency for our PPP conversion rate (which is not without issues if we are talking about an independent Scotland, as it is likely to flatter Scotland), Scotland’s US dollar defence spending would be $3.77bn.

So, which advanced economies spend about $3.77bn a year on defence?

CountryCurrency2017 Defence budget local currency (bn)PPP conversion rateDefence budget US$ at PPP (bn)
DenmarkKroner25.177.3563.42
FinlandEuro3.210.8973.58
SwitzerlandFranc4.561.2153.75
Separate Scotland(UK pound used)2.650.7023.77
Czech RepublicKoruna52.512.8984.07
BelgiumEuro3.970.8084.91

(Sources:  Expenditure in local currency: SIPRI data tables (https://www.sipri.org/databases/milex), except for theoretically separate Scotland, which is calculated in this paper.  PPP conversion rates: World Bank (https://data.oecd.org/conversion/purchasing-power-parities-ppp.htm )

Looking at these countries, we could then compare troop and equipment numbers and capabilities, but let’s not go too far into that, for one simple reason: none of these countries is really similar to what an independent Scotland would be like. To take an obvious example, Switzerland and the Czech Republic really don’t need any attack submarines, or anti-submarine capability (and Belgium doesn’t have a lot of coastline, either), but Scotland would feel the lack of these maritime capabilities even in a purely defensive situation and probably should invest in them, even at the expense of (say) armoured forces.

If we did push ourselves to make comparisons, Denmark (18,800 personnel in armed forces [27]) and perhaps Finland (12,000 regular personnel, with total armed forces strength of 230,000 on full mobilisation [28]) are probably the best available examples. Setting aside the earlier point that the nationalists seem woolly on their commitment to NATO, Denmark is a NATO member, and Finland’s defensive posture is aligned with NATO members’ concerns about Russia (a concern that some senior SNP politicians seem not to share).

The Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland. Photo by Stefan Schäfer, Lich [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.
However, that’s really about as far as the value of whole-country comparisons can get, and why I won’t go further into hypothetical discussions of numbers of ships, tanks or helicopters at this stage: entire-single-country or basket-of-country comparisons are spurious. If the SNP think we should have Finland’s approach to conscription and potential full mobilisation of the adult population, for example, they really ought to point that out in their assumptions. Of course we could learn from any country in defence matters, just as we can learn from other countries and regions of all sizes when it comes to domestic policies, but we can’t really ever say that we’d be like another country when it comes to defence.

Warriors in Helmand Province, Afghanistan of B Coy 2 Scots.

A final word on comparisons: even comparable numbers of troops and equipment wouldn’t tell the full picture anyway. UK soldiers, sailors and air force personnel have long traditions of moaning about their kit, but in general the UK has extremely capable equipment, which helps our forces to project power and influence globally. Studies consistently rank the UK as one of the most globally influential countries. [29] None of the comparators above, or indeed any of the ‘Small Advanced Economies’ lauded in the Growth Commission report come close to the influence that the UK can currently wield, and thus the influence that Scots can exercise via the UK [30].

Still Better Together – and not just selfishly so

In conclusion, once again the SNP has failed to address the important question of defence with the attention it deserves. The prime duty of a government is to protect its people, from a variety of threats, and military forces play a hugely significant part in that duty; but the Growth Commission report appears to treat defence as a muddled afterthought.

I find the defence paragraphs in the Growth Commission report no more convincing that the defence sections of the ‘White Paper’. They appear to have numbers plucked out of thin air, without a viable strategic concept and strategy to back them up. Even if taken at face value, they undervalue our forces and don’t amount to much. They fit into a broader scheme where independence is the answer, regardless of the question or the consequences, and where the weakening of the UK is not only accepted but desirable.

Troops from 5 SCOTS are inserted into West Freugh Airfield by a French Airforce C160 Aircraft during Exercise Joint Warrior.

In strategic terms, there is no doubt that the UK’s defences would be weakened if Scotland left. This applies in terms of basing locations as well as in size and soft-power influence. If Scotland left the UK, other powers might take the opportunity to question whether the UK should still have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and the UK’s contribution to NATO would certainly be diminished. We should ask ourselves who would benefit from this negative impact, and whether they are the kind of regimes we would like to see with greater influence.

A Typhoon overflies the RAF’s newly installed Air Defence Radar at Saxa Vord, on the Island of Unst, Shetland.

Within the UK, Scots are territoriality secure in an uncertain world, able to project power and influence on a global scale, and make a full contribution to NATO. People from Scotland serve proudly in the UK armed forces, taking advantage of the opportunities, challenges and rewards which such service offers. Thanks partly to our defence commitments, activity and potential, we can exert influence in the UN Security Council and other international bodies, and we have the capability to act alone if we had to.

Nothing in the Growth Commission report convinces me we would be better off if Scotland left the UK, and this is as true in defence as it is in other areas. If the nationalists want to use defence policy assertions to persuade more people to support their cause, they will have to do better than this.


References
[1] IFS: ‘Weak public finance position implies more austerity for an independent Scotland’ https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/13072

[2] Some excellent work has been done by many people in this area.  I recommend commentary from Kevin Hague (http://chokkablog.blogspot.com/ ), Fraser Whyte (https://whytepaper.wordpress.com/) and Neil Lovatt (http://rwbblog.blogspot.com/) in particular.

[3] Scottish Centre on European Relations: ‘Banquo’s Ghost: the Growth Commission, the EU and Scottish Independence’ https://www.scer.scot/database/ident-6762.

[4] I will restrict myself to defence spending excluding intelligence and security agencies, but it may be worth noting in passing that the assumptions about these agencies in the Growth Commission report are similarly glib (Para B5.13, on Pg 257).  There is £50m for IT, and otherwise a simple assertion that all costs will be covered somehow.  Given the previous record of government IT and organisational projects (in general, and in Scotland in particular), this probably needs a large dose of salt as well.  For an excellent overview of the likely challenges for intelligence and security in a notional independent Scotland, I recommend this blog from ‘Thin Pinstriped Line’: https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.com/2014/04/for-your-scottish-eyes-only.html

[5] As Adam Smith observed, in ‘The Wealth of Nations’: ‘The sovereign’s first duty, protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed only by military force.’  (In Book V, Chapter 1, Part 1. The expense of defence.)

[6] Even before the 1707 Act of Union, Scots were assisting other parts of the UK militarily.  The Royal Scots, the oldest line infantry regiment in the British Army, was formed in 1633 when Sir John Hepburn raised a body of men in Scotland for service in France (http://www.theroyalscots.co.uk/history/),while the Scots Guards trace their origins to 1642 (https://scotsguards.org/history/overview/).

[7] Summarised in UK Government publication: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652915/UK_Defence_in_Numbers_2017_-_Update_17_Oct.pdf

[8] In 2015, the official number was 17,500 (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/474517/PUBLIC_1446799504.pdf).  More recently, the UK Government has published a total of 17,980.  (https://www.deliveringforscotland.gov.uk/life-in-scotland/armed-forces/# )

[9] This is particularly true for regular units; obviously, reserve forces’ families would be present in their local areas in any case, though their economic activity is increased by the pay that reservists receive.

[10] This BBC article provides a useful summary of the White Paper’s claims: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-29135269

[11] For example, the UK Government’s ‘Scotland Analysis: Defence’ (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/248654/Scotland_analysis_Defence_paper-FINAL.pdf), the Henry Jackson Society’s ‘In Scotland’s Defence?’  (http://henryjacksonsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/HJS-In-Scotlands-Defence-Report-LOW-RES.pdf), and a series of blogs from Thin Pinstriped Line (starting with https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.com/2013/11/assessment-on-proposals-for-scottish.html).

[12] Fraser Whyte explains in his blog (https://whytepaper.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/gers-reserved-and-non-identifiable-spending/): ‘It is well documented that between 5 and 6% of the entire defence budget is spent on running Trident.  That works out as, at most, £181m a year for Scotland (in 2012, Alex Salmond put it at £163m).  Even assuming this money could be spent elsewhere, these are not huge sums when seen in the context of £66,388m public expenditure.  There’s a good reason the SNP always use the cumulative figure over 40 years.  Whenever someone claims that ‘savings like Trident would take care of the deficit gap’, remember that the entire Trident spend constituted just 1.5% of Scotland’s deficit from 2013/14.’  This is also quoted in the ‘Save the Royal Navy’ blog: https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/scottish-nationalism-continues-to-cast-a-shadow-over-the-royal-navy/.

[13] Growth Commission report, Para B4.53, Pg 250: ‘A significant proportion of defence spending allocated to Scotland is spent outside Scotland’.

[14] Growth Commission report, Para B4.49, Pg 259 refers to ‘areas where lower levels of spending may be required in a small country relative to a big country (for example, defence and foreign affairs)’.

[15] Growth Commission report, Para B5.24, Pg 260.

[16]According to ‘Military Manpower Capitation Rates 2016-17’ (http://data.parliament.uk/DepositedPapers/Files/DEP2015-0883/Capitation_Rates-Military_Manpower_2015-16-Redacted.pdf), Page B-1.

[17] Using the latest figures from the UK MOD, we can calculate average annual cost per person as over £54,000, as follows: total pay bill for armed forces (excluding civilian staff) is c£9.8bn (MOD Annual Report and Accounts, 2016-17, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/629775/MoD_AR16-17_print.pdf, Pg 110).  Divided by total number of armed forces personnel (149,370 Regular, 31,360 Reserves – ibid, Pg 64), this gives £54,096 on average per person.  As this is a loaded cost, it cannot be compared directly with the assumption in the Growth Commission report (though that exposes another weakness in the report, which is that it seems to assume all pay rates are cost, which no business or government department should do).  A common rule of thumb is to multiply salary by around 1.5 (various sources, including https://www.commercialdesign.com.au/explanation.htm and http://web.mit.edu/e-club/hadzima/how-much-does-an-employee-cost.html). If we use this factor, then average base pay can be assumed to be £36,064.

[18] Growth Commission report, Para B4.53, Pg 250.

[19] See http://chokkablog.blogspot.com/2018/06/growth-commission-simple-mistake.html and https://whytepaper.wordpress.com/2018/06/04/errors-in-growth-commission-report/ .

[20] NATO’s ‘Strategic Concept’ states that as “long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance”.  (https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_68580.htm).  No NATO country currently has a policy of not allowing nuclear-armed vessels to dock.

[21] Growth Commission report, Para B4.53, Pg 250.  It is perhaps fair to point out that many NATO members spend less than 2% of GDP on defence, but that’s not the same as assuming Scotland would be given a free pass on entry.  As an aside, there’s some more poor drafting, or deliberate PR agency style obfuscation, in this section: the report takes comparisons of % of GDP, but then uses language of absolutes, when it claims ‘would place Scotland as 8th highest in NATO’ – 8th highest by % of GDP: yes; 8th highest: no.

[22] Polling after the EU Referendum showed that 36% of SNP voters voted for the UK to leave the EU.  http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/

[23] Source for many of the comparisons in this section is the excellent Stockholm Institute for International Peace Research (SIPRI) website and database.  Data tables and downloads for all countries are available at https://www.sipri.org/databases/milex.

[24] The Scottish Government, ‘Quarterly National Accounts Scotland, Q4 2017’ (http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0053/00535575.pdf ), Pg 3.

[25] Using rate as published on 20 June 2018 by the Bank of England, which was 1.318 dollars to the pound.  (http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/boeapps/iadb/Rates.asp?TD=20&TM=Jun&TY=2018&into=GBP&rateview=D )

[26] https://data.oecd.org/conversion/purchasing-power-parities-ppp.htm

[27] Defence Command Denmark (https://www2.forsvaret.dk/eng/Pages/English.aspx )

[28] Finnish Ministry of Defence, Defence Report 2017 (http://www.defmin.fi/files/3688/J07_2017_Governments_Defence_Report_Eng_PLM_160217.pdf )

[29] For example: in 2016 European Geostrategy judged the UK to be the only ‘Global Power’, behind the USA as a ‘Super Power’ (reported in UK Defence Journal: https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/study-finds-uk-is-second-most-powerful-country-in-the-world/ ).  In 2017, polling by IPSO MORI found the UK came fourth in a list of countries by positive global influence (though not specifically relating to defence): https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/britain-remains-positive-global-influence-post-brexit.  In 2018, research conducted for US News by Y&R’s BAV Group and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania described the UK as the third most influential country; defence capability was a factor in the analysis (https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/international-influence-full-list#close-modal ).  There is of course an element of subjectivity in these kinds of reports, but the pattern is consistent.

[30] Some of the ‘SAEs’ listed in the Growth Commission report (Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland) are included in my comparison table; others (Austria, Hong Kong, Ireland, Singapore and Sweden) are not, because their defence expenditure isn’t close to the amount I have calculated for that of a putative separate Scotland.  As an aside, and perhaps of interest in a defence context: the Growth Commission’s list of ‘SAEs’ is based on the IMF’s criteria, but there is one notable absence.  Israel was included in Professor David Skilling’s analysis carried out for the Growth Commission, but is oddly missing from any list in the SNP’s final report, suggesting that the politicians edited it out.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Superb article with loads of detail to absorb. The only comment I would make is that even without counting high Barnett Formula funding the rUK would be some £15 Bn a year better off as we would not be funding Ms Sturgeons annual deficit. Which when you look at the total UK deficit for this year means 8% of the UK population is adding some 45% of the UK deficit. We are leaving the Eu and that only costs 313 Bn a year ….

    I believe it is utter madness for Scotland to leave the UK never mind the economic reasons but especially given it has a set of Westminster MPs as well as a devolved Parliament while I, as an Englishman, have one and that is diluted by Welsh, Scottish and NI MPs. They have an excellent settlement within the UK (as this article makes clear in military terms) but some of us would actually be relieved if they did go … the peace and quiet would be most welcome

    • I agree. This is a really good article and highlights well the lack of consideration the SNP has given to an independent Scotland’s defence posture/strategy/policy/goals.

      Just to point out, there isn’t a soul in Scotland that would disagree with an English parliament being established and there hasn’t been since 1997. That there isn’t one in existence is on the shoulders of UK political parties.

  2. The key question for me on devolution is: Who is stopping you being Scottish.

    Too many have taken Braveheart seriously, there are a lot of disaffected northern English people whose lives have been blighted down the centuries, it isn’t just the Scots. The Welsh also dont moan as much.

    The UK is much better with Scotland within it, but that doesn’t mean it can freeload forever, there are other parts of the country that needs the sort of funding that Scotland gets and I am very much pro Scottish, but it is getting to a cry wolf situation and Sturgeon et al, are poisonous.

    • (Chris H) Pacman27 – Good to agree with your points there. One thing that has always intrigued me is that as a Brexiteer I am called a ‘a little Englander’ and yet the 1 Mn Scots who voted as I did aren’t ‘Little Scotlanders’ or the Welsh ‘Little Walesers’.

      And we are never allowed to call the SNP ‘Little Scotlanders’ for wanting exactly the same separation as I wanted from the EU. Increasingly but with much sadness I want them to leave even if that does damage the UK. They are not happy being British so time to Man Up and Jog On. As the UK chose so to do from the EU.

  3. Something that most people will not know also is that the Scottish Government in the run up to 2014 referendum stated in a letter that they count the Cadet Forces (yes the 12-20 year old Army, Air and Sea cadets) as an integral part of the front line defence of the country…..

    This will probably explain their ability to save money!

    before anyone calls BS I saw the letter and it was signed by a Mr Salmond……

    • Never underestimate and 13 year old with a semi automatic rifle and a lot of caffeine though. Would scare even the most battle hardened spetznaz.

  4. They should go.

    As long as they’re in the union they’ll keep blaming the English for all their problems, which is far easier than taking the tough decisions needed to fix them.

    The mistake was made in 1707, allowing them to keep their separate and distinct institutions which has always meant there was a sizeable sentiment of being somehow different to the rest of the UK. The growth & resulting wealth of the British Empire in the 18th & 19th century kept a lid on those sentiments but since the 1950’s and end of Empire, those sentiments have returned with a vengeance, and They’re not going away.

    Having one part of the UK constantly navel gazing its constitutional future is a drag on everyone and stokes up bitterness & resentment in Scotland & England.

    ….Time for them to go.

    • “The mistake was made in 1707, allowing them to keep their separate and distinct institutions which has always meant there was a sizeable sentiment of being somehow different to the rest of the UK.”

      Jesus Christ 😂

      We didn’t allow or not allow them anything, it was a negotiated union by two kingdoms under the same monarch, not an English invasion ffs

      We did that with Ireland, got rid of their institutions and their identity, banned the Irish language, and look what happened there, that builds an even bigger resentment.

      I’ve heard it all on this site now.

      • Hey dumbass, you said it yourself ‘negotiated union’….

        They demanded the right to keep their separate institutions and we agreed to that demand, BIG mistake.

        • I’m not sure why you’re calling me a “dumbass”

          You have now said it yourself “agreed” not “allowed”

          Or are you proposing that we should of put on the table the abolishment of the Scottish church and any other institution that can be regarded as Scottish?

          Mac there was next to no Scottish public support for the union at the time, the men who voted for union in Scottish parliament became very rich indeed, and called the union the saviour of the church in Scotland to try soften the blow to the public

          Scotland actively talked about union with the Netherlands before the kingdom of England, we were two separate countries with a lot of differences and a lot of history of conflict, even the suggestion that Scottish law and the Scottish church would have to go would of been a total non starter, there would of been no negotiations.

  5. As I say above, this really is an excellent contribution, Alastair. I think I’ll probably be the only poster on this website who voted Yes in 2014 (I wouldn’t do so now, just as an aside). As someone who advocated for, watched and listened to a lot of the pro-indy camp arguments in the years leading up to the referendum, I certainly never had the impression that anyone – anyone – was interested in defence issues. (Apologies to ex-RM Keith Brown, who I assume had some substantive words to offer, just giving my impression of those years…) The only talk of anything UK Forces-related that I recall would be (in no arbitrary order): anti-Iraq war; anti-trident; concern over lack of work for Clyde yards; ditto for base and estate closures; arguments about wearing white poppies come November time.

    I’m aware that, at the time, the FM herself had enough class – unlike the Labour leader – to offer unwavering support to the UK Government after the Skripal incident this Spring. However, the impression I have had over these past ten years, and I don’t think after deeper digging that this would be too unkind to say, is that defence issues are just an irrelevance for the SNP by-and-large, with the exception of Trident. Typhoon jets and frigates sounds a laughable rather than optimistic claim. I would expect an Irish-level force, or some structure just shy of that in terms of capability.

  6. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it would be absolute madness to break our island up into tiny irrelevant little countries. It would break my English heart actually, I cannot believe people are even talking about this. Together we are the equal of a France or a Germany, separate we will be like a pathetic Holland or a Belgium.

    Listen, there is no us and you, there is only us, British people, this entire island is ours. Anything that promotes separatism and antagonism (and there is a lot of it) should be suppressed, it is toxic and dangerous to our Nation. Newspapers that promote the breakup of our country should not be allowed to spread their poison amongst our people. We shouldn’t even have separate football teams, separate commonwealth games teams, etc., are we a united country or not? Things like this should be used to promote Britain, not separatism, with more people to choose from we would have a better chance of winning too.

    Do you see France, Germany, Spain, Italy, etc. breaking up into tiny countries? We cannot do that either. What we have to do is build a Britain that we can all be proud of, and promote it. Together we are bigger and stronger.

      • Me too Daniele. There is no reason on earth why being a Scot and a Brit should be mutually exclusive. The ONLY people to benefit from a break up of the UK would be our enemies. We have been bonded over centuries by geography, history, institutions, language(broadly!) and conflict. I was born in London but my family-parents uncles aunts grandparents cousins are all Ulster Scots-Black, Caruth, Houston,Johnston with touches of Wales(Griffiths) and English blood. I respect the desire of some Scots for independence and do not doubt that Scotland could be a successful small country but a break would diminish us all. With regard to the above article, it is self evident that Britain’s Armed Forces would be damaged and diminished and that a breakup would lead to unnecessary disruption and duplication of institutions

    • (Chris H) Stephen – Excellent points made and I am totally with you on the ‘British and proud’ aspect. Indeed i spoil my Census Return by adding ‘British’ to the ‘English’ question as I feel a discrimination as others have the options of ‘British Scottish’, ‘British Welsh’ or ‘British Irish’. The issue at the heart of this is that a large proportion of 8% of our UK population are not proud of being British. In fact they are ashamed to be associated with us English despite our generous funding of their part of our UK. The even sadder part of all this is that they were given their own Parliament not an ‘Assembly’ like the Welsh or NI but a full blown Parliament. This increased the sense of entitlement alluded to by ‘Mac’ above. Why are these 8% so more important than any other 8% of the UK population? Yorkshire and Humber has a larger population and a bigger economic output but we don’t hear their Chief Executive gobbing off big time at every opportunity do we? And there is the difference. We are, apparently all equal its just some are a bit more equal than others (Animal Farm theory).

      For those others mentioning we English could have our own Parliament but choose not to well they forget Westminster IS the ‘English Parliament’. Its just we share it with the other parts of the UK as the seat of Democracy and Government of the whole UK. Why should we pay for yet another talking shop when we already have the Mother of all Parliaments?

      I should gently add that ‘separatism’ isn’t a British thing. Lombardia has wanted to separate from the rest of Italy, Catalonia has wanted to separate from the rest of Spain and the Basques want to separate from Spain and France to name three. But this list is quite interesting:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_active_separatist_movements_in_Europe

  7. Some great points made guys and a very interesting article
    ( I had to read it twice for that information to sink in).

    I too am a patriotic sort and proud to be British, the Scots leaving us would be hugely damaging to our Union and to Britain’s place in the world and despite SNP ministers and supporters claiming a wonderful new country with a golden future … The reality would be quite different!

    They could forget the huge social spending they get now, it would be way beyond their ability to finance it, unless of course they do the usual Socialist trick of spending like a teenager with a credit card and hope somehow it all just works out.

    Dramatically reduced public spending ( coming as a very rude shock) and a military broadly equivalent to the Irish Republic I would guess.

    Waiting for the Nationalist backlash…..

  8. Nationalist backlash – I have voted SNP, still do but 4th, 5th, or 6th preference. My home is Scotland but I am accused of being English. I deny it. I am a Yorkshireman.

    I judge this report on a small section. The population proportion of UK forces for Scotland is quoted as 12,500. The idiot then asks where is the source of 12,500? This report has no credibility.

  9. Glasgow – central belt then.

    Seriously, differences of opinion apart, I can not take seriously the argument that Scotland has world influence through the UK when Scotland does not have influence within the UK. Fishing is a well known example. Scotland and the Isles have about 2 thirds of the UK coastline and fishing is traditionally important but the UK has given away about 2 thirds of the fish.

    Such arguments are not necessary to denigrate SNP defence plans. I agree with Ross when he says the SNP has no interest in defence. It is interesting to speculate what a Scottish Defence Force could look like.

  10. Righty, firstly I’m on completely the opposite “divide” from the authero who if he doesn’t mind I’ll call Alastair. Naturally I despise Scotland in Union though to be more honest I would welcome sensible fact-based opposition to Independence so that people can make up their minds on information rather than misinformation and hyperbole. I’m sure Alastair would say the same.

    The second thing to say is that I agree with other posters, the SNP showed little interest in defence, a part of the reason I post quite vigorously about it in Scottish media these days, though I might claim a little credit for the SNP changing to full NATO membership after a vigorous thread in the Grun in 2012 where I pushed the case – very heavily. As the Icelandic Institute said (later) iScotland would need a shelter, and would have to contribute.

    Thirdly I don’t want to disagree with the article, I’m very pleased to see it, and would hope Alastair would take part in what MUST be cross-party discussions after a hypothetical YES vote. There is also a paper by Common Weal or Common Green whatever it’s called, which is interesting. The more the merrier as far as I’m concerned, defence and security is indeed vital.

    OK, to detail where I maybe can help, having followed it closely.

    “where does 1.6%, or indeed 12,600, come from anyway?”

    I believe the 1.6% comes from the average EU spending on defence with, for instance, the UK on 2% (some say 2.2%), and Denmark or Germany on 1.2%, with others in-between. So 1.6% is a reasonable start point, being an average spend in the EU. Yes I know, EU membership is another argument. Bearing in mind the 2014 Wales agreement to reach 2% by 2024 which I believe only 15 NATO members are actually paying heed to, and that Scotland wouldn’t be Independent till 2021, I’d prefer to see that at 1.8%, with a firm intention to go to the 2%. That’s even if iScotland could be considered to be geographically and strategically in the position of say Luxembourg. As it is we’re the GIS (was GIUK) gap.

    “there is a suggestion that there would be benefits at the point of separation because defence activities to which Scotland contributes currently take place outside Scotland”

    I believe this relates to the location of defence forces while at home, navy units. but also the MOD, Admiralty, RAF headquarters, R&D and so on. These would be in Scotland, not England or in other places – even like Gibraltar, Falklands, Cyprus and the Gulf – it’s reasonably unlikely iScotland would have bases flung far and wide (apart from maybe the Arctic in time).

    “Scotland’s ‘share’ of Trident would save less than c£200m a year”. This would mean that Trident, Vanguard / Successor / refit, maintenance, crewing, supplies, specific defence and security, operations, replacement, Aldermaston and Burghfield, and of course the specific Coulport cost the UK as a whole just £2.4 billion a year? I doubt that, specially over the introduction period of Successor. Currently it is (or was) 9% of the defence budget of more like £42 billion currently = £3.8 billion, and with successor is, I believe, expected to rise to 12-13%.

    Part 2 maybe to follow

  11. “If we needed to train one squadron of fighter pilots, we would still need pretty much the same training operation as if we had six squadrons”

    The counter-argument to this, and probably others, is that Denmark, Norway and New Zealand (and Sweden) manage it (Air Forces and Navies), why couldn’t Scotland? And for instance if Scotland either didn’t inherit Typhoons, and got or later replaced the Typhoons with the Gripen E/F (or converted C/D), SAAB do provide training.

    “Pay”. Yes, the papers (apart from one pair I only discovered after the Ref) are short of logistics, support, civilian personnel, requisitions, R&D, finances, painters and gardeners, barnacle scrapers and dredgers, all that back room stuff which of course nobody needs. Mmm. Even a ball park percentage for what the enemy sees and what it doesn’t, would help.

    One comment by the way is that too many defence papers on iScotland are done by ex-army, rather than navy and air force. It’s a big gap in actual knowledge, and papers tend to go into the army in great detail, regiments, units, toilet paper, whereas the navy is “4 frigates” and the air force is “1 squadron” whatever that means. Come forth all ye navy and air force bods!

    “Buying materiel locally in Scotland is unlikely to provide the kind of technologically advanced equipment that is currently available to the UK armed forces.”

    Again see Denmark and Norway, and Sweden (and Holland), and also consider NORDEFCO, the Nordic pre-equivalent of PESCO perhaps. Co-operation can help sustain joint capability. Radar for the Gripen, but also the Typhoon for instance, is built in Edinburgh.

    (NATO with open arms) “I would merely ask why they think that would be the case”. I think you answered that – the GIS gap. Plus the emerging north-east and north-west passageways, and the Arctic, something the UK itself is only starting to think about, and in your words at that “damn few” people. There as one article fairly recently in UKDJ.

    “In strategic terms, there is no doubt that the UK’s defences would be weakened if Scotland left.”

    That was the point of the White Paper which many seem to miss. Most of the reason for lack of detail wasn’t just because the results of negotiations couldn’t be predicted (the negotiators would hopefully be cross-party), but the idea was very much of a transition and shared defence, with shared defence actually being a goal of NATO.

    So there should be NO weakening of the total of iScotland + rUK = UK, in fact in time there could be an overall strengthening as iScotland concentrated more on home defence and specialised on the Arctic / northern seas, and the rUK did it’s bit not having to worry about its back door. And as for the likes of QRA, what’s to stop rUK squadrons alongside iScotland squadron(s) at Lossie? The only thing I can think of is bad relations between the two governments. Well, that’s a whole different story.

    Anyway, I still like the article having got to the end of it, a lot of good discussion even if I might disagree with it, and I’m not going to argue the politics in general. Some people hate the SNP, some love them, some are neither. At the end of it all, they’re just a political party and, like business, defence carries on regardless, as best it can. Politicians, eh?

  12. “two frigates and a squadron of Typhoons were at best optimistic ”

    Nope. Not comparing Denmark and Norway on the basis of comparing budgets and what they have, factoring in %GDP of their spend compared with the planned %GDP of iScotland – I did the maths, and it’s 4 frigates not 2, though not the full T26 I daresay. And the squadron was I think 12 Typhoons as a share of all the RAF fighters at the time including Tornados (would now be F35-B). Incidentally, the updated budget should be higher for 2021 than the £2.5 billion for 2016, and as I say, the %GDP should be more like 1.8% than 1.6%, though that’s sadly political.

    Just to finish I never read the GC report because I was too busy at the time and since then I deliberately haven’t because it makes criticisms stand or fall on their own merit, and that’s been a curiously interesting exercise. But if the GC report does go into any defence detail it’s totally wrong to do so. As far as I know none of the people doing the report had any background in defence, so they would have had to lift figures from the White Paper, which is as out of date as the 2010 SDSR would be now for the UK. All they should have done is come up with a defence budget as part of the whole budget, and leave the detail to those with some expertise.

    • “Not comparing” ho hum, kind of a typo. You know what I mean.

      Wonder if anyone will read these comments, as I’m late to the party? Busy again!

  13. An independent Scotland will just rent out Faslane to England so that it can wave its Trident missiles phallically

    and does not have to plunge immediately into the withdrawal symptoms of no longer being a major power.

    How long will they rent it out?

    Well, until you can afford the enormous cost of a faslane equivalent in England –

    more austerity, anyone?

    and find a populated area ‘willing’ to take the radiation risk.

    Happy days!

  14. I’ve got one thing to add to this. Many iScotland defence reviews look at Scotland as a mini-UK.

    This is not the case, and clearly wouldn’t be. We would be a small nation with a population of 5.31 (growing) people, with a population density of 1/4 that of the rUK as a whole, roughly 1/3rd the area of the UK on land, and 1/2 in terms of sea. Our priorities would be to protect our airspace and maritime including the EEZ.

    Scotland would not be intervening unilaterally anywhere on the planet, even if Tuvalu beat us at football, it would be as part of a multinational force. So even the budget would need to be weighted a bit more to sea and air, sorry about that army! It’s prime purpose would be as the auther states as a purpose, home protection and civil matters – like firefighting even, and disaster relief which most countries do.

    Hence the whole philosophy of “spending” an arbitrary defence budget needs to be changed.

  15. Hi,

    Why would Scotland need much of a military, look at the Irish state, they don’t have a defense that would stop anyone going to the UK from their side.

    Some may identify as British or UK, some also identify as English, Scottish or Welsh republicans. Many in England would be royalists.

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