Just before IndyRef 1 in Sept 2014, the Yes vote briefly reached 50% in opinion polls and for several weeks it seemed really possible that Scotland was about to leave the UK.
The seismic shock this must have caused in Whitehall, can only be imagined. With the loss of a third of its landmass and half its territorial seas, the UK’s strategic defence policy was on the brink of redundancy.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Colonel Dorcha Lee (Retd). Lee was a former Irish Defence Forces Provost Marshal and Director of Military Police.
During the latter stages of the Referendum Campaign, a distinguished former UK General was quietly touring the back rooms of Scotland drumming up support for a No vote. At one location, surrounded by sombre suited ex-military, he was asked by a TV reporter about Plan B for strategic Defence, in the event of Scottish Independence. He paused briefly as the camera zoomed in on his well-worn, and well known face. Neatly avoiding any discussion, he simply answered, “There is no Plan B” and moved along.
True or false, we will never know. However, by now you can be sure that there are many contingency plans to deal with, what can only be regarded by UK military planners, as an apocalyptic outcome.
Suddenly, however, the shape of a possible solution may have been, inadvertently, revealed in Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh’s, recently released, short paper. Entitled, ‘Could an Independent Scotland be defended Scot-Free?‘ the latest contribution has re-ignited the defence debate at a time when IndyRef 2 appears to be on a back burner.
Back in 2012, the two architects of Scottish Defence produced the seminal Paper, ”A’ the Blue Bonnets’ on how iScotland’s national defence could be organised, followed up with an update in 2018.
The main proposal in this new 2020 Paper is to lease back bases in iScotland to the rUK, including the Faslane/Coulport base, on the Clyde, where the UK’s nuclear deterrent is based, and also the RAF bases in Lossiemouth and Kinloss, plus additional facilities.
The savings effected could be used to offset the costs of running the SDF.
Their proposal is feasible. Moreover, an additional factor can be introduced which may help their case. Given international precedent (i.e., Czech Republic and Slovakia) Scotland should be legally entitled to perhaps 9% of UK’s military assets, including 9% of its nuclear deterrent. If it were to insist on the latter, iScotland could theoretically have a veto on the operational use of this deterrent. However, Scottish independists are against nuclear weapons so that is unlikely to arise. But it could feature in the transition negotiations.
The Crawford/Marsh proposal will predictably get negative reaction from the local CND.
Their selective reaction to the temporary presence of nuclear weapons, for a few more decades, shows they have little idea which way things are trending internationally. Nuclear disarmament will ultimately take place and Scottish independents should think long past that point.
The external defence of rUK bases in iScotland would have to be undertaken by iScotland. But the overall idea of larger countries having bases, in former ‘colonies’, is well established. It provides income for the newly emergent states and enhances security all round. The sovereign base areas in Cyprus are a good example. The French have many bases in Francophonie and the US worldwide.
The big drawback is that, if the UK goes to war, which it is prone to do quite frequently, iScotland will be drawn in. These same bases would be legitimate targets for enemy attack, including possible nuclear strikes. History reminds us, that, thanks to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Ireland escaped WW2 because the UK handed back its Irish Treaty ports in 1938. If both countries are in NATO, however, the problem should not arise.
On the sovereignty issue there should be no particular problem with the Crawford/Marsh proposal. MOUs can be drawn up to sort out acceptable co-existence arrangements. However, on national defence, things are not quite so straight forward.
If we consider, first, that a nation’s operational area extends over its territorial lands and seas, we know that neighbouring countries are in each other’s area of ‘operational interest’. For example, Ireland is in the UK’s area of operational interest. Unconfirmed reports in the Irish media have stated that the Irish Government made secret arrangements for the RAF to shoot down possible hijacked aircraft over Irish territory, not to mention possible Russian Backfire Bombers, flying with their transponders switched off, in Irish-controlled air space.
This is something the UK Defence Journal covered here.
But because of the absence of Irish air defence, in my opinion, the UK has the self-defence right to protect themselves against potential air threats to the UK that emanates from Ireland, and, if necessary, over Ireland itself. Nevertheless, Scotland should not use the Irish model to evade its own air defence responsibilities.
But the good news for the rUK is that the leasing option allows for a continuation of rUK’s assets to remain in place, and a large part of its current defence strategy to remain intact, for a defined period. As both the rUK and iScotland will have a mutual interest, in air and maritime defence to Scotland’s North, it should be possible to share defence operations for mutual benefit. After all, Belgium and the Netherlands alternate air defence patrols over each-others sovereign territory. NATO could facilitate this, but a Defence Treaty between rUK and iScotland, would be a better way to tie up arrangements.
To quote an old Irish proverb: we all live in each other’s shadow.