The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence - Defence Committee Contents

2  Foreign, security and defence policy

SNP Foreign, Security and Defence policy update

11. At its annual conference in October 2012, the SNP agreed a Foreign, Security and Defence policy update which included a commitment to maintain NATO membership—something to which the Party had previously been opposed—subject to an agreement that an independent Scotland would not host nuclear weapons.[6]

12. Other key elements of the policy included:

  • an annual defence and security budget of £2.5bn;
  • Scottish defence and peacekeeping services which would be answerable to the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament;
  • Scottish armed forces would comprise 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel;
  • a Joint Forces Headquarters based at Faslane, which would be Scotland's main conventional naval facility;
  • a Scottish air force would operate from Lossiemouth and Leuchars;
  • all current bases would be retained to accommodate [army] units, which would be organised into one regular and one reserve Multi Role Brigade (MRB);[7]
  • regular ground forces would include current Scottish raised and "restored" UK regiments, support units as well as Special Forces and Royal Marines, who would retain responsibility for offshore protection; and
  • a sovereign SNP government would negotiate the speediest safe transition of the nuclear fleet from Faslane which would be replaced by conventional naval forces.[8]

The full text of the policy update is reproduced in the Appendix to this report.

13. During the course of our inquiry it became clear that, since its ratification at the SNP Party conference in 2012, certain aspects of the policy had changed as the Scottish Government set about the task of preparing its White Paper on independence. For example, the concept of a Multi Role Brigade and the commitment to maintain two air bases had changed. These changes are discussed in more detail later in our report.


14. In its policy update, the SNP states that "conventional military threats to Scotland are low", but that it is "important to maintain appropriate security and defence arrangements and capabilities".[9]

15. In a report, A' the Blue Bonnets,[10] published by RUSI in October 2012, Lieutenant Colonel (Retd) Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh set out in some detail one possible vision of how an independent Scotland might organise its defence policy and its armed forces. They reached the view that the potential military threats to an independent Scotland "would seem to be very low" and concluded that any threats "would likely be limited to infringements of airspace and coastal integrity, and the security of oil and gas rigs and other economic assets like fishing grounds".[11]

16. George Grant, however, in a report published by The Henry Jackson Society, concluded that an independent Scotland would "very likely be confronted with many of the same risks, and to at least as great an extent, which it faces as part of the UK". Such threats would include cyber crime; instability overseas; disruption to oil and gas supplies; and international terrorism.[12]


17. The SNP's policy update states that "an independent Scotland will be an outward-looking nation which is open, fair and tolerant, contributing to peace, justice and equality", and contains a commitment to become a non-nuclear member of NATO. It also establishes a regional rather than worldwide focus, driven by interests in the North Sea, North Atlantic and the Arctic Region, which Scotland shares with northern European neighbours. It is also anticipated that an independent Scotland would be a full member of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the European Union and the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE).[13]

18. The absence of more detail about the foreign policy for an independent Scotland has implications for the development of the associated defence and security policies. In oral evidence, Stuart Crawford explained the difficulties:

    Without [a foreign policy], it is very difficult to decide what you would want your Armed Forces to do. And if you do not know what you want your Armed Forces to do, you don't know how to configure them. And if you don't know how to configure them, you don't know how much they are going to cost.[14]

19. Rear Admiral Martin Alabaster, former Flag Officer Scotland, Northern England, Northern Ireland, Flag Officer Reserves and Flag Officer Regional Forces, told us that when trying to assess what kind of defence force an independent Scotland would need or want, it was necessary to start from the basis of what the foreign and security policy was and an assessment of what it was that you wanted that defence force to do.[15] Similarly, Air Marshal (Retd) Iain McNicoll, former Deputy Commander-in-Chief Operations, Royal Air Force, expressed the view that there was a requirement for a "proper foreign and security policy" which could then be translated into defence needs and how these might be met. He said:

    I do not believe that those who propose separation have got as far as doing any of the considerable amount of work that would be needed to define exactly what might be required.[16]

Scottish Government policy position

20. When he appeared before us, Keith Brown MSP, Scottish Government Minister for Transport and Veterans, acknowledged that the threats facing an independent Scotland would not be "radically different" from those currently facing the UK. He pointed specifically to the protection of energy assets, maritime security, drugs and terrorism. Looking further afield, he continued:

    We would contribute to international efforts where we believed it was in the interests of the people of Scotland to do so. We would seek to be a good neighbour in the world and a good partner with our partner countries—those in the immediate area—and our policy is to be a member of NATO.[17]


21. When asked to provide more detailed information about various aspects of the defence and security policy his Government was preparing, in many areas, Mr Brown declined to give a commitment, referring instead to the forthcoming White Paper which he said would contain the detail that was lacking at present. He told us:

    our plans will be presented in detail first of all to the people of Scotland well in advance of the referendum, allowing them to take a fully informed decision.[18]

22. Our scrutiny of the SNP's updated Foreign, Defence and Security policy has revealed a large number of questions which remain to be answered by the Scottish Government in advance of the referendum in 2014. Much of the detail has still to be produced and we will await the Scottish Government's forthcoming White Paper with keen interest. This document, once published, needs to provide answers to the unanswered questions for Scottish voters. They will wish to understand better how the defence of an independent Scotland would be configured should there be a "Yes" vote in September 2014. It will be for the Scottish Government to make its case that an independent Scotland can sustain an appropriate level of defence and security.

6   SNP members vote to ditch the party's anti-Nato policy. Available at:  Back

7   HM Government (2010). Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review. This envisaged a British Army structured around five multi-role brigades.  Back

8   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

9   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

10   Royal United Services Institute, A' the Blue Bonnets,Whitehall Report 3-12 Back

11   Ibid, page 3. Back

12   In Scotland's Defence? An Assessment of SNP Defence Strategy, The Henry Jackson Society 2013 Back

13   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

14   Q 33 Back

15   Q 126 Back

16   Q 126 Back

17   Q 266 Back

18   Q 261 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2013
Prepared 27 September 2013