The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: A Defence Force for Scotland-A Conspiracy of Optimism? - Scottish Affairs Committee Contents

2  What would Scotland want its armed forces to do?

Independent States and defence

5.  The key function of any State is to provide for the defence and security of its citizens. In his paper, The End of an Auld Sang, Professor Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director and Director, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), described the possession of armed forces as the "foundation of national sovereignty in international law and practice". He wrote:

Independence of action—the right to say no, or yes, to military action—is universally viewed as being part of what it means to be a sovereign state.[6]

Dr Andrew Murrison MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Security Strategy, Ministry of Defence, said:

Independence means sovereign control of your armed forces.[7]

And in 2009, the Scottish Government said:

Independence would give Scotland full responsibility for matters of defence, security and resilience, like other nations. Independence would allow Scotland to decide an approach to these issues that best fits the national interest.[8]


6.  In the event of separation, it is likely that there would be many situations where the interests of a new Scottish State and the residual UK State would coincide, and representatives of both Governments anticipate a friendly relationship with each other. Sir Nick Harvey MP, then Minister for Armed Forces, said he would expect the UK and Scotland to be "friendly, allied neighbours".[9] Similarly, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Deputy First Minister, Scottish Government, told the Foreign Affairs Committee:

I think that Scotland and the rest of the UK would have a very close and constructive relationship. On many issues of foreign policy we would probably have very similar views and interests and could work together to advance those.[10]

She added, however:

There are issues, I am sure, where we would take a different view to not just the Government of the rest of the UK but other Governments across the world.[11]

7.  In defence terms, this could have implications. A separate Scotland would no longer benefit automatically from the protection of the British Army, Royal Navy or the Royal Air Force, or its security services. Stuart Crawford, former Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, said: "Scotland as part of the UK is defended by the UK's defence inventory," and therefore, if Scotland was threatened, it would be defended by the UK defence forces.[12] This would not be the case if Scotland was outside the UK. Professor Chalmers indicated that the "level of expectation and guarantee would be significantly less if there was independence."[13]

8.  In a separate Scottish State, the Scottish Government would be free to pursue the foreign policy and defence goals of its choosing, in the best interests of Scotland as they saw them. The remainder of the UK would be free to do likewise. While the Scottish Government could choose to not support the UK in defence matters, similarly, the UK Government could choose to not support Scotland in defence matters. There may be many benefits in co-operation, but mutual support could not be taken for granted.

Foreign policy and defence policy

9.  Determining the size and nature of potential Scottish armed forces is, to a certain extent, dependent upon the foreign policy aspirations of a separate Scottish Government. As Professor Sir Hew Strachan, Chichele Professor of the History of War, University of Oxford, said: "you only know what the armed forces will look like when you know what they are for."[14] Witnesses commented on the difficulty in answering this question without more information on the future foreign policy of a separate Scotland, and how it would interact with other countries.[15] This is crucial, as the ability of Scotland to pursue a different foreign policy to that of the UK has been cited as a motivation for Scotland separating from the UK.[16] George Grant, Associate Fellow, Henry Jackson Society, said:

You have to define what sort of country you are going to be in the world, what your foreign policy objectives will be, what you think the risks to your national security would be and—this is a really important point—what prioritisation you will give to certain things. Once you have done that and, secondly, once you have worked out what your limitations are in economic and geographical terms, you can start saying, "Having considered all of that, this is what we would want and this is what we would not want."[17]

10.  There is a clear link between foreign policy and defence policy. Understanding the likely foreign policy of a separate Scotland is important in understanding what objectives its armed forces would be designed to achieve.


11.  We discussed the potential risks and threats to Scotland with a range of witnesses. Mr Grant pointed out the UK National Security Council had identified a list of priority risks to the UK,[18] and that these risks "would not be diminished in an independent Scotland".[19] It would be for Scotland to decide if it placed a similar priority on the risks identified in the current Strategic Defence and Security Review. There was a consensus that, while Scotland was unlikely to suffer a conventional land invasion, the seas around Scotland and its airspace have a strategic importance,[20] so defence of its air and sea territory would be a priority.[21] For example, Professor Ron Smith, Birkbeck College, said:

Their central security issue is going to be naval; it is the fisheries, the oil and so on. The question is how you provide that. It is a very long coastline, so providing a navy, even though it does not have the same heritage role as the highland regiments, is going to be important.[22]

Francis Tusa, Editor, Defence Analysis, concluded that:

Based on the quite sparse policy statements in manifestos, talking about defence of airspace, economic zones and so forth, if that is what the policy on defence structure is, it leads you pretty inevitably towards a maritime and air-based armed forces, with much smaller land forces.[23]

However, the SNP Defence Policy Update said:

The Scottish armed forces will be focused on territorial defence.[24]

12.  There was general agreement that Scotland would need armed forces in order to:

  • Protect its economic assets such as oil and gas infrastructure and fisheries,
  • Protect Scottish territory, including land, but also air and sea routes, and
  • Provide aid to the civilian administration, e.g. foot and mouth, heavy flooding.[25]

13.  George Grant said that while there were no current existential threats to the UK, it would "be foolish to calibrate your long-term defence posture on the basis that things will remain that way."[26] The Scottish Government would need to prepare and retain the capability to respond to the unexpected. There would also be some threats to Scotland, such as terrorism, which may involve conventional defence forces but also other aspects of the state, such as the security services. Professor Strachan said "vulnerability to attack includes both the capability of defending but also the capability to anticipate to some degree."[27]

14.  Nicola Sturgeon MSP, recognised cyber attack, international terrorism, the threat that comes from global instability and the possibility of failed states, and international organised crime as potential threats to Scotland.[28] The Scottish Government published an earlier paper on independence in 2009, Your Scotland, Your Voice, in which it discussed perceived threats in general terms and how the "the security of any state can be threatened".[29] The Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update agreed at the SNP conference in October 2012 said:

While conventional military threats to Scotland are low, it is important to maintain appropriate security and defence arrangements and capabilities. This includes a cyber security and intelligence infrastructure to deal with new threats and protect key national economic and social infrastructure.[30]

15.  In the event of separation, the Scottish Government would have to consider how best to protect its territory, its people and its interests. It is crucial that the forthcoming Independence White Paper sets out the likely risks specific to Scotland, and how the Scottish armed forces and security service would be structured in order to best anticipate and respond to those threats. This would include conventional threats, but also emerging threats such as terrorism and cyber attack.


16.  A separate Scotland would have to consider the possible threats from beyond its borders, and how it addressed these would influence further what kind of military it developed. In their report, A' The Blue Bonnets, Stuart Crawford, a former Army Officer in the Royal Tank Regiment, and Richard Marsh, an economist, recognised the need to maintain "wider security interests and the fulfilment of regional and international defence obligations". At the same time they saw the Scottish defence force as having a "regional, rather than global focus".[31] The SNP Defence Policy Update said:

The SNP recognises our national responsibilities as a northern European nation to work with our neighbours to fulfil current defence and security responsibilities and improve collective regional arrangements. Environmental changes to the High North and Arctic Region raise major regional challenges and responsibilities which Scotland shares. Scotland will require military capabilities to fulfil these responsibilities.[32]

17.  There may be situations which affect Scotland, but are taking place beyond its own immediate territory. The threats recognised by Nicola Sturgeon included several which have an international dimension, such as global instability and the possibility of failed states.[33] Stuart Crawford also mentioned the need to consider "Scotland's rights and interests".[34] There are many situations where Scottish citizens may need assistance abroad. For example, the Royal Navy sent warships to evacuate UK citizens from Lebanon and Libya.[35] There were Scots among the hostages at the Amenas gas plant in Algeria.[36] In the event of separation, the Scottish Government will need to assess the possible threats to its people and interests beyond its own territorial boundaries, and determine how it would respond to incidents on a regional and international scale, and whether this response would include a military dimension. If the Scottish Government intends to rely on the goodwill of the UK, or other potential allies, in such circumstances, then this should be spelt out and thus identified as a topic for future negotiations.


18.  Connected to the ability to address threats beyond its own territory is the question of what relationships Scotland would have with other countries and whether Scotland would be part of an international military alliance. There has been considerable debate around Scotland's potential membership of NATO, but there are other international bodies which Scotland may wish to be part of. If a separate Scotland successfully joined the EU, it may wish to participate in the EU Common Security and Defence Policy.

19.  There may be situations, such as those created by melting sea ice in the Arctic,[37] which could affect Scotland, but would not affect Scotland alone. The Scottish Government must consider its role and response in this context. Professor Chalmers said:

For me, that question would come down to the issue of the alliance relationships Scotland was seeking to form—not just in general terms about being a member of NATO, but also whether it felt it had to make a contribution to the security of the countries to which it was closest in northern Europe. Norway and Denmark do have these capabilities. It is possible that the Scots might say, "We can't be entirely free-riders; we want to make a contribution. This is where we are in the north Atlantic. There is a worsening problem in the Arctic, so we'll make a contribution to what our neighbours do." It would be mainly about national and NATO responsibility and not free-riding.[38]

20.  Joining any international alliance would bring obligations and the question would arise as to what contribution Scotland could provide. To use Denmark as a comparator, Ole Kværn, Director of Strategy at the Royal Danish Defence College, said:

Our vision is by no means to defend ourselves. We, as a state, are no longer able to defend ourselves in military terms.

Instead, Denmark enhances its security by being in NATO. Mr Kværn¾ said that, as a result, Denmark's priorities depended on the priorities of its allies:

So our investment is not in our direct and own defence but rather in keeping our preferred partners happy so that they will come to our rescue at the end of the day.[39]

One of the ways in which Denmark had contributed was to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.[40] ISAF had asked for battle groups—self-contained infantry units—because, as Francis Tusa put it: "they have been so short of bodies, they have been crying out loud for boots on the ground".[41] Over 50 States contributed troops to ISAF.[42] Denmark also sent F-16s to support the recent NATO operation in Libya.[43]

21.  In addition, Scotland would be expected to make a contribution in peace time. Denmark allows the US to have a radar base on Greenland,[44] and we note the First Minister has floated the idea of Scotland hosting a US base.[45] NATO also coordinates air policing over Europe and the Royal Air Force currently plays an important part in NATO Air Policing Area 1.[46] Scotland could contribute to that but it would involve considerable additional expenditure, as exemplified when we asked Mr Crawford about the aircraft in his proposed air force:

I do not see how a small country like Scotland with limited military aspirations—I have assumed that, in the absence of foreign policy—would require Typhoon jets unless it wanted to make a specific contribution to some wider alliance[47]

The required contribution to any alliance would be a significant driver of how Scottish armed forces would be designed and configured.[48]

22.  The Scottish Government could choose to manage its security by being part of an international alliance. Being a member of such an alliance would require a commitment in times of peace and conflict. This would impact upon the level of the investment in, and design of, the armed forces of a separate Scottish State. The Scottish Government's White Paper must make clear what level of commitment, with what forces and to which alliances, is planned.


23.  The British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force retain the ability to operate overseas on a global scale. The UK has sent forces to the Balkans, Iraq, Afghanistan,[49] and more recently Libya.[50] The UK Armed Forces also contributes to humanitarian operations around the world.[51] Alastair Carmichael MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, told us that UK Armed Forces personnel, including Scots, were part of the humanitarian relief activities in the Philippines following typhoon Haiyan.[52] HMS Daring and at least one C 17 transport plane were being sent to the area.[53]

24.  It is difficult to establish both whether Scotland would be willing to engage in many of these activities, but also whether it would have the capability to engage in many of these activities. The Scottish Government suggested in 2009 that Scotland would not retain the capability to do so:

Scotland could focus primarily on securing its territory, compared to the United Kingdom approach of also having the capacity to conduct overseas wars.[54]

The contrast with the UK approach would imply that the Scottish military would not want to "also" have the capacity to deploy overseas. However, the SNP Defence Policy Update in 2012 motion said:

The Multi Role Brigade structure and interoperable air and sea assets will provide deployable capabilities for United Nations sanctioned missions and support of humanitarian, peace-keeping and peace-making 'Petersburg Tasks'[55]

25.  Establishing what this would mean for Scotland, in terms of military assets and posture, would require more detail. George Grant said:

Some of the big issues would include: would Scotland seek to be proactively involved in UN peacekeeping operations or would it limit itself to disaster relief and so forth? Such questions will obviously impact on what sort of defence force you have.[56]

Looking at the SNP defence motion, Professor Chalmers said

We are not talking about a highly agile and deployable army, at least not autonomously.[57]

He continued:

If you are talking about intervening outside Europe, I imagine the Scots would have no interest in doing that by themselves; they would do it only as part of NATO, the EU or UN.[58]

26.  He suggested that, if Scotland had been independent at the time, and had deployed to Afghanistan, then it could have provided forces to supplement UK forces, "as the Danes and Estonians have done in Helmand" but it would have relied on other allies for the "more expensive and non-personnel intensive" enabling assets.[59]

27.  The UK Government has the capacity to transport its armed forces to carry out a range of roles, including peace-keeping, throughout the world. This requires substantial investment. Without committing similar levels of investment, the Scottish Government would be reliant upon its allies in order to deploy its armed forces beyond its immediate territory. Again, the White Paper must make the Scottish Government's plans clear.

6   Malcolm Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, Defence in an independent Scotland, RUSI, April 2012 Back

7   Q 3933 Back

8   The Scottish Government, Your Scotland, Your Voice, A National Conversation, 2009 Back

9   Q 355 Back

10   Oral evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, 28 January 2013, Q 224 Back

11   Q 224 Back

12   Q 639 Back

13   Q 153 Back

14   Q 157 Back

15   Q 153 Back

16   See the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sixth Report of 2012-13, Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country, HC 643, paras 112-123. Malcolm Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, 2012 Back

17   Q 3463 Back

18   Defence Committee, Sixth Report of Session 2010-12, The Strategic Defence and Security Review and the National Security Strategy, HC 761. The risks range from international terrorism, a conventional attack on an EU or NATO partner to which the UK would have to respond, to disruption to satellites. Back

19   Q 3479 Back

20   Q 2348 Back

21   Q 205, Q 208 Back

22   Q 2158 Back

23   Q 191 Back

24   SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012  Back

25   For example, see Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh, A' the Blue Bonnets, RUSI October 2012, pp 3-6. For more examples, see . Also Cm 8174 paras 1.9-1.10 Back

26   Q 3489 Back

27   Q 201 Back

28   Oral evidence before the Foreign Affairs Committee, Q 309 Back

29   Scottish Government, Your Scotland, Your Voice, 2009, para 8.26 Back

30   SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

31   Crawford & Marsh, A' the Blue Bonnets, RUSI October 2012 Back

32   SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012 Back

33   Oral evidence FAC, Q 309 Back

34   Crawford & Marsh, A' the Blue Bonnets, RUSI October 2012 Back

35   Libya protests: UK deploys warship to help evacuate British citizens, The Guardian, 22 February 2011; Prime Minister praises military effort in Libyan evacuations, 28 February 2011; Evacuation from Lebanon, BBC News, 21 July 2006 Back

36   Algeria siege: Alex Salmond says Scottish hostages safe and well, BBC News, 18 January 2013 Back

37   The Melting Arctic: Northern Sea Route Shipping Has Already Quadrupled Last Summer's Record, 24 July 2013, . How the Arctic Ocean could transform world trade, Al Jazeera, 27 August 2013  Back

38   Q 2274 Back

39   Scottish independence: How do you defend a small country? BBC Scotland, 1 March 2013 Back

40   Q 208. There are between three or four battle groups in a Brigade. A typical battle group contains about 600 men with armoured personnel carriers. Back

41   Q 208 Back

42   Q 203 Back

43   Nato operations in Libya: data journalism breaks down which country does what, The Guardian, 31 October 2011 Back

44   Scottish independence: How do you defend a small country? BBC Scotland, 1 March 2013 Back

45   Scottish Independence: SNP open to US military bases, The Scotsman, 6 April 2013 Back

46   NATO Air Policing also enables countries with jet capability to provide consistent protection of the air above those NATO Member States without the capability to police their own air space. Belgian Jets Begin Baltic Air Policing Mission, Atlantic Council, September 2013 Back

47   Q 621 Back

48   Chalmers, The End of an Auld Sang, RUSI, April 2012 Back

49   Q 187 Back

50   HC Deb, 14 November 2011, Col 517W. See also House of Commons Library Standard Note SN/1A/5909, 24 Oct 2011 Back

51   Scotland Analysis: Defence, Cm 8174, para 1.24 Back

52   Q 3962 Back

53   HMS Daring deployment to boost UK response to Philippines typhoon, 12 November 2013. Providing assistance was made easier by the fact HMS Daring was already in Singapore.  Back

54   The Scottish Government, Your Scotland, Your Voice, A National Conversation, 2009 para 8.38 Back

55   SNP Foreign, Security and Defence Policy update, October 2012. The Petersberg tasks were set out in the Petersberg Declaration adopted at the Ministerial Council of the Western European Union (WEU) in June 1992, as part of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). They include tasks such as: peacemaking and post-conflict stabilisation. It has involved deployment as far as the DRC  Back

56   Q 3473 Back

57   Q 2159 Back

58   Q 2165 Back

59   Q 2159 Back

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Prepared 23 November 2013