Monday, 23 January 2012

Scotland and Security

Sophie Stewart

The looming, increasingly probable referendum on Scottish independence could have profound consequences for the defence capabilities and long term security of the UK, not least because without Scotland the very existence of the United Kingdom might be called into question. 

The loss of one third of the territory of what is currently the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland would present a myriad of security concerns and problems: from the structure of the armed forces, the location of the nuclear deterrent, membership of international organisations and the risk of inspiring greater separatist violence for example in Northern Ireland; if Scotland is opting out of this union the logic of Northern Ireland seems even more tenuous. Taking each of these potentially damaging consequences in turn, it will become clear that it is not economics, party politics or Scottish patriotism that ought to define the debate on Scottish Independence, but the possibility of the domino effect of such a cataclysm on the long term future of the UK. 

David Cameron is to tell Alex Salmond he can have a referendum on Scottish independence – but only in the next 18 months. David Moir/Reuters Guardian

The SNP have tentatively suggested that they would share armed forces and foreign policy with the UK, in something short of the devo-max option. However this would cause significant problems for the future of military action and foreign policy decisions. The SNP have been against the UK involvement in both Iraq and Kosovo and are committed to moving Trident out of Scottish territory.  The existence of two parliaments whose consent would be required and uncertainty about whether Scottish forces would be available would severely complicate military planning. Ultimately the military training grounds, bases, facilities and equipment, not to mention the people, currently based in Scotland would have to form some part of a partition deal probably being either purchased or leased by the new Scottish Military. Those of Scottish nationality would then be forced to choose between continuing to serve in the British army or serving in the Scottish forces; and the British army would certainly loose a large number of personnel as a result of losing Scottish regiments. This would be somewhat similar to Ireland’s model, whereby it controls its security apparatus with military activity limited to UN peacekeeping. In this scenario the UK would be in the position of desperately trying to re-orientate the armed forces around England and Wales, by increasing recruitment in these regions as well as expanding the RAF bases to offset the loss of the strategic depth that Scotland affords. The cost of expanding and building extensively in England and Wales to compensate for the loss of Scottish facilities would be astronomical with the result that the British Armed forces would be both a smaller and less effective military force.  

Perhaps the most pressing concern relates to the future of the Trident Nuclear Deterrent. which is currently based entirely in Scotland at Faslane and Coulport. The SNP has long opposed the Trident-equipped submarines being based in Scotland and presumably would campaign vigorously in any separation negotiations for relocation south of the border. The problem with such a scenario is that re-location is highly undesirable, as the site at Faslane has evolved over time to meet the demands of the submarines and their associated support network. In addition geographically it is ideal; a deep water estuary with direct access to the Atlantic. Another option would be to replace the submarine based deterrent with one orientated around the air-force. However, given Britain’s commitment to Non-Proliferation, as well as being financially unfeasible, there is little chance of switching to an air based nuclear deterrent. Given that the SNP explicitly commit in their manifesto that the nuclear deterrent must not remain in Scottish territory and the fact that it is currently prohibitively expensive to move the capacity elsewhere, there is the very real possibility that the UK would find itself in doubt - in the event of Scottish Independence - as to whether it could continue to maintain the ultimate deterrent. 

Scottish independence: what is the future for the UK? Photo: Murdo Macleod. Guardian

The future of the UK on the international stage would be significantly hampered as a result of Scottish Independence. The potential loss or reduction of the nuclear deterrent calls into question especially membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Scottish independence would fundamentally alter the idea of the United Kingdom as a coherent state. As a consequence would both Scotland and the UK or Britain have to re-apply to join NATO and the UN or the EU? The UK would be losing approximately one third of its territory and coastline, a substantial loss of an already small Island nation. In addition, with regard to historically originating positions such as the seat of the UNSC, such a dramatic change and moment of weakness for the Government in London is the perfect opportunity for those who seek to reform the SC to reflect 21st century realities. 

Another direct risk of Scottish independence is that it could inspire other separatist movements. Given the troubled and bloody history of separatist violence in Northern Ireland, the independence of Scotland could only realistically serve as a spur for increasing pressure for complete devolution from the Union. While it is far from certain whether the Good Friday Agreements would collapse in such an eventuality, the recent surge in violence in Northern Ireland does not bode well. The worst case scenario would be that Scottish independence spurred on difficult campaigns for a similarly independent Wales and Northern Ireland, which whether they were managed peacefully or violently would radically alter the very nature of the UK. England alone, while still the richest of the nations, would on the international stage look radically different in the aftermath of the total collapse of the Union.  

So far there is little indication that the SNP will achieve a ‘yes’ vote in any referendum and I would argue then in such a referendum it is not just Scottish voters who ought to have a say; we are all members of the Union and would all be affected. This is not just a question of Scottish national identity but a much bigger question of the nature and future of the UK as a whole. 

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