The recent publication of the Henry Jackson Society’s assessment of SNP Defence Strategy, ‘In Scotland’s Defence’, has brought fresh attention to the nationalist proposals for the defence of an independent Scotland.
Despite assurances to the contrary from the report’s author George Grant in a recent Scottish Affairs Committee meeting, the report does occasionally dip into simple pessimism. The idea that any future Scottish Defence Force would have to acquire brand new fighter-jets because the Eurofighter would likely be too expensive and complex is quite a causal leap; the inadequacy of Britain’s aeronautic hand-me-downs would probably not be so great that Scotland would need to immediately buy a brand new air force. Furthermore, though in the report’s foreword Colonel Stuart Crawford sagely argues against predicating defence policy on civilian employment in related industries, the report goes on to argue against the removal of Trident from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde partially on this basis. Despite its simplicity and occasional (and not unexpected) flashes of partisan rhetoric, the report usefully adds inches to the mountainous pile of evidentiary documents that show, quite simply, that the SNP’s vision for an independent Scottish Defence Force is wholly inadequate.
The argument against the SNPs vision with regards to defence – insofar as such a vision is existent – is not difficult to make. The SNP’s argument that it could retain a foreign intelligence service in addition to a domestic security service is hard to substantiate when one considers the intelligence capabilities of other similarly-sized nations. While an independent Scotland might not share the inevitable blowback from future British foreign policy decisions, its intelligence and security apparatus, robbed of institutional experience, resources and credibility, would be notably less able to defend the interests of the Scottish people. The initial start up costs would be vastly more than the SNP is (publically) prepared to accept, even if one ignores the fact that the proposed annual costs have very little relation to the capabilities that the SNP has considered.
Even assuming that the budgetary magic the SNP promises to work was rather astoundingly carried out, there is doubt as to whether or not the nascent Scottish nation could find enough British soldiers willing to accept the significant drop in career prospects, overseas deployment opportunities and resources that joining a brand new military would entail. Indeed, experienced Scotsmen formally employed by the British Army would be the indispensible midwives of an independent Scottish force if it were to maintain even basic functionality, given the highly sophisticated nature of twenty-first century armed forces.
And yet even the end product of this fanciful process, the new force that the SNP confidently asserts it can create, is nothing short of fatally flawed. The incongruous nature of the relationship between what on the one hand an independent Scotland would need, and what on the other it would inherit and indeed purports to want is clear. For example, the SNP has expressed a desire for new frigates and submarines as part of its naval flotilla, when it would not have the sophisticated support mechanisms required to sustain the minute high-tech force it would be likely to inherit. It would also lack the strategic need for such a force, given its priorities would shift from conventional warfighting and international operations to fisheries protection and border control, limited objectives that would require an increased number of small ships. Even the rather unambitious humanitarian goals that the SNP has decided upon would be challenging for such a small, highly technical force.
It is certainly the case that this mismatch between future needs and resources is in part the inevitable by-product of a sudden change of strategic priorities, though whether in practical terms that is a tolerable defence is highly doubtful. Yet there is a greater cognitive dissonance at work.
Clausewitz held, from the inception of his life’s work investigating the nature of warfare, a central, important comprehension, a great strand that would run through his work. Military manoeuvre is pointless unless it is designed to culminate in battle, and battle is pointless unless it is designed to serve the ultimate purpose of a given war. The SNP’s defence policy is flawed because it is not designed to serve any strategic purpose.
It is, at its heart, cobbled together mainly on the vague understanding that nations have armed forces, and that an independent Scotland would on that basis need one. To this is added an understandable desire to take a share of the existent British Armed forces. National pride is an important motivator, a point evidenced by the SNP’s ludicrous, populist focus on the idea that an independent Scottish Army would bring back historic Scottish regiments, something that in real terms could only mean an army-focused Scottish Defence Force when a maritime focus would be the strategically more sensible option. Amongst the only parts of the SNP’s strategy that displays any ambition are those concerning the size of the future force and the resources that it would command.
Tellingly, the single aspect of defence policy seen to warrant any extensive official comment from the SNP is economic impact. This attention has centred on the (implausible) nationalist argument that independence would not harm the Scottish defence industry, parallel to the declaration of their intent to situate future naval bases in accordance with economic, not strategic considerations. That this is the SNP’s only clear defence goal betrays the insularity of nationalist thought. More than that, it helps explain why their plans for the defence of an independent Scotland are, in actuality, neither plans nor concerned with defence.
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