Haggis Square

Defending Scotland can be done better than choosing between Haggis and Mince

THE SNP/GREEN Scottish Government’s paper “An independent Scotland’s place in the world”, was published on 4 March 24, the eleventh in a series of papers looking at what an independent Scotland might look like. Having written and lectured extensively as a professional military officer on how an independent Scotland might organise its defence and armed forces, I thought I should read this paper in detail.

So I wrapped a cold towel around my head and set to, of which more below. But I was not the only interested party to read it. An individual (let’s be honest, a bloke) masquerading under the nom de plume of “Sir Humphrey” who writes a blog called “Pinstriped Line” has clearly also read it, and he was typically quick out of the traps with his commentary.

Now, many of us know who Sir Humphrey is. I’m not going to doxx him here, not for the moment anyway, but this cove is a civil servant who has worked, or works, in the Cabinet Office. He is also a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Reserve whose role is that of a media officer. In his Sir Humphrey persona his anonymity is protected by the Establishment which turns a blind eye to his activities. He is basically the government and MoD’s useful idiot when it comes to commenting outside official channels.

Anyway, he has written a lengthy commentary of the SNP/ScotGov paper. As is his wont, the style is hugely verbose – never content to use two words when ten can be fitted in and the reasoning is always tortuous. Nevertheless, let’s have quick shufti at what he has to say.

First of all, he starts of with the declaration that he is politically neutral, which is obviously nonsense, as he then proceeds to spout UK Government anti-Scottish independence propaganda by the barrow load. From personnel through intelligence gathering to training and equipment he can see no merit whatsoever in the SNP/ScotGov proposals.

I won’t bore you with the detail, you can read it yourself if you must, but it is less a considered examination of the proposals than it is a polemic, a one-sided argument with opinions presented as facts and no contrary views tolerated. It is, in effect, a long-winded and bombastic outpouring which should have been edited down to at least a quarter of its current length. To summarise, and to use technical terminology, Sir Humphrey’s diatribe is pure mince. I will say no more.

As for the SNP/Green Scottish Government paper itself I have no idea who wrote it, but on first impressions it might seem to represent a reasonable attempt to set out post-independence defence matters. It covers much more than just the military and defence issues, but as they are my main interest I concentrated on the appropriate chapters and paragraphs.

Now, most if not all defence planning is hypothetical and sets out to counter a series of real and/or imagined risks and threats with the appropriate military response. The line between hypothesis and fantasy, however, is a fine one.

Could an independent Scotland set up its own defence forces if it came to pass? Of course it could, but I don’t think it would look anything like the posture described in this paper. In my considered opinion, there is no possibility in the first 25 years of the putative new state for anything approaching any sort of “mini UK” armed forces to be set up.

The costs and lack of wherewithal in knowledge and experience would make it unachievable. What Scotland could have, though, is a military organisation somewhat less than what I would call “full spectrum capability”. In other words, it would have to specialise militarily, leaving gaps in its capabilities which would have to be filled by allies. So, forget submarines, fast jets, tanks and so on.

That aside, the paper has, I believe, two major flaws. It attempts to define the possible armed forces of the new state by reference to both percentage of GDP to be spent on defence and also by comparison with other similarly-sized nations.

This is not the way to design armed forces. The proper basic process is actually rather straightforward; first of all you define the threats and risks to the state and its international interests and obligations; then you calculate what armed forces might be required to defend and promote those interests; and finally you assess whether the desired armed forces are affordable.

In almost every case the answer to the third point is a resounding no, so it becomes an iterative process demanding compromise and risk-taking until an acceptable and affordable solution is achieved. It’s hardly rocket science, just the application of logic and common sense. It does not appear to have been applied here, although the catch-all “strategic review” mentioned may provide a temporary get out of jail card.

Similarly, just because other countries have forces of a certain size does not mean that the same model would apply to Scotland. The contexts are very different. What Denmark and Finland spend and what they have in their armed forces is interesting in terms of a reality check, but that’s about it. Armed forces should be designed for the unique circumstances that every state faces, and Scotland’s are quite different to those of our Scandinavian and Nordic near neighbours.

And, finally, the other matter which the paper fails to resolve is the elephant in the room; the question of NATO membership and the presence of the UK nuclear deterrent on the Clyde. Any hypothesis which combines NATO membership and removing the deterrent is not credible in the present climate. It’s a non-starter.

As I have written previously, I think any defence of an independent Scotland could be done better and less expensively. The SNP/Green Scottish Government suggests it could be done for 2% of GDP, a nominal £4.2 billion. My previous calculations suggest a figure roughly a quarter of that.

So, if Sir Humphrey’s blog on the topic can be categorised as mince, then the SNP/Green paper might be reasonably described as haggis. If I were marking it I would say a reasonable first attempt but redraft and represent. Always happy to help if asked.

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