Security Ramifications of Scottish Independence
This is the first in an ongoing series covering Scottish independence. Check back for the latest news, analysis, and opinion on every side of the debate.
The security ramifications of an independent Scotland are serious, yet underrepresented by both Holyrood and Westminster. The Scottish National Party, controlling the majority of Scotland’s parliamentary seats, plans to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in autumn of 2014. Holding the referendum seven-hundred years after the Battle of Bannockburn, when Scots under Robert the Bruce sent the imposing army of England’s King Edward II back South to think again, nationalist sentiment and fanciful hopes of grandeur could provide critical momentum for a ‘yes’ vote to cede from the Union. Whatever the probability, regardless of any polling or economic analysis of the break, it is a salient necessity that Scotland be prepared for the consequences of self-rule. A half-baked independence campaign could leave room for reckless oversight in planning to protect the country’s nascent sovereignty, neglecting the state’s most basic charge of providing security within its borders. The prospect of such uncertainty is not only a concern for those Scots pushing for independence, but equally the rest of the U.K. Coupled with cut-back defense spending and a waning military bite, the move might seriously diminish Britain’s ability to promote and protect its global interests, as well as Scotland’s. A new state entering the international system is no small matter, and will doubtless have global repercussions.
At the heart of the nationalist campaign is the desire for more control of Scotland by Scotland. The Scottish National Party (SNP) is generally inclined to some degree of continued military support or oversight by the U.K. Scotland’s First Minister Alexander Salmond, leader of the SNP, has suggested that the U.K. remain in control of the island’s foreign policy and defense strategy, yet is adamant that Britain’s nuclear arsenal be removed from independent Scottish soil—one of the debate’s more contentious issues. The four Trident submarines stationed at Faslane comprise the entirety of Britain’s nuclear strike-force, and the facilities there, with supporting infrastructure in Coulport, are likely irreplaceable in the U.K and could effect Scotland joining NATO. The SNP hopes to remain in the European Union and continue using the pound currency—though some argue permission to join would be contingent on adopting the Euro. Salmond also wishes to keep the Queen as head of state, in line with the likes of other Commonwealth countries. According to these terms, the U.K. would retain de facto responsibility for an independent Scotland’s fiscal, foreign, and state security—possibly forgoing its status as a nuclear power—without the reciprocal benefit of either Scottish income or its human and natural resources.
While Salmond stresses that Scots need to make decisions for themselves, a split on these terms places the lion’s share of responsibility on the rest of the U.K. Scotland’s defense force would be tailored only for domestic security. Salmond has stressed the point that Scotland would no longer have to sacrifice its soldiers in unjust wars like Iraq at the behest of Westminster; neglecting that the capacity to defend its interests abroad might be a necessity. Scotland’s condensed military apparatus would have one air force base, one naval base at Falsane (replacing the nuclear submarine fleet stationed there), and one mobile armored brigade. Salmond envisions using the armored brigade already scheduled to be moved to Scotland as per Westminster’s most recent Strategic Defense and Security Review, and use naval and air-force bases already in commission. The Ministry of Defense has rebuked this as risible dreaming, pointing to the highly technical and integrated nature of Scottish military units with the rest of the U.K. force. Overall, the proposal for continued joint military missions with the U.K. appears to be a largely unworkable, considering the logistical reality of two independent command structures during war-time operations and potential conflicting loyalties amongst soldiers.
The U.K. could adequately provide for its own security without Scotland’s strategic depth and resources, but the reciprocal can not be said for Scotland. Following sweeping cuts to defense jobs and funding over successive governments—a trend felt especially hard in Scotland—Salmond has at times expressed a commitment to restoring the traditional Scottish regiments. Condensing and reducing Scottish units has in the past been feebly masked by preserving their historical names in smaller divisions—regiments like the Scottish Highlanders, Argyle, and Black Watch were reduced to battalions in 2004, surviving under a single Royal Regiment of Scotland. Plans announced recently will condense or eliminate some of these units entirely. These reductions are not unique to Scotland: along with cuts to the Royal Navy and RAF, Regulars in the British Army will be shrunk to eighty-two-thousand by 2020, leaving the smallest standing force since the Boer War, as the Ministry of Defense looks to expand the Territorial Army reserve base and stabilize its budget. This may give impetus to Scotland’s independence movement, as pro-independence leaders can emphasize Scotland will no longer loose jobs or soldiers from decisions made South of the boarder.
Constitutional experts argue there is no question Scotland could remain in the European Union on its current terms—as is the SNP’s firmly expressed intention—while opponents claim there is no precedent for a devolved member state and that it would need to reapply. Neighboring countries with histories of insurrection by factious, nationalist groups are concerned that movements like those in the Basque and Catalonia regions of Spain could be galvanized by Scottish independence, and may be reluctant to admit Scotland. Northern Ireland, with its devolved parliament similar to Scotland’s since the 2006 St.Andrews Agreement, could fall victim to renewed unrest if its neighbor were to break free. The prospect of independence could also ferment long-standing social tension into conflict in states like Kosovo and Chechnya. Salmond and the SNP emphasize that Scotland would maintain an open, hassle-free boarder with the rest of the UK, as it does now under the Common Travel Area. Still, considering Scotland’s alliance with England was a cornerstone in unifying the four kingdoms three-hundred-five years ago, a fracturing of the U.K. in its entirety is a real possibility should Scotland cede.
The extensive task of maintaining security at its boarders against a plethora of modern, fluid threats—most notably acts of terrorism—could prove more than Scotland’s reduced military apparatus would be equipped to handle, or its neighbor’s would be willing to accept. After independence, Scotland will be liable for securing one of its most important financial assets and a prime terrorist target—the North Sea oil rigs. Holding some of the most extensive natural and renewable energy resources in Europe, energy security would be a focal point of Scotland’s military policy. The relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, who have developed a Single Electricity Market along with an open boarder policy, provides a hopeful example for Scotland. The SNP has also looks to Nordic countries: establishing energy ‘pooling arrangements’ and allying military forces by means such as the Nordic Battle Group of the E.U. Scotland could fit the Nordic mold, which places a premium on natural resources, oil and renewable energy in particular, with similarly small, homogenous populations that value strong government services. Still, if Scotland were to join into such an alliance, it would help its international presence but do little towards safeguarding its domestic resources.
Scotland needs political autonomy to realize its potential as a small country, the SNP argues, but whether Scotland is prepared to hold its own is far from clear. Scotland’s strategic foreign embassies would project a foreign policy promoting Scotland’s trade interests rather than Britain’s global power structure; but would concentrating on economic interest leave it unprotected and vulnerable? Scotland must firmly address how to provide for its own security as an independent country before it can pursue its economic ambitions. In days of yore, England did not often grant independence without a fight—possibly a good litmus test as to the longevity of the given movement. Today, Westminster must seriously consider the challenges posed by a breaking of the Union. Senior policy makers and state officials on both sides of the debate have expressed astonishment that the recent Strategic Defense and Security Review neglected to address the referendum’s security implications whatsoever, and that neither the National Security Council nor the Cabinet have had the issue formally drawn to their attention. Either way the independence vote falls in 2014, the lack of decisive analysis and contingency planning in Holyrood and Westminster is worrying. Security is the state’s most basic and vital responsibility, one which will need serious consideration before Scots go to the polls in less than two years time.