The Highland Regiment during the Crimean War. Will Scots continue to serve abroad?

The SNP’s defence proposals for an independent Scotland suggest a military focused towards territorial defence within a modest budget of £2.5 billion, whilst eschewing the capabilities needed for foreign expeditionary warfare. This a wise strategy for any independent Scotland.


Whether for ideological reasons or because of spending constraints the SNP’s defence plans would see some capabilities scrapped entirely, some reduced, and others made relatively larger.


They would do without nuclear weapons whilst the Army would appear to be made proportionally smaller even than the British Army after the cuts to manpower are made, containing 3,500 regular and 1,200 reserve troops within a single All-Arms Brigade consisting of three infantry battalions and various supporting units such as engineer, armoured reconnaissance, and light artillery units.


The  Air Force appears to be kept the same, proportionally, to that of the UK. For instance, the UK will eventually have 160 Eurofighter Typhoons and the SNP plans for Scotland to eventually possess 16.


The Navy seems to be made proportionally smaller but would be refocused towards providing territorial security rather than foreign expeditions. It would consist of four frigates, four mine countermeasure vessels, two offshore patrol vessels and four to six patrol boats. As far as patrol vessels go the Royal Navy currently has four offshore patrol vessels, sixteen Archer-class patrol boats (but only two are armed and providing maritime force protection, the other fourteen assigned to University Royal Navy Units), and two Scimitar-class patrol boats, both located abroad in Gibraltar.


This is a perfectly sized defence force for a country the size of Scotland, taking into account its geographic location. Scotland has a single land border, and that with a friendly power. Scotland and the UK would have many cross-border linkages from citizens from each country living in the other, to trade and finance, to culture, history, and language.


A possible threat would be that from Russia, which buzzes Scotland’s airspace regularly. However, it is unlikely a conflict between Scotland and Russia would ever exist that did not also include the whole NATO, Britain and America included. And in such a conflict any Scottish effort would be extremely minimal.


Threats towards an independent Scottish state really only arise from states, whether friendly or not, that are so powerful there is little hope of defeating them conventionally. Thus there is little point attempting to with a powerful armed forces.


It is wise for Scotland to have a small Army as two, or three, or four All-Arms Brigades would do little to further Scotland’s national security, whilst doing lots to undermine its (presumably precarious) financial security. It would be too small to be deployed abroad on foreign adventures or to be used effectively against its own citizens if the Government ever became despotic. Yet it is large enough to form the core around which any future mass mobilization could occur should a threat materialise at some point in the future.


Even better are Scottish plans for its Navy. Essentially, Scotland is so small it makes little sense to attempt to mould its security environment, unlike is arguably the case with Britain. The SNP proposals would see a more defensive posture focused on perimeter protection, rather than expeditionary power-projection. The world outside Scotland’s borders would be left to take its course, as any small nation-state must allow, but within those borders any foe would be met promptly.


Scotland would thus have a similar or perhaps better coastal protection than does the UK currently, assuming the SNP’s plans are realised and subject to deployments.


The Royal Navy has seen in recent years the consequences of ever dwindling budgets without a commensurate drop in the role Britain’s Government sees Britain as having in the world. Britain continues to possess world-class capabilities reflected in the likes of the Type 45 Destroyer, which costs £1 billion (or $1.7 billion) per unit and is arguably the most advanced destroyer in the world, the 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, the planned Type 26 Frigate, and Astute Class submarines.


Yet Britain’s ability at policing its own waters is woefully inadequate. In Christmas of last year Russia sent a cruiser thirty miles off the coast of Scotland. The only vessel Britain had to respond with was 600 miles away in Portsmouth, a Type 45 destroyer, which took 24 hours to get into position. The Type 45 is a superb vessel with world-class anti-air and anti-missile capabilities (it has been said a single ship could take down the entire Argentinian air force), but it has barely any anti-ship capabilities whatsoever. The rusting Soviet-era Russian cruiser could have destroyed it with ease.



At the recent Strategic Defence Review at the start of the current Government, a decision was made to scrap Nimrod, Britain’s maritime reconnaissance aircraft, leaving Britain the only northern European country without such a capability. The SNP plans on reinstating this capability.


The SNP’s plans for an independent Scotland’s defence are highly appropriate. Spending would be less than if Scotland spent the same, proportionally, as Britain does now. It would be reconfigured in such a way which best meets Scotland’s needs. Certain capabilities would be enhanced, such as coastal defence by (proportionally) expanding the number of patrol vessels and reinstating a maritime surveillance capability. Others would be reduced, such as power projection given the lack of aircraft carriers, destroyers, or submarines and the very small size of the Army. Some would be eliminated altogether, such as its nuclear capability.


Whilst the new Scottish military would be qualitatively different from Britain’s, and obviously much smaller, it would still spend more than twice as much as Ireland, a country of comparable size, location, and culture. The configuration would also be somewhat altered from Scotland’s Celtic friend; Scotland’s Army would have half as many soldiers and brigades, yet would include frigates and Typhoons where Ireland possesses no such assets.


The SNP often talk in their Independence White Paper of the need for Scotland to engage the world and deploy forces abroad. However, with the forces they set out it would be difficult to see how this could plausibly be accomplished in any meaningful way.


Admittedly there are many details to be decided upon post-independence. Some question whether all the bases currently in Scotland would stay open (very unlikely), what would happen to Faslane if Trident were removed, how logistics are to be provided for, how likely the proposal to simply strip away ‘Scottish’ units and personnel currently within the British Army is, and what kind of cyber defence Scotland is to possess.


But broadly speaking, Scotland’s national security policy looks set to be focused upon strictly Scottish national interests, and not on international expeditions.