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The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence - Defence Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

SNP Foreign, Security and Defence policy update

1.  Our scrutiny of the SNP's updated Foreign, Defence and Security policy has revealed a large number of questions which remain to be answered by the Scottish Government in advance of the referendum in 2014. Much of the detail has still to be produced and we will await the Scottish Government's forthcoming White Paper with keen interest. This document, once published, needs to provide answers to the unanswered questions for Scottish voters. They will wish to understand better how the defence of an independent Scotland would be configured should there be a "Yes" vote in September 2014. It will be for the Scottish Government to make its case that an independent Scotland can sustain an appropriate level of defence and security. (Paragraph 22)

The role of a Scottish defence force

2.  The SNP appears to envisage an independent Scotland which is outward looking, with a strong maritime focus given its geographic position. It would be keen to collaborate closely with northern European neighbours and expects to work with and through the UN, EU and NATO. Beyond that, however, we have found it very difficult to establish how the foreign and security policy of the SNP has informed its vision for a Scottish defence force. We have seen little evidence that the Scottish Government has reached any understanding with Northern European nations regarding military co-operation. Claims by the Scottish Government that its policy development has been hampered by a lack of co-operation from the UK Government seem to us to be somewhat overplayed. (Paragraph 29)

3.  We will look to the Scottish Government's forthcoming White Paper to provide additional information about its foreign and security policy and the role a Scottish defence force would be expected to fulfil. (Paragraph 30)

A Scottish navy

4.  In light of the evidence of the experience of other countries, we have serious doubts about the SNP's stated intention to acquire conventional submarines. This could only be achieved by procurement from abroad at considerable cost and risk. (Paragraph 38)

5.  As yet, the Scottish Government has given only a preliminary indication of its plans for a Scottish navy. When it publishes more detailed requirements, it will be important to know the following: (Paragraph 45)

  • What would be the size and configuration of its surface fleet and associated rotary wing force?
  • What personnel, vessels and helicopters would it hope to inherit from the Royal Navy?
  • What additional vessels would it procure?
  • How many submarines would it procure, and from where would they and the necessary qualified personnel be sourced?
  • What role, size and configuration would any Marine Infantry capability take? and
  • How many naval bases would a Scottish navy operate from, where would they be, and how many personnel would be expected to be based at each?
  • Finally, the Scottish Government should make clear in its White Paper the anticipated cost of acquiring, staffing, operating and maintaining these assets.

A Scottish army

6.  The proposed retention and reinstatement of historic Scottish Regiments clearly has implications for the size and structure of a Scottish army. It is not apparent from the SNP's published plans which Scottish regiments "previously abolished" it intends to restore or how that could be achieved within the overall numbers of personnel proposed. (Paragraph 51)

7.  In light of the new British Army structures envisaged in the Army 2020 proposals, the Scottish Government should consider publishing a new plan for a Scottish army. (Paragraph 52)

8.  Questions which it might wish to address include: (Paragraph 53)

  • What would be the size and structure of a Scottish army, including the envisaged balance of regular and reserve troops?
  • What would be the balance between combat (infantry and armoured), combat support (artillery, aviation and engineers), combat service support (logistics) and command support (communications) troops?
  • Which historic Scottish regiments would be reinstated?
  • Where would Scottish army units be based?
  • What equipment and infrastructure would a Scottish army expect to inherit from the British Army?
  • What would be the cost of recruitment, training and retention measures? and
  • How would a Scottish army attract and train the necessary specialist troops such as engineers, signallers and logistic personnel?

A Scottish air force

9.  We look forward to reading in the forthcoming White Paper the detailed proposals the Scottish Government has for the procurement and operation of a maritime patrol squadron and how this will be financed within the overall aspirations for Scottish defence capability. (Paragraph 64)

10.  In view of the costs associated with acquiring different air defence aircraft from those the UK currently operates, we do not currently understand how the Scottish Government expects, within the available budget, to mount a credible air defence - let alone provide the additional transport, rotary wing and other support aircraft an air force would need. The Scottish Government will no doubt wish to set out a detailed explanation of this in its White Paper. (Paragraph 66)

Associated costs

11.  Without receiving detailed answers to the questions posed elsewhere in this report, it would be unrealistic to expect us to judge the exact running costs of the proposed Scottish defence force. However, given the information we have so far received from the Scottish Government, we are unconvinced that there is sufficient funding to support both the proposed Scottish defence force and to procure new equipment. (Paragraph 71)

12.  We note that the process of negotiation on the division of military assets would not be one sided, and that the remainder of the UK would be likely to bring into the negotiations existing shared liabilities, such as decommissioning of nuclear submarines, and the additional costs it would incur by losing a proportion of the economies of scale it enjoys at present. (Paragraph 76)


13.  We consider it unlikely that the Ministry of Defence would make available sufficient training places for Scottish personnel at facilities such as Sandhurst, Dartmouth and Cranwell. The Scottish Government should therefore include in its White Paper an assessment of alternative options and cost estimates for delivery of this training. (Paragraph 85)

Conclusion on a Scottish defence force

14.  Before we can judge whether these ambitions could be met within a cost envelope of £2.5 billion per annum, we require more details from the Scottish Government in its White Paper about its plans for a Scottish defence force. In particular, the plans must establish a coherent model which reflects a realistic "tooth to tail" ratio of combat troops to the personnel required to supply and support them, and clarity over the training capacity to maintain the appropriate professional standards. It is also incumbent upon Scottish Ministers to set out how they propose to finance the equipment, vessels, aircraft and associated support services a Scottish defence force would require to deliver the objectives set for it. (Paragraph 87)

Faslane and the nuclear deterrent

15.  We consider that, in the event of a 'Yes' vote, a safe transition of the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde could not be achieved quickly. Even with political will on both sides, the replication of the facilities at Faslane and, crucially, Coulport, at another site in the UK would take several years and many billions of pounds to deliver. Options for basing the deterrent outside the UK, in the USA or France, even in the short term, may prove politically impossible or equally costly. (Paragraph 108)

16.  The implications of Scottish independence for the rUK's ability to provide the necessary security for the nuclear deterrent during any transition period will need very detailed and early consideration. (Paragraph 109)

17.  If the nuclear deterrent were moved from the Clyde the impact on levels of employment at Faslane and Coulport would be significant. Evidence we have received suggests that instead of an increase in people directly employed at the base to around 8,200 by 2022, as projected by the MoD, a conventional naval base and Joint Force Headquarters would employ considerably fewer people than the current workforce of 6,500. (Paragraph 110)

NATO membership

18.  The change to SNP policy regarding NATO membership in October 2012 was a significant development in the debate on the defence implications of possible Scottish independence. We welcome the subsequent acknowledgement by the Scottish Government that an independent Scotland would need to apply to join NATO rather than inheriting membership. We note the contrast between the Scottish Government's position on this and its position on membership of the European Union. Scottish Ministers will need to make clear their rationale for this difference, and, if they wish the Scottish people to give it credence, should consider making publicly available the legal advice on which it is based. (Paragraph 121)

19.  The process of securing NATO membership is complex and time-consuming and the response to an application from an independent Scotland would be influenced by the Scottish Government's stance on nuclear weapons. NATO is a nuclear alliance and we believe that any action likely to disrupt the operation of the UK's strategic deterrent would undoubtedly influence NATO Member countries' attitudes towards an application from Scotland. (Paragraph 122)

20.  We note the reported recent engagement between NATO and Scottish Government officials, facilitated by the UK Joint Delegation to NATO. We welcome this co-operation between the two Governments and invite the UK Government to provide us with an update on the outcome of these and any subsequent discussions. Nonetheless, we conclude that the Scottish Government's view that NATO membership could be negotiated in a period of 18 to 24 months is optimistic unless issues surrounding the nuclear deterrent were resolved through negotiation. (Paragraph 123)

European Union procurement law

21.  The UK Government states that defence suppliers in an independent Scotland would no longer benefit from the application of an exemption from EU procurement law for UK MoD orders. If the Scottish Government has legal advice to the contrary it should consider making it public. (Paragraph 134)

Shipbuilding and maintenance

22.  In the event of independence, shipbuilding in Scotland could not be sustained by domestic orders alone at anything close to current levels. It is our view that the requirements of a Scottish Government for construction and maintenance of warships would barely provide enough work for a single yard. Even the addition of Scottish Government contracts for commercial ships could not compensate for the loss of future UK MoD contracts for ships such as the Type 26 Global Combat Ship. The future of Scottish shipyards would therefore rest upon whether they could diversify the type of ships they produce and reduce their cost base in order to secure orders in open competition with international competitors. (Paragraph 141)

The implications for the defence industry in Scotland

23.  In the event of independence, we consider that the defence industry in Scotland would face a difficult future. This impact would be felt most immediately by those companies engaged in shipbuilding, maintenance, and high end technology. The requirements of a Scottish defence force would not generate sufficient domestic demand to compensate for the loss of lucrative contracts from the UK MoD, and additional security and bureaucracy hurdles would be likely to reduce competitiveness with rUK based companies. (Paragraph 144)

24.  Although we recognise the commercial risks associated with the potential loss of some highly skilled employees, we believe defence companies in Scotland would be forced to rapidly reassess their business strategies, with the result that relocation of operations to the remainder of the UK would be an unwelcome but necessary decision. (Paragraph 145)

25.  From the evidence we have received and our own background knowledge of defence industrial issues raised frequently with us we consider that the Scottish Government will wish to provide industry with more information with regard to the following matters: (Paragraph 146)

  • Defence and Security relationship with the rUK, including the anticipated level of integration and collaboration;
  • Transition arrangements for existing UK contracts during the process of separation;
  • Procurement policy, including co-investment in research and development;
  • Export posture and potential in terms of legislation plus consular and broader government support;
  • Specific expectations of the current "special relationship" with the US over trade, intelligence and technology sharing; and
  • Future relationship with cooperative initiatives such as NATO "Smart Defence" and European Defence Agency "Pooling and Sharing".

Government planning for Scottish independence

26.  We recognise that the process of negotiation following a "Yes" vote would be lengthy and complex. For those very reasons, it would be remiss of the UK Government not to make preparations in order to inform its negotiating position. We recommend that the UK Government begin now to prepare for the impact of possible Scottish independence. It would not be wise to begin contingency planning only after the referendum. This does not imply that we believe there should be negotiations with the Scottish Government prior to the referendum, but rather that it would be prudent for the MoD to scenario plan. (Paragraph 150)

27.  We consider it to be highly probable that defence assets would form an integral part of wider independence negotiations rather than a discrete strand. The UK Government should begin work to assess what its priorities would be in relation to defence assets in the event of a "Yes" vote. (Paragraph 153)

Implications for the security of the remainder of the United Kingdom

28.  We consider that the level of security and defence presently afforded to the people of the United Kingdom is higher than that which could be provided by the Governments of a separate Scotland and the remainder of the UK. (Paragraph 156)

29.  In respect of the interests of the remainder of the UK, we invite the MoD to explain how it would manage the loss of personnel, equipment, bases, training facilities and industrial capacity ceded to an independent Scotland. (Paragraph 157)

Intelligence sharing

30.  We consider that it is unlikely that an independent Scotland with fledgling intelligence capabilities would be given access to the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community. A high degree of co-operation with rUK would therefore be crucial for Scotland especially in the early years of independence. However, such co-operation would rely on goodwill and Scotland could find itself more vulnerable to threats than it is at present. (Paragraph 163)

Shared facilities

31.  We recommend that the Ministry of Defence explain whether the concept of sharing facilities, including operational bases and training areas, by Scotland and the rUK could work in practice and to identify any significant risks arising from this proposal. (Paragraph 166)

Joint procurement

32.  The desire of the Scottish Government to pursue joint procurement with rUK for defence materiel and services makes absolute sense: a small country with a limited defence budget would gain access to larger contracts offering better value for money. Whether the rUK would benefit sufficiently to enter into such an arrangement is less clear cut and would need to be examined carefully before a commitment was given. (Paragraph 168)

Interests of serving UK military personnel

33.  We welcome the evidence we received from the Secretary of State for Defence that Scots serving in the UK Armed Forces would be able to transfer to a Scottish defence force should Scotland become a separate state. We recommend that the Ministry of Defence should provide a clear statement, prior to the referendum, that serving personnel would be able to choose whether to remain in the UK Armed Forces or to transfer to a Scottish defence force. (Paragraph 173)

34.  Scottish independence would have a significant impact on the critical mass of rUK Armed Forces and the financial resources available to support them. We recommend that the MoD set out, in its response to this report, whether it would seek to recruit personnel to replace the numbers lost through transfers to a Scottish defence force. Would personnel numbers be maintained at current projections or would rUK Armed Forces reduce further in size? (Paragraph 174)

Future recruitment

35.  Many thousands of Scots have served with distinction in UK Armed Forces over many years. In the event of Scottish independence that long history may be brought to an end should the rUK government decide that it did not wish to recruit from Scotland. We invite the UK Government in its response to this report to make clear whether it would continue to welcome recruits from an independent Scotland. (Paragraph 179)

Participation in the referendum

36.  We invite the Ministry of Defence to set out what action it will take, in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, to ensure that serving personnel are aware of their rights regarding registration and participation in the referendum. (Paragraph 181)

The nuclear deterrent

37.  The possibility of Scottish independence represents a serious threat to the future operational viability of the UK's nuclear deterrent. The UK Government must now give urgent consideration to contingency options in the event of a "Yes" vote. (Paragraph 183)


38.  The people of Scotland and the rest of the UK deserve to be presented with as full a picture as possible of the implications of Scottish independence for their future defence and security. To date, the information published by both the Scottish Government and UK Government falls far short of requirements. (Paragraph 184)

39.  In its forthcoming White Paper, in addition to the specific questions asked earlier in this report, we believe the Scottish Government should provide direct answers to the following questions:

  • How would a sovereign Scottish Government ensure the defence and security of an independent Scotland?
  • For what purposes would Scottish armed forces be used?
  • How would Scottish armed forces be structured and trained, and where would they be based?
  • How much would it cost to equip, support and train an independent Scotland's armed forces and how much of this could be procured and delivered domestically? and
  • How many jobs in the defence sector would be placed at risk? (Paragraph 185)

40.  Similarly, the UK Government must set out more clearly the implications for the security of the remainder of the United Kingdom should the people of Scotland choose the path of separation. This should include greater detail about the options for relocation of the strategic nuclear deterrent and an estimate of the associated costs. The UK Government should also outline its options for making good any defence deficit, caused by loss of personnel, equipment and bases, which might be created by Scottish independence. (Paragraph 186)

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