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The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence - Defence Committee Contents

6  Implications for the United Kingdom

Government planning for Scottish independence

147. A "Yes" vote by the Scottish people in the referendum in September 2014 would have significant and long-lasting consequences not just for Scotland, but for the remainder of the United Kingdom (rUK) too. Yet, the UK Government has stated on many occasions that it is making no contingency plans at present, preferring instead to await the outcome of the referendum.

148. In its memorandum to us, the MoD stated:

    The UK Government's position is clear: Scotland benefits from being part of the UK and the UK benefits from having Scotland within the UK. The UK Government is confident that the people of Scotland will choose to remain part of the UK, and is not planning for any other outcome. It is for those advocating independence to explain the nature and implications of an independent Scotland; it is the policy of the UK Government to maintain the integrity of the existing UK and we are supporting that position with evidence and analysis.[126]

149. When he gave oral evidence, the Secretary of State for Defence confirmed this position. Asked whether this was a high risk strategy, he replied:

    A yes vote, in the unlikely event that it were to happen, would simply be the starting bell for what would be a long and complex process of negotiation between the Scottish Government and the representatives of the remainder of the United Kingdom. Looking at the hugely complicated issues that would be involved in trying to partition a country that has functioned as an integrated and very effective whole for 300 years, the process would take a significant time. Of course, during that period, appropriate contingency planning would take place. If the situation arose, until we saw the opening negotiating position of a Scottish Government, as opposed to the posture it had taken up during a referendum campaign, we would not actually be clear on what contingency planning we would need to be doing.[127]

150. 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.


151. Earlier in our report we considered how the two Governments might approach negotiations regarding defence assets should the Scottish people vote for independence and the manner by which current defence assets might be divided between Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

152. The Secretary of State for Defence told us that although this had not been discussed within Government, he could "see no reason why the defence discussion would be ring-fenced from all the other complex areas that would have to be discussed".[128]

153. 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.

Implications for the security of the remainder of the United Kingdom

154. From a defence perspective, setting aside the serious questions which would arise regarding the future of the nuclear deterrent, Scottish independence would also result in the remainder of the UK facing the loss of vital personnel, bases and equipment, representing as much one twelfth of current assets. There would be a consequent loss of capability, particularly in the short term. The rUK Government would face a difficult decision about how to manage this shortfall when the financial resources available to do so would be reduced to a similar degree. This raises the very real prospect that the rUK would face the same level of threats to its defence and security as the UK faces today, but with Armed Forces which were less capable and resilient.

155. If an independent Scotland was perceived by the rUK to have weakened defence and security capabilities because, for example, it was not a member of NATO and had decided to reduce its level of air defences, how might the rUK respond? Air Marshal McNicoll told us that from an air policing perspective, most interceptions were to the north of Scotland "so there would be an impact if the remainder of the UK only had bases south of the border".[129]

156. 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.

157. 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.

Future co-operation

158. Following independence, the SNP desires a high degree of co-operation with the remainder of the UK as well as other allies. Areas in which co-operation would be sought include "shared conventional basing, training and logistics arrangements" and "joint procurement".[130]


159. At present, the annual budget for the UK's security and intelligence agencies is £2.0bn.[131] In the event of independence, the Scottish Government envisages Scotland having independent domestic and external intelligence services.[132]

160. Professor Malcolm Chalmers of RUSI anticipated that in the event of independence "some of the most difficult issues in a negotiation would be on the intelligence services and counter-terrorism co-operation".[133] He told us that there would also be issues about Scotland's "operational competence and ability to co-operate and share intelligence that may have come from quite sensitive sources on the UK side". He said:

    The UK, due to its unique intelligence-sharing arrangements with the US, gets access to intelligence that not every European country gets, and that enhances our own security and counter-terrorist capabilities. As you rightly point out, there will still be an open border, presumably, between Scotland and the rest of the UK. There will still be a lot of movement of people. People in the UK will want assurance that Scotland is not a weak link in their counter-terrorism capability.[134]

161. Asked whether the Five Eyes intelligence sharing community (comprising the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) would automatically become Six Eyes with the addition of an independent Scotland, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

    Any expansion of the Five Eyes community could only be achieved if it was agreed by all five members of that community, and there is a very strong view among certain members of that community that it is a something-for-something arrangement. An applicant seeking to join the Five Eyes group would have to show that it could add significant intelligence or analysis value to what the group already had. Bearing in mind who the members of the group are, that might be challenging for a fledgling state that had no great tradition of intelligence gathering or analysis.[135]

162. Asked about the potential for bilateral intelligence sharing arrangements between rUK and Scotland, Mr Hammond confirmed that there were certain things that could be shared on a bilateral basis if rUK chose to do so, although sharing of other intelligence would require agreement from the Five Eyes allies, because it had been obtained through Five Eyes arrangements.[136]

163. 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.


164. Should separation occur, the rUK would need to consider what level of defence and security co-operation with an independent Scotland would be in its own interests. Scotland would have a strong interest in maintaining access to training facilities such as the defence academies at Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth. Additionally, in a similar manner to NATO air policing in the Baltic, the sharing of air bases with the RAF, possibly with pooled forces, might provide Scotland with one solution to its need for fast jets to provide Quick Reaction Alert cover in Scottish airspace.

165. Following separation, the rUK would also face the prospect of losing access to a number of important training areas and weapons ranges including those facilities operated by QinietiQ at West Freugh in Wigtownshire and Benbecula in the Western Isles. Although alternative facilities could be identified elsewhere this might prove disruptive and significantly more expensive.

166. 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.


167. In relation to the potential for joint procurement between an independent Scotland and rUK, the Secretary of State for Defence told us that the MoD was "not opposed in principle to co-operation on defence procurement". However, he did not think that this would result in the rUK procuring warships from yards in an independent Scotland.[137]

168. 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.

Interests of serving UK military personnel

169. One of the most significant interest groups in the debate about the defence implications of possible Scottish independence is serving military personnel, particularly those from Scotland, serving in Scottish regiments, or based in Scotland.

170. Air Marshal McNicoll expressed doubts about whether sufficient personnel would wish to transfer to a Scottish defence force. If the process was voluntary he envisaged problems associated with having too many or too few personnel on either side of the border, particularly in specialist areas. In his estimation, "Scotland, most likely, would be short of people".[138]

171. Rear Admiral Alabaster questioned what would happen to Scots serving in the Royal Navy, such as nuclear submarine specialists:

    what jobs would they do in a Scottish defence force if that were non-nuclear, and, if there was some kind of co-operation, would they still be allowed to serve in those nuclear-armed submarines in the future? There are lots and lots of questions to be thought about. We have a lot of Scots in all sorts of specialist areas of the Navy that would not necessarily be replicated in a Scottish navy.[139]

172. Asked whether Scots serving in the UK Armed Forces would continue to be able to do so if Scotland became a separate country, the Secretary of State confirmed that they would.[140] In relation to the ability of serving personnel to transfer to a Scottish defence force, Mr Hammond said:

    It does not seem an unreasonable assumption that people who had a connection with Scotland and wanted to be released from their commitment to service in the UK armed forces in order to join some putative Scottish defence force might expect to be allowed to do so. But it would be part of the negotiation.[141]

173. 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.

174. 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?


175. In light of the doubts expressed about the likelihood of serving UK personnel deciding to transfer to a Scottish defence force, we were keen to explore whether, given a choice, potential new recruits would be attracted to join the larger Armed Forces of the rUK or a smaller Scottish force.

176. When he gave a speech in Edinburgh on March 2013, the Secretary of State for Defence described as a key challenge for Armed Forces around the world the attraction and retention of high quality recruits. He linked the ability to do so to "the quality of the offer you are able to make to potential recruits". He considered that the UK Armed Forces were able to attract some of the highest calibre recruits because:

    they are able to offer exciting and demanding career opportunities, with the chance to deploy overseas on operations and training and with the cachet of being among the best and most widely-respected Armed Forces in the world.[142]

177. We sought from the Secretary of State clarity about whether rUK Armed Forces would continue to welcome recruits from an independent Scotland. He replied:

    Scots make a tremendous contribution to the UK armed forces—probably a disproportionately important contribution. I can see many reasons why the UK armed forces would wish to continue recruiting in Scotland, as we do in the Republic of Ireland, but we would make that decision based on our perception of our national interest at the time.[143]

178. Keith Brown MSP expressed the view that a Scottish defence force could make a more attractive employment proposition by, for example, implementing "an agreement whereby there were no compulsory redundancies on people serving in the armed forces during the term of their contract" and creating enhanced career prospects for serving personnel.[144]

179. 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.


180. During our visit to Scotland in March 2013, we spoke to many personnel serving in the Royal Navy, Army and RAF about their experiences of being based in Scotland. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. When we engaged in conversation about the forthcoming referendum it became clear that many were unaware that if registered to vote in Scotland they would have an entitlement to participate. We were therefore keen to understand what action the Scottish and UK Governments would take to publicise this fact. Keith Brown MSP told us:

    We are keen to make sure that as many people as possible are entitled to vote. Anybody who is not currently registered, of course, has the ability, between now and then, to register, given the due processes. Yes, everything we can do to help maximise that, but primarily it is the responsibility—for very good reason—of the Electoral Commission.[145]

181. 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.

The nuclear deterrent

182. Few if any alternative options appear to exist currently within the remainder of the UK should a sovereign Scottish Government insist upon removal of the UK's nuclear submarines from Faslane. Given the enormous costs associated with establishing a new base elsewhere, we consider that other areas of potential co-operation between Scotland and rUK would be very difficult to achieve if no agreement could be reached regarding Trident basing.

183. 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.

126   Ev w1 Back

127   Q 382 Back

128   Q 385 Back

129   Q 114 Back

130   SNP. Foreign, Security and Defence Policy Update, October 2012  Back

131   HM Treasury, Government Spending Review 2010, Cm 7942, Single Intelligence Account, page 10-11, Tables 1 and 2 Back

132   Foreign Affairs Committee. Foreign policy considerations for the UK and Scotland in the event of Scotland becoming an independent country, Sixth Report of Session 2012-13, HC 641, Para 131 Back

133   Q 38 Back

134   Q 38 Back

135   Q 420 Back

136   Q 421 Back

137   Q 408 Back

138   Q 200 Back

139   Q 200 Back

140   Q 388 Back

141   Q 389 Back

142   Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Stronger and Safer Together, Speech, 14 March 2013 Back

143   Q 390 Back

144   Q 280 Back

145   Q 378 Back

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