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Royal Scottish Navy [RScN]

The main influences, internal and external, which fostered naval development in Scotland are the fact that it is a country of scattered islands and indented coasts, whose mountainous western shores were barely accessible by land. It could never have been consolidated without naval force. The early reigns of the Alexanders and the later reigns of James IV and James V supply illustrative detail of the fact that sea-power was the one method by which the turbulent and semi-independent chiefs of the West could be brought into submission to the crown. From without came a driving force no less compelling. Scotland with its long coast-line was particularly exposed to attack from the fleets of her enemies. In early times the strength of the Northmen at sea, and in later the increasing development of the English navy, compelled Scotland in self-defense to look to her naval resources, and the phase of enthusiasm which reached its highest point in the eager activities of James IV.

King James IV was the founder of the Scottish Navy in 1500 AD. Encouraged by the successes of Columbus, De Gama, and Cabot, he promoted fisheries and commerce, as the means of rearing skilled and hardy seamen. In a short time he made the navy of Scotland powerful, and its flag was respected on all seas. The largest ship then known in the world, the Great Michael, was launched in Scottish waters. Commanded by stout Sir Andrew Barton, it did great damage to the Dutch. Another famous Scottish seaman of the time was Sir Andrew Wood of Largo, in whose ships, the Flower and the Yellow Carvel, King James often took short voyages. Wood defeated the English at sea twice, and once he captured five of their ships.

Michael (later popularly known as Great Michael) was a carrack or great ship of the Royal Scottish Navy. She was too large to be built at any existing Scottish dockyard, so was built at the new dock at Newhaven, constructed in 1504 by order of King James IV of Scotland. She was ordered around 1505 and laid down in 1507 under the direction of Captain Sir Andrew Wood of Largo and the master shipwright Jacques Terrell, launched on 12 October 1511 and completed on 18 February 1512. When launched she was the largest warship in Europe, with twice the original displacement of her English contemporary Mary Rose which was launched in 1509 and completed in 1510.

The poet William Dunbar wrote of her construction: "Carpenters,Builders of barks and ballingars,Masons lying upon the land,And shipwrights hewing upon the strand."The chronicler Lindsay of Pitscottie wrote of the building of Michael that "all the woods of Fife" went into her construction,(it has been suggested that by this period there was not much forestry left in Fife). Account books further add that timbers were purchased from other parts of Scotland as well as from France and the Baltic Sea. Supposedly there were many cargo loads of timber imported from Norway that were used in the construction of the Michael. Lindsay gives her dimensions as being 240 feet (73.2 m) long and 35 feet (11 m) abeam. Russell (1922) notes that Michael was supposed to have been built with 3.04 meter (10 feet) thick oak walls. She displaced about 1,000 tons, had four masts, carried 24 guns (purchased from Flanders) on the broadside.

The union of the crowns a check and a stimulus to the Scottish navy. The chief foe on the Scottish horizon had vanished, but the exigencies of English foreign policy exposed the scanty fleets of Scots merchantmen to new dangers on the high seas, and a navy was more than ever necessary for their protection. In actual fact, however, the Scots navy was already declining into insignificance prior to its ultimate absorption with the stronger force.

Early Discussions

John MacDonald and Andrew Parrott, authors of "Securing The Nation: Defending an Independent Scotland", a Report by the Scottish Global Forum 12 November 2013, proposed a rather more robuts posture, and provide rather greater granularity. They wrote: "The force structure we propose for a Scottish Defence Force is, we acknowledge, just one of several models which might be deemed ‘appropriate’ for the defence needs of an independent Scotland. It is a force structure that is proportionate to the scale difference between the UK and Scotland... "

Naval Combat Force

4Multi-purpose Vessels (Frigates) 6,500 tonnes
2Advanced Diesel Submarines 1,500 tonnes

Naval Patrol Force

4Ocean Patrol Vessels 2,000 tonnes
4Coastal Patrol Vessels 500 tonnes
8Inshore Patrol Craft 50 tonnes

Naval Support Force

2Mine Counter Measures Vessels 750 tonnes
2Fleet Auxiliary Vessels 10,000 tonnes
1Diving Support Vessel
1Survey Vessel

Civil Agencies Support Force

2Ocean Going Tugs
2Pollution Control Vessels

Marine Services Craft

2Harbour Tugs

Marine Units

1Marine Special Forces Unit
1Marine Company
3Marine Reserve Companies
The UK Commons Defence Committee report "The Defence Implications of Possible Scottish Independence" printed 11 September 2013 considerd the Navy of and independent Scotland. Asked about the likely surface fleet capabilities a Scottish navy would need, Keith Brown MSP was able to rule out the need for an aircraft carrier, but was more circumspect about providing specific requirements. He told us that the Scottish Government was looking at requirements in relation to "energy, international contribution and maritime patrol" and said that a Type 26 frigate, perhaps with a lower level of specification, "would be a possibility". He continued: "where we find we cannot agree with the UK Government, or the UK Government currently do not have the capability that we want, we will procure from elsewhere."

In a speech in Shetland in July 2013, First Minister, Rt Hon Alex Salmond MSP, discussed Scotland's defence needs and priorities: "At present what we have, we don't need. And what we need, we don't have. Our current naval capability is based on prestige, not performance. The navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. The largest protection vessels stationed in Scottish waters are those of the fisheries protection vessels run by the Scottish government. It is absurd for a nation with a coastline longer than India's to have no major surface vessels. And it's obscene for a nation of five million people to host weapons of mass destruction. An independent Scotland would prioritise having the air and naval capability needed to monitor and secure our offshore territory and resources - our oil and gas resources, fisheries protection, and safeguarding our coastal waters."

The SNP had stated that it has no wish to inherit or operate nuclear submarines. It has however stated that it wishes to have as part of its navy, conventionally powered submarines. The UK is a solely nuclear submarine operator, and operates the nuclear power plants and much of its operational equipment on the basis of a longstanding bilateral relationship with the US.

Rear Admiral Alabaster testified that it would be unlikely to be cost-effective to create a conventional submarine building facility in Scotland and that "it would be more cost-effective to look elsewhere, either to the UK or indeed to some of the other European nations that currently build conventional submarines successfully". Professor Trevor Taylor of RUSI suggested that the cost of development and construction of just one submarine domestically would swallow up the entire Scottish defence equipment budget for a year or more.

The Royal Canadian Navy has experienced considerable problems and expense with its diesel-electric submarines. The Royal Australian Navy had, meanwhile, embarked on an ambitious replacement programme planned for 12 boats of a new class at an approximate cost of Aus$1.4 - 3.0bn (£850M - £1.8bn) per boat, commencing delivery around 2025, but like the Canadians also experienced significant cost growth and manning difficulties in sustaining its current submarine force. Denmark decided to phase out its submarine service in 2004.

The Scottish Labour Party Manifesto for the Scottish General elections September 2014 stated "... we are planning to have a Scottish Navy aircraft-carrier in the Firth of Clyde. This will help the Navy grow, and gradually increase activity. We will also see to the appointment of a First Sea Lord, who will manage the Navy along with the Field Marshal."

There were strategic implications arising from the SNP's policy preference for Faslane to be Scotland's major naval base. Several commentators have expressed serious doubts about the wisdom of this policy given Faslane's distance from the North Sea centre of gravity and the practicalities of splitting the main operating base from the likely refit and maintenance base at Rosyth.

George Grant, in his report for the Henry Jackson Society, commented: "Legitimate questions exist as to the strategic viability of placing the entire Scottish Navy in the southwest of the country, given that both its primary at-sea assets (the oil and gas rigs), as well as potential threats, are located almost entirely in the north and east."

Dr Phillips O'Brien, Director of the Scottish Centre for War Studies, reached the view that in an independent Scotland, Faslane would have to be reduced to one-third of its present size (including hosting some army personnel as part of a joint facility), and a naval presence on the East Coast would be required to provide protection to the oil fields in the North Sea.

Rear Admiral Alabaster testified that it would require a "substantial amount of work" to convert Faslane from its current configuration and that it would require "some new and more cost-effective facilities for a conventional naval base". For example, he pointed out that there is no dry dock at Faslane and that the cost of using and maintaining existing infrastructure, such as the shiplift, built to lift a 16,000 tonnes nuclear-armed submarine out of the water safely, would be very expensive.

Asked whether a naval facility on the East coast, perhaps based at Rosyth might be a better choice for the headquarters of a Scottish navy, Rear Admiral Alabaster replied: "You would have to do the sums quite carefully. The facilities at Faslane are better, but they are the wrong facilities. They are expensive. It would need some very detailed work to look at the options, but building a new facility at Rosyth would certainly be one worth looking at."

"Scotland's Future" Scottish Government, November 2013

In a newly indepedendent Scotland, maritime forces capabilities at the point of independence would include one naval squadron to secure Scotland’s maritime interests and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and contribute to joint capability with partners in Scotland’s geographical neighborhood, consisting of:

  • two frigates from the Royal Navy’s current fleet - The Type 23-class frigates HMS Argyll and HMS Montrose are clearly already suitably named for the SN and might fit this requirement nicely
  • a command platform for naval operations and development of specialist marine capabilities (from the Royal Navy’s current fleet, following adaptation)
  • four mine counter measure vessels from the Royal Navy’s current fleet. there were already the eight ships of the 1st MCM Squadron at Faslane.
  • two offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) to provide security for the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, as the Royal Navy only had four 1,700-tonne OPVs of the River class as of 2010, a longer lead time for procurement might be necessary. Probably half a dozen or so would be needed, so sourcing from elsewhere or building them in Scottish yards would be the only solution.
  • four to six patrol boats from the Royal Navy’s current fleet of 68ft long boast, capable of operating in coastal waters, providing fleet protection and also contributing to securing borders. Scotland might hope to add to the SN the two offshore patrol vessels of the Faslane Patrol Boat Squadron, HMS Pursuer and HMS Dasher.
  • auxiliary support ships (providing support to vessels on operations), which could be secured on a shared basis initially with the rest of the UK. The miscellaneous craft like auxiliaries and other smaller vessels and the newborn SN might consist of some twenty or so vessels.

These arrangements will require around 2,000 regular and at least 200 reserve personnel. This level of defence capability will require the continued operation of all current major military bases in Scotland. In particular Faslane will become the main operating base for the Scottish Navy, and the headquarters for the Scottish defense forces as a whole.

Further development of Scotland’s defense and security capabilities will be decided following the strategic review of security undertaken by the first elected Parliament and government of an independent Scotland. However the Scottish Government believed that the following elements should be prioritised for delivery as early as possible in the first five years following independence, building on the forces in place at independence. A second naval squadron to contribute to NATO and other operations outside home waters, incorporating the naval command platform, and a further two frigates with tanker and support ship capacity. Overall the model would involve around 2,400 regular and at least 270 reserve personnel. While most of the personnel would be required by the five year point, this model envisages increases continuing through the first ten years following independence (due to procurement of new Scottish naval vessels).

Scotland Navy Equipment

2015 2016 2020 2025 2030
Personnel ,000 - - - - -
Active - - 2,000 2,000 2,400
Reserve - - 200 200 270
Ships Source Tons Year Inventory
Submarines ... ... ... ... ...
SSK SSK TBD ?00 20xx - - ?? ?? ??
Aircraft Carriers ... ... ... ... ...
CV CV TBD ?00 20xx - - ???? ???? ????
Frigates ... ... ... ... ...
Type 23 Duke UK ,000 20xx - - 2 4 4
Patrol, Offshore ... ... ... ... ...
OPV River 2002 1,677 - - - 2 4 6
Patrol, Coastal ... ... ... ... ...
P2000 UK ,000 20xx - - 4 6 6

Mine Warfare

Minehunters ... ... ... ... ...
MCM Hunt UK ,000 20xx - - 4 4 4


- - 14 14 14
Fleet Auxiliary Vessel UK 10,000 20xx - - 2 2 2
Diving Support Vessel UK ,000 20xx - - 1 1 1
Survey Vessel UK ,000 20xx - - 1 1 1
Ocean Going Tugs UK ,000 20xx - - 2 2 2
Marine Services Craft UK ,000 20xx - - 2 2 2
Harbour Tugs UK ,000 20xx - - 2 2 2
Workboats UK ,000 20xx - - 4 4 4

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Page last modified: 27-06-2016 11:34:05 ZULU