UK/Scotland Separation (2): Mutual Damage

Most attention has been focussed on the economic arguments of Scottish separation – would Scotland be worse off or better off as a separate country?  The answer here is to be found by looking at the real economy of manufacturing, services, and jobs.  In most companies the scale argument would be decisive.  Interfering with scale will do real damage.  (For issues of citizenship and border controls, see the post of 29th November 2013, “The Meaning of Scottish Separation and the Union Alternative”).

(1)  Scale of Manufacture

Each of four key industries which particularly depend on scale of manufacture and research – civil aerospace, defence, chemicals, pharmaceuticals – are a significant part of Scottish industry[1] but they are clearly part of the wider UK industries and contribute to their economies of scale[2].  So irrespective of the detailed numbers as of now, if Scotland were to separate itself from the UK, it will damage these industries particularly in Scotland itself.

(2)  State Procurement and start-up assistance

Where an industry depends on state procurement and start-up assistance – as all defence and most civil aviation projects do – governments tend to choose big concerns because they are themselves bound by international and EU state aid rules.  Particularly does this apply in the defence sector where the claim of national security is usually invoked to justify government assistance.  No British government will source its naval or its super-secret radar and electronics hardware in a foreign country, and exemptions from state-aid rules in the defence field apply only to production in the country being defended.

Re-establishing the defence related research, design and production facilities currently in Scotland in England, Wales and Northern Ireland would take time and expense among the principal defence contractors like Thales and BAe Systems, but it would be done.  Dockyards at Portsmouth and Plymouth would in fact be keen to host the new build Type 26 frigates and the fitting out of the new Prince of Wales aircraft carrier (sister ship of the Queen Elizabeth just launched by the Queen).  Clearly BAe Systems and other contractors would offer jobs in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to many of those engaged on these projects on the Clyde and at Rosyth as they relocated the design and production facilities, but this would take time and money and represent a net loss of expertise to Scotland in these fields.  About 40,000 of these skilled jobs could ultimately be transferred out of Scotland[1].

(3)  Additional Defence Jobs at Risk

Still in the defence jobs field, the Scottish National Party (SNP) in thrall to its very strong socialist left wing, is committed to demanding the removal of the UK’s Trident missiles and submarines from Faslane – also on the Clyde.  About 8,000 jobs are involved in the dockyard and missile store 8 km away.  Only the SNP White Paper on independence could propose that these facilities and their skilled staff could be productively employed on servicing the coastal protection type vessels which would be all that a separated Scotland could afford.

(4)  Air Defence implications of Scottish Separation

In Soviet times, the East Coasts of England and Scotland, and the Shetlands, were frequent targets of Soviet combat aircraft, probing the UK (and NATO’s) air defences.  It is only one hour’s flying time from Russian air bases near Archangel to the Shetlands.  While the defence of UK air space is the prime responsibility of the RAF, under NATO it is closely integrated with the defence of Norwegian airspace.  With Leuchars and Lossiemouth not available to the RAF if Scotland leaves, and the conditions of its membership of NATO problematical, RAF Marham in Norfolk, though 500 miles further south, will need to accommodate the 3 Tornado squadrons displaced from Scotland.

The SNP White Paper claims that nothing vital will change – only cap badges in effect.  According to the SNP some of the RAF’s Tornadoes and Typhoons would be transferred to a fledgling Scottish Airforce, along with their staff presumably.  Apart from the fact that many Scottish RAF personnel would opt to keep their British citizenship, all modern fighter/bombers need almost continuous upgrading, especially in radar, to maintain combat readiness.  There is no way this can be allowed to be done for a foreign country from RAF resources.

As important, the transfer of UK military assets to a foreign country will be opposed outright by the British public, all the more given that they have been denied any vote on the issue. Any UK political party agreeing to such a move would be committing electoral suicide.

(5)  British Army

Under its 2020 plan, the British Army is to be reduced from the current 37 to 32 regular infantry battalions.  In addition there are 14 part-time (Territorial) reserve battalions.  Out of the present 37 infantry battalions, 5 are currently from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, to be reduced to 4 by 2020, still disproportionately large when compared with the present total of 27 (23 in 2020) English battalions.  To achieve these huge reductions many unwelcome regimental amalgamations have been forced on all parts of the UK, but especially on England.

Each infantry battalion is assigned to one of four fighting roles closely integrated with the other Army-wide combat arms – the Royal Armoured Corps (tanks and armoured cars), the Parachute Regiment, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Artillery, the Royal Signals, the Intelligence Corps and the Royal Mechanical and Electrical Engineers.

The removal of 3 Scottish battalions, which is what the SNP White Paper envisages, would be easy to replace by allowing the King’s Division, the Rifles and the Royal Anglians to expand by one battalion each.  Whether after 2020 the fourth Scottish battalion would continue to serve in the British Army would depend on recruitment.  But what would be strongly opposed by the British Army and public is any unpicking of the army-wide combat arms.

All regiments and combat arms are wired into the common encrypted signals nets.  Likewise REME disposes of machinery configured precisely for repair and recovery of the army’s armoured vehicles.  As with the economy and public administration, separating the armed forces, which is what the SNP wishes to do, is like trying to unpick the circuits of one computer to make two.

(6)  Scottish Gendarmerie

If a future Scottish government formed its own independent army from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, it would essentially be a 6 or 7 thousand strong gendarmerie, like the Republic of Ireland’s defence force, with little or no overseas fighting capability, mainly deployed in UN peace-keeping roles.

This change would represent major inconvenience to the British Army and cause major damage to the Scottish martial tradition, of which most Scottish people are justly proud.  Why should any true Scot vote for such damage?

(7)  Britain’s Ballistic Missile System

This is now vested entirely in the 4 strategic nuclear ballistic missile submarines of the Vanguard class.  Design studies are underway for the submarines’ eventual replacement to keep them invulnerable to enemy attack.  Besides the submarines and base at Faslane on the Clyde in Scotland, there are two other elements to the system: the ballistic missile storage depot at Coalport across the water from Faslane, and the guidance and communications system embodied in the UK’s military satellites[3].

Ballistic missiles once launched are unstoppable; their possible replacement by cruise missiles, as postulated by Gus O’Donnell, recent head of the British Civil Service on a BBC2 TV programme recently[4], is fanciful, because cruise missiles are vulnerable to relatively simple missile defence screens.  Their interception of cruise missiles carrying a nuclear warhead would have quite unpredictable consequences.

The SNP’s non-nuclear policy cannot bind a future government in Scotland

This policy is to insist on the removal of all trace of Britain’s nuclear deterrent in Scotland.  On the BBC2 programme[4] there was a great deal of defeatist talk from the assorted commentators and worthies about the possible effects of this policy were Scotland to vote to separate itself from Britain.  There was a general assumption in the BBC2 discussion that the SNP would actually form the government of Scotland after the next Scottish election, should the country opt for independence.  There is no certainty that this would be so.  At the very least there would be a huge slab of Scottish opinion opposed to separation and the damage it would cause.  Moreover, if Scotland were to leave the UK, it would also leave NATO, the EU and the pound sterling (£) currency union.  Almost certainly the price of rejoining NATO would be US insistence on the UK’s retaining its nuclear deterrent as it is, probably under a Sovereign base arrangement.  It would then be for a Scottish government and the Scottish people to decide whether they wanted to stay out of NATO or join NATO and accept continuation of the nuclear deterrent base at Faslane and Coalport[5].  Certainly, any attempt to interfere with the operation of the nuclear deterrent which belongs to the United Kingdom would be a “Fort Sumpter” situation with all that that would imply for relations between the UK and the fledgling Scottish state.

Alex Salmond’s position: Left Wingers in the SNP

It is doubtful if Salmond personally, deep down, cares much about the nuclear deterrent either way, but the non-nuclear policy was the price he has had to pay to garner and maintain support from his own left wing, and that of the Scottish Labour party, and the small but vocal Scottish Socialist party.

Unilateral Nuclear Disarmament for Britain: the constant goal of the Left

The unilateral nuclear disarmers (CND) who have all but disappeared in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, are very much alive in Scotland and see Scottish separation as the most likely way of realising their objective[6].  As a shrewd politician, Salmond is doubtless mindful of what happened to John MacIntosh in London in 1984, when having won the Greater London Council (GLC) election for Labour on a moderately left-wing programme, he was voted out of the London Labour leadership and replaced by one Ken Livingstone on a hard-left programme.  For this reason, Salmond is unlikely to waiver on Faslane and Coalport unless and until and issue of Scottish membership of NATO is brought into post-referendum negotiations.  For equally obvious reasons, comments by President Obama and the NATO Secretary-General have been very guarded in the run-up to the referendum, although their own support for the Union is very clear.  Were the Scots to vote to leave the UK on September 18th, as this writer devoutly hopes they will not, there is no doubt that the slogan:

“No nuclear deterrent, then no NATO membership”

would soon be voiced by the USA and our other NATO partners.

On any score, a vote for Scottish Separation will do massive damage to the security of all parts of the United Kingdom[7].

What can readers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland actually do?  Go to and sign the letter to the Scottish people.

End Notes

[1]  Report by the Economic Research Team of Scottish Enterprise, 2014.

[2]  Even oil and gas are part of a UK-wide industry as noted in “Scotland Referendum (1): Mutual Gain”.

[3]  Among other things this allows the other 4 nuclear powers to detect if any of the 5 have released a ballistic missile or not.

[4]  Tuesday, 12th August, 9.30 pm, presenter Andrew Neil, “Scotland Votes: What’s at Stake for the UK?” BBC2 TV.

[5]  There was also a good deal of windbaggary in the programme about the result of the UK general election resulting in 40 or so Scottish MPs supporting a Labour claim to govern.  But the responsibility of the Sovereign is to choose a Prime Minister who can command a majority of votes in the House of Commons.  If the Scottish MPs chose not to vote on an issue of confidence, then the leader of a minority (pro tem) would be a perfectly proper person to invite to form a government.

[6]  Scottish business should also be aware that the Left in Scotland sees separation as the best way of advancing socialist policies there.

[7]  See also on this website:

“The Crimean and Scottish Referendums Compared”, 31st March 2014;

“The Meaning of Scottish Separation and the Union Alternative”, 29th November, 2013;

“A new UK Constitution”, 22nd August 2012.

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