Scottish independence: MPs seek clarity on defence plans
- 27 September 2013
- From the section Scotland politics
More information should be provided to voters on how an independent Scotland could defend itself, MPs have said.
The Commons defence select committee said details given by the Scottish government fell short of requirements.
It also criticised the UK government for not spelling out how the remainder of the UK would be affected, including the relocation of nuclear weapons.
Holyrood's Veterans Minister Keith Brown said Scotland would be better protected under independence.
The people of Scotland will vote in the independence referendum on 18 September next year.
They will be asked the straight yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
The committee said Scots deserved to be presented with as "full a picture as possible" from both sides in the debate prior to the referendum.
Members said questions such as "For what purposes would Scottish armed forces be used?" still needed answering.
It added that it was "unconvinced" that the Scottish government's proposed budget of £2.5bn could support both the proposed Scottish defence force and the purchase of new equipment including fast jets and submarines.
Chairman of the committee, James Arbuthnot, said: "Crucially, we are not making recommendations to the Scottish people - the decision on independence is a matter for them.
"But we do think that Scottish voters need to see answers to the questions that we are asking the Scottish government to provide in their upcoming White Paper. It will be for the Scottish government to make its case that an independent Scotland can sustain an appropriate level of defence and security."
The report detailed five questions it said should be answered by the Scottish government.
- 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?
The committee also wanted to know more about the proposed Scottish defence force, including the numbers of combat troops and the numbers and types of aircraft and vessels which would be needed.
It also called for the UK government to prepare for the impact of possible Scottish independence on UK defence.
The report stated: "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 (Ministry of Defence) to scenario-plan."
People across Britain deserve to be presented with as full a picture as possible, the report concluded.
"To date, the information published by both the Scottish Government and UK Government falls far short of requirements," it said.
Transition of the Trident nuclear deterrent on the Clyde could not be achieved quickly, the report found.
The Scottish government has made the removal of nuclear weapons a key part of its independence plan.
"Even with political will on both sides, the replication of the facilities at Faslane and, crucially, Coulport (Argyll), at another site in the UK would take several years and many billions of pounds to deliver," the report said.
"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."
Reacting to the report, Mr Brown said the current UK defence arrangements did not meet Scotland's needs.
He insisted that the proposed post-independence defence budget of £2.5bn a year would be more than £500m above what the UK government had spent on defence in Scotland in recent years, while still representing a saving for taxpayers of nearly £1bn.
Mr Brown said: "An independent Scotland will have first-class conventional forces playing a full role in defending the country as well as co-operating with international partners and neighbours, something this report fails to acknowledge by ignoring key pieces of evidence.
"Decisions on Scotland's defence and security should be made by those with the strongest interest in them - the people of Scotland - and current UK defence policy is letting Scotland down."
'Waste of money'
He explained that it was a "priority" for Scotland to "secure and monitor an extensive maritime environment" given its geographical position and wealth of offshore and other natural assets.
However, he said that under the current arrangements, there was not a single major Royal Navy surface vessel based in Scotland and the RAF had no maritime patrol aircraft since the scrapping of the Nimrod fleet.
The SNP administration at Holyrood has made it clear that it would get rid of Trident, currently residing in Faslane on the Clyde, if it became the government of an independent Scotland.
Mr Brown, who gave evidence to the defence committee, said: "Without the huge waste of money on Trident nuclear weapons, and by focusing on Scotland's own needs in relation to military personnel, conventional equipment and bases, an independent Scotland can halt the disproportionate cuts to our defence footprint and deliver the defence jobs, the equipment and the security that Scotland needs."
The Scottish government said its proposals for defence and security in an independent Scotland would be included in its White Paper expected to be published in the autumn.
It also said it would "welcome the opportunity" to engage in discussion with the UK government to "prepare for decisions that would need to be made following independence".
But Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore said: "It is no secret the Scottish government has failed to explain the detail of how defence would work in an independent Scottish state. Their White Paper must address this and the committee's questions in detail, showing people exactly what separate Scottish forces would look like.
"We already know that the Scottish government has been told by NATO that an independent Scotland would not inherit the UK's membership, or expect to be accepted automatically."