The Strategic Defence Case for Scotland to Remain in the United Kingdom

Bearing in mind DefenceSynergia (DS) is apolitical, it has been decided not to become involved publicly on the subject of Scottish Independence, notwithstanding the issue inevitably impacts UK Security and Defence Policy, Nevertheless DS is, as always, happy to offer a forum for those wishing to air their views privately.

One such contribution by Dave Tisdale, one of DS’s Founding Members, can be found here. For clarity Dave wanted it known that he is not a Scot, rather English with Irish and Welsh blood. However, he has proudly served with professionals from all 4 nations of the United Kingdom and beyond in the RAF, British Army and Royal Navy operating in UK and overseas in UN and NATO appointments.     

There can be little doubt that the pressure for a second referendum on the status of Scotland within the United Kingdom (UK) will gather momentum should the Scottish National Party (SNP) win a clear majority in the forthcoming elections. Although it is understood that the final decision on such a constitutional change will in all likelihood rest with the people of Scotland the implication that such as decision will have upon UK’s Strategic Defence posture cannot be ignored by any of the political parties in the UK, not least alone those who have primacy in Scotland.


This short personal commentary stresses the Strategic and Defence Case for ‘Union’ and its importance to the future of Scotland. And, as importantly, the likely effect upon the United Kingdom, which will be diminished to some degree if the Scots were to leave the Union.


It is worth restating here that Scotland’s historic place within the UK may not have been universally welcomed either side of the border at the time but it has always been a partnership of equals. First through the joining of the two crowns in 1603 (James the VI of Scotland becoming James I of England) and the Acts of Union in 1707 creating a single Parliament. Over 400 years of shared monarchy and over 300 years of joint political and economic union under the shared banner of Great Britain.


Since May 1762 when John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute became Prime Minister (PM) of Great Britain under George III, a number of PMs have had direct Scottish decent. Indeed, British historic development and national success owes as much to Scottish born academics, scientists, politicians, service chiefs et al as it does to those who have hailed from England, Northern Ireland, Wales, the colonies and dominions. Whilst it is possible today for individual nations within the Union to claim credit for achievements in the arts, science, economics, technology, law, exploration and military prowess, the people concerned were part of the same British Union which, rightly or wrongly, provided the resources and sense of purpose that underpinned their endeavours.


Nothing has changed in that regard notwithstanding the call for separation. Be it diplomatic, political, economic or military each of the four nations of the Union contributes its people and intellect to the whole and is greater than the sum of its individual parts as a consequence. So it is with defence – Strategic threats to the UK are the same for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland.


British collective effort and ingenuity, along with the self-sacrifice of its people over 300 years, has placed the UK at the top table of world affairs. The UK [once referred to ‘as a small island on the fringes of Northern Europe’] has the 6th largest economy in the world and sits on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), in the World Trade (WTO) Organisation and in the Atlantic Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). We collectively share intelligence with our friends and allies in Five Eyes, provide mutual support to others in the Five Powers Defence Arrangement and across the Commonwealth. The latter consisting of 54 nations and 2.4 billion people. This is no accident – The United Kingdom was instrumental in creating those institutions.


If Scots vote to secede from the Union their voice in these international forums will be largely lost leaving just the possibility of a subordinate EU voice in the future. For England, Wales and Northern Ireland the loss of Scotland may mean a temporary diminution of influence in international institutions until it becomes clear that UK is still committed, willing and able to finance and add value in international endeavours.


Domestically the impact on Strategic and Defence issues from  Independence will be more serious for Scotland than the remaining UK. This is primarily because the combined industrial strength and tax-raising power of England, Wales and Northern Ireland – on which future GDP, security and defence spending will be based – will still be based on 90% of the current population of 66.7 million as opposed to just over 8% or 5,5 million people in Scotland.


UK Nation Population Percentage of Total
England 56286961 84.30%
Scotland 5463300 8.20%
Wales 3152879 4.70%
Northern Ireland 1893667 2.80%
United Kingdom total 66796807 100.00%


For the serving apolitical British military the issue of Scottish Independence is moot. Owing allegiance to Her Majesty, not transient political appointments like Prime Ministers or First Ministers, HM Armed Forces are drawn from around the Union and Commonwealth and operate along meritocratic lines. It matters not where you hail from. And, in the profession of arms, the UK and its constituent nations have a symbiotic relationship and bond that transcends all politics. Therefore, on a pragmatic level, it seems that the logical move is for all parties to find a way to preserve this proven success story notwithstanding any changes in the status of any particular constituent nation of the Union.


Overarching this military bond is collective defence on which we have depended on one another for over 300 years. Whilst England, with the largest population can still be a rich regimental recruiting ground, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, despite lower population density, have provided disproportionate numbers for the Armed Forces in the past. For the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force recruitment has traditionally been UK and Commonwealth-wide, which, like Army Corps recruitment, emphasises the need for high levels of education and technical skill. The larger the pool to recruit from the easier it is to meet the funded establishment.


Then there is the issue of dividing the current equipment inventory on a pro-rata basis. This may seem to a politician as reasonable but it rarely works out that way. There needs to be a full Independent Scotland Defence Review (ISDR) to quantify what size of establishment, equipment order of battle and funding a newly formed Scottish Defence Force would need?


Without such an ISDR it is difficult to conceive of Scottish Independence not negatively impacting the ability of any residual Armed Forces in Scotland to adequately provide defence except in very limited circumstances. Most especially if the consequence of Independence is to estrange Scotland from NATO should the UK be forced to remove its Nuclear Forces from Faslane.


Strategically and Defensively it is in the interests of every Scot to remain within the United Kingdom because its people [as opposed to transient political positions] are what a national government must always seek to defend. Within the UK Scotland plays an equal part in the polity of the nation and gains from the historic hard earned position which puts all nations of the UK collectively at the top table of international diplomacy and trade, defended by world class Armed Forces within the most successful and potent military alliance in history – a nuclear and conventionally armed NATO.


As Palmerston once said when discussing British interests: We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow. Speech, House of Commons, 1 March 1848

Squadron leader Dave Tisdale RAF (Retd)