The British Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyer Duncan departs BAE Systems' Scotsoun shipyard for sea trials. (BAE Systems)
LONDON — Scotland’s security would be reduced if the country became independent from the rest of the United Kingdom in an upcoming referendum, according to a British government report into the defense implications of a “yes” vote.
The British government’s offensive against a possible vote for independence in next September’s referendum included the Defence Ministry release on Oct. 8 of its analysis of the benefits of remaining part of the UK, along with the pitfalls of separation.
“It’s not clear what level of security and protection the proposals [from the Scottish National Party, or SNP] would provide for Scotland; but it is clear that it would be much less than that provided to Scotland as part of the UK,” the analysis said.
The report, released to coincide with a visit by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to the Selex ES defense electronics factory in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, sought to highlight the impact on defense jobs and the difficulty the SNP would have in establishing credible defense forces, given the levels of spending envisioned.
Hammond said the Scottish government’s plans “remain insultingly vague — a two-page wish list that is neither costed nor credible.”
The SNP is scheduled to present detailed proposals next month, when it publishes a defense white paper.
The analysis said Scottish shipbuilding would be the most vulnerable industry sector, as the remainder of the UK will require its warships to be built locally.
BAE Systems has two naval shipyards on the River Clyde and a third yard in Portsmouth, in southern England. Babcock maintains a warship support facility at Rosyth.
Closure of at least one of the BAE yards has been under discussion for a considerable time. Britain’s main naval shipbuilder is look to align capacity with demand as construction of two 65,000-ton aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy starts to pass its peak.
BAE is leading an alliance of companies — including Babcock and Thales UK — building the warships.
Paul Everitt, chief executive of defense trade organization ADS, said Scotland makes a significant contribution to the UK’s economy, as well as national security.
“Today’s report by the government, and that recently published by the House of Commons Defence Committee, highlights the need for the clearest possible explanation of defense plans and priorities in the event of Scottish independence, allowing the people of Scotland to make an informed decision,” he said.
“Industry, including employees and shareholders, will need further clarity of the potential impact on supply chains, procurement budgets and international relationships, as well as possible transition arrangements, “ the ADS boss said.
The Scottish defense industry employs more than 15,000 people at companies such as Selex, BAE, Babcock, Raytheon, Thales UK and QinetiQ.
The ruling Scottish party has already said that in the event of a “yes” vote, it wants to negotiate the speediest possible removal of the Royal Navy’s fleet of nuclear attack and nuclear deterrent submarines based at Faslane.
That would put at risk Britain’s nuclear deterrent forces, with estimates that it could take up to 20 years for the Royal Navy to find and build a new base in England or Wales.
Malcolm Chalmers, the Royal United Services Institute research director, said no one could exactly predict what the defense consequences of independence would be, but the government analysis raises the bar the white paper has to meet.
“We know what the defense implications of staying in the Union are: continuation of the status quo,” he said. “But a vote for independence would lead to a whole range of new defense uncertainties that post-referendum negotiators would have to resolve.
“Most importantly, if the Scottish government maintains its position that Trident [ballistic-missile submarines] must leave Scotland before a safe and secure alternative base can be built in England or Wales, this could poison defense relations more generally between the two states, and with the rest of NATO. Even if this was resolved, however, Scotland would remain highly dependent on the rest of the UK to support its defense capability for many years,” Chalmers said.
The British government report follows findings by the British Parliamentary Defence Committee, which criticized Scottish defense plans and warned of heavy job losses if military capabilities and industry moved south in response to English procurement requirements and security restrictions.
Proposed defense and security spending in an independent Scotland is expected to run at up to £2.5 billion (US $4 billion), a figure on par with Finland but considerably below other similarly sized European nations, such as Norway and Denmark.