A' the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland

15 Oct 2012 01:55 PM

The overall cost of defending an independent Scotland has been estimated to be around £1.8 billion per annum, approximately 1.3 per cent of Scotland's GDP, and around £1.5 billion less than the costs currently paid by Scottish taxpayers as their contribution to the defence of the UK, claims a new Whitehall Report published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

A' the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland, written by Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh, addresses what the independent armed services of an independent Scotland would be for, and provides a model for how they might be organised and deployed.

Discussion on defence in an independent Scotland usually focuses on whether or not UK nuclear weapons would remain on the Clyde, and whether or not Scotland would join NATO. But independence would have wider defence implications, all of which deserve detailed analysis and debate. As a contribution to this process, RUSI is publishing this new Whitehall Report, which estimates Scottish force requirements in the event of independence, together with an estimate of how much it would cost.

During the financial year 2010-2011 Scottish defence expenditure was £3.3 billion, and over the last five years around 2.2 per cent of Scotland's economy on average has been spent on contributions to UK defence spending. However, report authors Crawford and Marsh suggest that, were Scotland to be independent, these figures could be 'markedly lower'.

Taking the approach of 'first considering the defence needs of Scotland and then describing the likely armed forces required to meet those needs', the report outlines the idea of a 'relatively modest' independent Scottish defence structure with a 'regional, rather than global focus' comparable in size, and strength with other small European states like Denmark, Norway and Ireland. 

Assuming a possible Scottish Defence Forces (SDF) with a separate navy, air force and army - and importantly no place for nuclear weapons in an independent Scotland - the paper outlines the following force structure as being appropriate:

Scottish Navy: surface fleet of between twenty and twenty-five ships including Type 23-class frigates and Mine Counter Measure vessels. No submarines. Approximately 1,500-2,000 personnel. Based at Faslane and a reinstated Rosyth. Cost £650 million per annum.

Scottish Air Force: around sixty aircraft including BAE Hawk (notably operated by the 'Red Arrows'), C-130 Hercules, Chinook and Sea King helicopters. No Typhoons or Tornados. 1,750-2,250 personnel organised into six operational squadrons. Based at Lossiemouth and either reviving Leuchars, or converting civilian airports to dual purpose military bases. Cost £370 million per annum.

Scottish Army: 10,000-12,500 personnel, dependent on detailed organisation. Including a brigade-sized force, three combat battalions plus supporting arms, allowing it to deploy and sustain itself in a combat zone. Additional troops for internal duties, plus back-up for deployed regular troops, might be provided by a Territorial Army brigade, comprising three battalions plus supporting arms. Special Forces seventy-five-plus strong. Restoration of some of the traditional Scottish regiments which were disbanded in 2004. Cost £820 million per annum.

The paper does however acknowledge potential issues for an independent Scotland, such as the 'need to come to some arrangement with the rest of the UK' to supply intelligence-gathering, cyber-warfare and cyber-defence expertise at GCHQ. Crawford and Marsh also warn the future cost of purchasing and maintaining equipment of its forces may be higher due to smaller orders, plus recruitment and training of personnel 'may prove problematic' in the early years.

'In recent history, Scotland has provided more than its share of manpower (and womanpower) to all three British armed forces - roughly 13 per cent of the regular army, possibly 14 per cent of the RAF, and 10 per cent of the Royal Navy - suggesting that there should not be any problems with numbers of personnel. Whether those Scots currently serving in the British armed services would wish to transfer to the SDF is another question altogether but if, for example, pay and conditions in the SDF were significantly more attractive, or if a bounty or one-off inducement was payable, then it seems likely that many would.'

'Should the government of an independent Scotland, of any political hue, have the political will to establish an SDF along the lines described herein, then it can certainly be done. An SDF would be necessary, feasible and affordable. Scotland can have its SDF if it chooses to do so, although the embryonic Scottish military establishment would no doubt have to fight its corner energetically for a proper share of government funding against all the other demands of national administration. Nevertheless, it can be done, of that there is no doubt. Fittingly, it is now up to the Scottish electorate to decide,' conclude Crawford and Marsh.

'Scottish defence forces would be relatively modest and probably have a regional, rather than global, focus; that they would not be equipped with expensive and state-of-the-art hardware across the board; and that they would be predominantly used for domestic defence duties with the capability to contribute to coalition and alliance operations under the aegis of whatever organisations Scotland became a member of.'

To read in full the Whitehall paper A' the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland, please visit www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Scottish_Defence_Forces_Oct_2012.pdf    


1. For enquiries, please contact Daniel Sherman +44(0) 20 7747 2617 / +44(0)7917 373 069 / daniels@rusi.org

2. The Whitehall Paper A' the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland can be viewed at www.rusi.org/downloads/assets/Scottish_Defence_Forces_Oct_2012.pdf

3. Stuart Crawford was a regular officer in the Royal Tank Regiment for 20 years, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1999. During his military career he attended both the British and US staff colleges and undertook a Defence Fellowship at Glasgow University. He now works as a political, media, and defence and security consultant in Edinburgh and is a regular commentator on military and defence topics in the print and broadcast media.

4. Richard Marsh is an economist with Kirkcaldy based 4-consulting and an elected fellow of the Royal Statistical Society. He is a member of an expert group advising the Office of the Chief Economic Advisor of the Scottish Government on economic accounting and modelling and is also part of a broader committee advising the Scottish Government on economic statistics. Richard regularly works for governments and agencies in evaluating regional development policies.

5. RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a unique institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.