Scotland, shipyards and security | Malcolm Chalmers

The coming Scottish referendum weighed heavily on these job cuts. But a yes vote will have huge implications for UK defence

The Scottish referendum loomed over yesterday’s announcement that cuts in shipbuilding jobs are going to be focused on Portsmouth more than on Scotland. If a yard north of the border had been closed, it is all too easy to imagine how this could have played into the Scottish National party’s narrative of a London Tory government insensitive to Scottish interests. As it is, the government can point to the decision as evidence of how Scotland benefits from the union.

The message is clear. Vote no to independence, and Scotland’s shipyards can continue to get new orders from the UK Ministry of Defence, and be in pole position for the construction of the Royal Navy’s new frigate later this decade. Vote yes, and the Scottish yards are likely to suffer the same fate as Portsmouth, with thousands of job losses in areas of already high unemployment.

But the implications for defence of a yes vote go well beyond jobs in shipbuilding. It’s becoming clear that the future of London and Edinburgh’s defence relations would be at the heart of the separation settlement, the main details of which would have to be negotiated within months, if not weeks, of the referendum.

The SNP is proposing the creation of an army, navy and air force from scratch, using assets inherited from existing UK forces. But it is also committed to removing nuclear weapons from Scotland, despite the lack of an operating base in the rest of the UK to which they could be moved. This would have far-reaching implications. Though it would be in the strong interests of both parties to have a close and co-operative relationship post-independence, in the aftermath of a fiercely fought campaign an attempt by Scottish negotiators to force the UK’s denuclearisation could poison relations between the countries for years. The UK would hence be much less likely to support Scotland’s interests on a wide range of other issues, domestic and international. The risks of economic recession and financial crisis could grow quickly.

So it would be vital for Scotland to compromise. A deal on Trident bases could open the way to a wider security settlement – for example, UK support for Scottish Nato and EU membership.

A Trident agreement could also open the way to cross-border co-operation on conventional defence. The RAF could continue to operate air patrols from its Scottish base. The navy’s attack submarines could continue their contribution to NATO from their base on the Clyde. And most of the Scottish regiments, whether based in Scotland or England, could remain part of an integrated British army.

Within the broader umbrella of this continuing UK presence, the Scottish Defence Force would be able to develop incrementally, focusing its initial efforts on addressing vulnerabilities in areas – such as cyber defence and countering terrorism and organised crime – with an immediate need to build new national capabilities.

Such an arrangement would …read more    

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