Saturday, 6 September 2014

Reasons to oppose Scottish independence, #2: Scotland's security

As the carnivalesque Scottish 'Yes' campaign for independence rolls on, and appears to make further gains, it's still worth stopping for a moment and pointing out that very few of their plans have really been tested by a commentariat increasingly inclined to accept a decision of heart over head. Having lost many of the key intellectual and statistical battles, 'Yes' is now attempting - with much success - to create a kind of emotional bandwagoning effect, in which to be 'Yes' is to be 'Scottish', left-wing, progressive, go-ahead and reformist. They reject the overt 'Englishness' of national UK leaders, including that of Labour's metropolitan, London-based Ed Miliband. Vote for us, they say, and there definitely won't be any more Conservative governments in Scotland (not that they can actually say this, since that depends on what Scots voters want over the next few hundred years, rather than just our own short lifetimes). In so doing, they ignore all the evidence that an overall Conservative majority at Westminster is extremely unlikely. Vote for us, they say, and all your economic worries will go away - without a shred of evidence that that's really the case.

It won't wash. Last week we took a look at the implications for the rest of the UK if Scotland does decide to go it alone. They were mainly negative. Over the next few days we're going to examine the implications for both 'rest of the UK' (rUK) citizens and - much more important, let's face it - Scots themselves.

Today: security, defence, security and our alliances. Scotland's Yes campaigners imagine a 'Danish-style' option, or perhaps one between situated between the peacekeeping duties of the Irish Defence Forces and the Danish forces integrated into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Those roles might be well suited to a smaller nation's resources, and to its ambitions and self-image as a more liberal and less aggressive new nation than the one it has just left.

Getting from here to there will be the problem, especially at a moment of grave danger on many fronts. Setting up a new intelligence and signals organisation? New security forces? New liaison with past colleagues in rUK? It seems like an unnecessary reach. That's why it's clear that there aren't many world leaders queuing up to back a Scottish 'yes' vote. President Obama has made clear that the USA hopes for a 'no' vote. The Chinese have done the same. Tony Abbott, Australia's right-wing Prime Minister, has weighed in too - in his own clumsy and probably self-defeating manner. They're not easy bedfellows, those three, though their rare unity should tell us something: that the world is watching, and hoping that Scots vote 'no'. The Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, perhaps summed up world reactions best when he said: 'a strong and united United Kingdom is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world... There’s nothing in dividing those countries that would serve either greater global interests or frankly the interests of ordinary people in these countries'.

Now 'Public Policy and the Past' isn't much of a fan or either Mr Abbott or Mr Harper, whose brand of neo-liberal right-wing populism is damaging the social cohesion and political fabric of their respective countries. But here they - and the Americans and Chinese - surely have a point. Scotland's Scottish National Party government imagines a ten-year transition to the existence of a Scottish defence force, and key details (training, infrastructure, bases) remain extremely vague indeed. Scotland will require more than just a small naval patrol force to help secure the northern sea lanes if we do enter a third Cold War with Russia, that's for sure - as she'll find out when she applies to join NATO, and gets told (as a new applicant) that she must radically raise her planned levels of defence spending. On this, as on so many other grounds, Scotland's new grass-roots Left, today busily campaigning for independence, should be careful what it wishes for: the reality is likely to be very different from today's dream of a more egalitarian Scotland.

Even on Trident, on which regular readers will know we're very sceptical, there's more feeling on display here than thought. Scots are told that this expensive and dangerous weapons system will definitely be expelled from its present bases at Faslane if they vote for independence. Let's leave aside the fact that most Scots think that they'd rather keep the weapons, thank you very much (opens as PDF). Let's look at the strategic implications. The rUK establishment is unlikely to give up Trident quite so quickly or so easily - or without trying to charge Scots for its relocation in any Treaty negotiations. Edinburgh will need an Act passed at Westminster before it can declare independence, by the way, so trying to force anything out of any likely agreement seems like a bit of a busted flush from the start. Anyway, the rUK navy will almost certainly just move the submarines to Plymouth, increasing their upgrade's cost by a third, sure, but hardly ruling out that option on grounds of cost alone. We would submit that having your next-door-neighbour continuing to be armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons, without any say whatsoever over their use, replacement or design, is more dangerous than staying in the UK. Any accident or use is unlikely to stop at Scotland's border, as if an invisible screen had been put up at Berwick and Carlisle. Nor will Scotland, as a member of NATO, be able to stop other NATO members' nuclear-armed vessels docking at its ports.

And there's more. Not only would we face years of disruption if there is a 'yes' vote in a couple of weeks time (the next Westminster Parliament would be able to do very little except negotiate the exit treaty), but the force of Britain's best ideas - national sovereignty, the rule of law, cross-border co-operation, free trade and the freedom of the seas - would take an enormous knock. Ask yourself this: what do you think that President Putin will think, if and when he hears about a 'yes' vote? Will be frown, at the apparent success of smaller nations' desires to be free? Or smile, at his new rivals' and opponents' distress? I think you know the answer, deep down.

Independence? Our joint defences will be deranged at a perilous time. Our allies will be appalled. It isn't much of a prospectus for a new nation, really.

Next up: number three, 'everyone else wants you to stay'.

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