“Scotland stands to inherit a fair share of existing UK defence assets, as the UK government has now conceded.”
Scottish government spokesman, BBC News, 8 November 2013
Last year, the UK defence secretary Philip Hammond was damning on the SNP’s defence policies for an independent Scotland.
“The idea that you can sort of break off a little bit, like a square on a chocolate bar and that would be the bit that went north of the border, is frankly laughable,” he said.
But the Scottish government has continued to insist that Scottish defence jobs and bases would be safe if Scotland became independent. And earlier this month it said the UK government agrees that Scotland will inherit its “fair share”.
It has been rather vague on the details, but next Tuesday the Scottish government is due to publish its long-awaited blueprint for independence.
Yet just days ahead of this, the UK government has published its response to the House of Common’s Defence Committee’s report on the defence implications of an independent Scotland.
Does it show that Westminster has conceded to divvy up the UK’s defence assets fairly? FactCheck does a recce.
The cross-party committee of MP’s behind September’s Defence Committee report said Alex Salmond’s proposals – to run a defence force with a budget of £2.5bn – were incoherent and lacking credibility.
But they also criticised the UK government for not making contingency plans, accusing UK ministers of complacency.
Today, the UK government issued its response.
Reminding Scotland that it would “lose the benefits of one of the largest defence budgets in the world” (around £34bn a year), it said the start up costs and complexities of going it alone would be “very significant”.
According to Scottish Development International, the defence sector in Scotland employs over 12,600 people and has sales in excess of £1.8 billion per year.
The UK government said that the most optimistic proposed budget it has seen from Scottish government of £2.5bn is “less than Scotland’s population share of the UK”.
It claimed it wasn’t clear what level of security and protection this would provide for Scotland – but it would be “much less” than what Scotland currently receives.
If Scotland became independent, it would be considered a foreign country and therefore Scottish defence companies may have to go through the competitive tendering process that the European Union sets down.
Though the legalities are not clear, the Secretary of State has said: “I think that the Scottish defence industry would find itself in the position of being able, and being limited, to bidding for contracts that were open to EU competition—in other words, the contracts that we had decided did not form part of our essential sovereign industrial capability.”
It gets more complex: the separation of the armed forces, basing, division of assets and liabilities and potential cooperation.
As for assets, the UK government said: “In the event of a vote to leave the UK, the referendum would mark the beginning of a lengthy and complex set of negotiations between the Scottish and UK Governments on the terms of independence.
“Negotiations would have to take place on a whole range of matters, across government including on assets and liabilities.”
Other negotiations would “touch on citizenship considerations”, it warned. But even then, the UK government said it wasn’t willing to hand over Scottish members of the UK armed forces.
“An independent Scottish state could not simply co-opt existing units that are primarily recruited in Scotland or based in Scotland as these are an integral part of the UK armed forces,” the report said.
Some personnel would be given the option of transferring, though the UK government said it was “far from clear that large numbers of current serving UK armed forces personnel would choose to do so”.
The UK government hasn’t conceded that Scotland will get its fair share of the UK’s defence assets.
In fact, the only thing it has conceded is that a referendum would “mark the beginning of a lengthy and complex set of negotiations”.
Furthermore, it refuses to even outline what Scotland’s fair share might be.
The UK government won’t to bend to cross-party pressure to make contingency plans for an independent Scotland, insisting instead that there “is no democratic mandate for the UK government to do so: unless and until the people in Scotland vote in the referendum to say that they wish to leave”.
It sounds like Scotland will need to hit the negotiating table all guns blazing just to define what it’s “fair share” actually is.
By Emma Thelwell