Scottish Independence: Military Power

Part 10 of an 11-part look at Scottish independence and its potential impact on Scottish influence

The military is a current political hotspot in the internal relations between Scotland and England, and will be a highly contentious element in the future regardless of any plans for Scottish independence.[i]

Over the last decade, the UK government has cut the size of the British military and recently has admitted that Scottish regiments have experienced the brunt of these cuts.[ii] There is also strong opposition today within the Scottish government, prior to any independence vote, to the continued presence of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet within Scotland. Their continued presence at the only suitable base for them in the British Isles is an ongoing point of strife between the current Scottish government and the current UK government. This will only increase should Scotland become an independent nation.[iii]

The other matter, beyond the size of the military, will be those who currently serve. Currently, Scottish men and women serve alongside their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts in the UK’s Armed Forces. Should Scotland become independent, will they be allowed to continue to serve? Will they have to retain their UK citizenship and refuse Scottish citizenship? And what of those who are not Scottish who serve in regiments currently located in Scotland? These are highly emotional, extremely complicated matters that cannot be solved without serious negotiation not only within the political wings of each nation, but also within the military wings and, ultimately, within the walls of Buckingham Palace as Her Majesty The Queen is the head of the British Armed Forces.

I don’t think any reasonable individual would argue against Scotland having their own military if they become independent. However, the overly simplistic plans the current Scottish Government has been putting forward miss the complexities, and try to gloss over an issue that will require some serious diplomatic negotiations to rectify.

In addition to the important details regarding the makeup of the military in an independent Scotland, and the serious negotiations that will need to take place between the United Kingdom and a newly sovereign Scotland, is membership in NATO.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a political and military alliance of 28 nations who have committed to mutually defend each other should one of the members be attacked by a hostile nation.[iv]

Scotland’s leading political party, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), has historically been opposed to the UK’s membership in NATO and has, in the past, committed to not joining NATO upon Scottish independence. However, in recent months, that position was been seen to be changing.[v] The SNP, according to their defense spokesman Angus Robertson on BBC Scotland on July 17, 2012, reaffirmed their commitment to “ridding Scotland of nuclear weapons,” while also ensuring they “retain the commitment to neighbors, allies and friends…who believe it is important to work together, and for them the organization that does that is NATO.”[vi] And on July 19, 2012, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond reportedly confirmed he will vote in favor of the SNP changing its policy towards NATO, and predicted “a lively and important debate” at the SNP conference in Perth, Scotland, in October 2012.[vii]

If Scotland chooses to join NATO, they would have an ongoing diplomatic and military relationship that would be beneficial to Scotland if conflict should ever arise, and detrimental to Scotland should NATO policy stand in opposition to Scotland’s policy. If Scotland chooses not to join NATO, Scotland would have to build military alliances country by country, or encourage neighboring countries, such as Norway, to enter into a treaty-based organization similar to NATO but more in line with their stated military policies.

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