A fairly constant refrain from Britnats is that an independent Scotland would find it difficult to maintain an adequate force for its defence. They have also suggested that Scotland would struggle to find enough recruits for its defence forces. The argument goes along the lines that soldiers and airmen and airwomen want action. Real action, not just some pretendy training exercises. Now there may be some truth in this, though a lot less than Unionists would like to claim. After all other small countries seem to manage quite well with recruitment without the added attraction of fighting illegal wars. But leave this aside for the moment. How much real action will the future generations of the UK armed forces get to see?
Whether there is a Yes or a No vote in September the reality is that the UK or rUK will have a very much reduced military. The misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan are (thankfully) coming to an inglorious end. As regards further entanglements there does not seem to much enthusiasm for any, neither in the country as a whole, nor at Westminster. Last year’s historic vote in Parliament against military intervention in Syria may prove to be a valuable portent of things to come. There no longer seems to be the appetite for military adventures, legal or illegal.
Then there is the small matter of what military capacity the UK or rUK will have in the decades to come. Not a lot by the look of things. Under the current Tory/LibDem government there has been a continuous decline in the budget for the armed forces. These cuts which cover the period from now till 2020 are very substantial and include the loss of 30,000 personnel. The Air Force will lose planes and bases and of course the Navy will be without any aircraft carriers for a number of years. And the new combat ship has yet to be commissioned, let alone built. So much for constructive forward planning! Mind you this is just par for the course as far as the UK Ministry of Defence is concerned.
All this means that the UK and even more so rUK is coming close to having what the Chief of the Defence Staff has called a “hollowed-out force”. UK defence spending now stands at just over 2% of GDP. Below that level it is nigh impossible to maintain a full capacity force – a military that can combine air, sea and land forces at the same time. This in turn would risk the UK’s special relationship with the USA, not to mention its standing in the rest of the world. These cuts are unlikely to be reversed any time soon. With the economy only just beginning to recover after the longest recession for over a 100 years, there is little prospect of any UK government increasing defence spending by any significant amount. When you factor in the loss of revenue from Scotland, then rUK would be faced with an even greater problem of financing its already reduced forces.
So perhaps Unionists might be better advised to worry about whether rUk would be able to maintain recruitment for its armed forces. After all for the next few decades rUK = grandiose, imperial pretensions with no corresponding capacity. Or as they used to say in Glasgow, she’s all fur coat and nae knickers. All that rUK will be able to offer future generations of recruits is participation in NATO training exercises with the odd bit of UN peacekeeping thrown in. Pretty much the same as what will be on offer from an independent Scotland’s armed forces.