There has been much hysteria and scaremongering in the mainstream media the over future “defense” of Scotland recently. Combine that with the waffling utterances emanating from Westminster about who pays to relocate various military establishments, principally Trident, and the strong rhetoric from Holyrood about who pays for clean up after MOD abuses of our land and there are some potentially interesting situations brewing.
It is interesting because the division of assets between diverging nation states is now reasonably clearly laid out in international law. This is a fact which is also is clearly being ignored by Scotland’s mainstream media, who seem to prefer scare tactic headlines.
The disintegration of totalitarian USSR and the restoration of the peripheral states gave us some relatively clear examples of how the process should work. Scotland’s mainstream media again obtains a failing grade for not even bothering to look into such situations.
In simple plain English, and although there can be literally thousands of articles in a final treaty of settlement it fundamentally works like this. Assets of the original nation state devolve to becoming assets of the new states.
Who then gets what is generally determined by the geographical location of the asset. So in its most basic terms Scotland keeps Holyrood and England keeps Westminster, they’re both well within the geographic boundaries of the restored states. Land boundaries remain static, sea boundaries are by agreement or international convention.
Horse trading comes into play with such items as debt and foreign held assets. It is by no means a legal or moral requirement for a nation restored to sovereignty to assume any debt; Ireland leaving the UK being but one example of this principle in action.
Although an argument exists for assets and debts to be divided up based upon territorial area, the norm is for these items to be divided up by relative population. Scotland could expect around 8.3% of extraterritorial assets to accrue to its national ledger.
The more interesting part is when an asset is in one resurrected nation state and remains the desire of the other resurrected nation state. In the present case in point, Trident.
The simplest resolution to this issue is for the UK government to move these weapons prior to the vote and effectively resolve the issue. Holyrood would rightly demand the sites restored to virgin territory, acceptable civilian or military use as required to suit Scots purposes.
That Westminster can’t afford to either move Trident or buy aircraft for two new aircraft carriers is self evident, so Trident will stay where it is and Scotland can expect a massive bargaining chip in the upcoming talks. In fact Westminster projects being so broke by the time these aircraft carriers are commissioned it won’t be able to afford the diesel or the crew to run one of them, so it’s being sold.
The restoration of the aforementioned European states showed us clearly that it is incumbent on the state which wishes retention of items such as this to fund the relocation and new installation costs of any repatriated items.
Basically if Westminster wants Trident, Westminster pays for it. If Westminster were to refuse to accept such a precedent it would then be up to Holyrood to decide the disposition of the weapons.
A likely outcome in such a scenario is that Westminster will “repatriate” Trident to a newly created deepwater port in England and pay for the clean-up and value of the system as a condition of handover. Most likely that payment would be in exchange for any voluntarily assumed debt load by Scotland. Westminster could take an alternative viewpoint and scrap the idea of having an independent nuclear deterrent. Holyrood could then flog it off.
In reality Westminster scrapping its deterrent is unlikely in the extreme as that body appears to place a premium on having a reasonably permanent and often vocal stance in many of the world’s top councils.
The consequential loss of the nuclear capability and its associated expenses might substantially enhance life in England, Wales and N. Ireland, but this rarely appears to enter into London’s equations, especially when there’s pre-independence option to bill the entire replacement cost against Scotland’s budget.
It now becomes time to look at the overall UK defense budget; Whitehall data puts it at £43.6 billion in 2011.
Based upon population, Scotland should have seen around £3.62 billion in current defense spending.
Scots should clearly understand that although their nation’s defense contribution to Whitehall is about £3.62 billion, the defense spend in Scotland is reducing in both actual and real terms. According to the UK parliaments strategic defense review document, it dropped by 68% over 6 years. In 2008 it was down around £1.57 billion.
Scotland therefore effectively subsidizes the rest of the UK defense budget by over 2 billion a year.
This a situation where there is no room for argument; London the SE of England, which enjoys a massive defense overspend is certainly financially stronger, by using Scotland’s money.
This effectively means, by Westminster’s published data, an independent Scotland could maintain defense spending as it stood before the current reductions and base closures. Scots could pocket over £2 billion to invest into infrastructure, social programs or reduced taxation.
A nation of 5 million can do a lot with an extra £2 billion. In one year that could pay for the new Forth Bridge, buy out a lot of Labour’s PFI debt and build a couple of new schools or hospitals. What we’d do in year two with this independence dividend would also be up to us.
In reality there would still be a Scottish Defense Force, and the First Minister has recently intimated the SDF would likely now maintain one air base, one naval base and one land force. But what would that really mean and what’s it likely to cost our newly restored nation state?
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, research director at London-based Royal United Services Institute, an independent military think-tank, gave us an idea as he quoted a £2.2bn price tag for an SDF. The number is reasonably in line with other non nuclear estimates and has now seen use in national media.
Research indicates the £2.2 billion proposed budget, would get everything the First Minister referred to, and substantially more. This would be an increase in real terms on UK under-spend of £500 million each year, available for direct injection into the Scottish economy.
It also appears enough to ensure a world class rapid deployment land force with specialist divisions for highly technical missions, several air sea rescue stations, and an ability to reverse the Westminster coastguard cuts.
In addition we might choose to look at resurrecting our military shipbuilding for vessels designed to protect our oil and fishing interests, also making these ships available for export. Although we might have one central naval port, like Portsmouth in England, there would be secondary bases.
We also had a situation where Westminster’s defence secretary Desmond Hammond said, the thought of Scotland’s remaining three regiments forming the spine of a new land SDF was ”laughable” and that no one can “break off a little bit” of the UK’s armed forces and hand it to Scotland.
Actually Mr Hammond, That’s pretty much what happened right across Europe over the last two decades as states restored their sovereignty.
Professor Chalmers’s figure of £2.2 billion, as an estimated requirement for Scotland’s security needs still represents a significant under spend against what we now send to London for “defense”.
The extra £1.4 billion plus, currently going to London would also remain in Scotland in some fashion, either in our own pockets or put to the use of the common weal.
A simple summary could describe the current situation like this; in an independent Scotland to match today’s Whitehall defense contribution we could if we choose increase our national defense spending within Scotland by close to 50%.
Once we have done this and obtained better equipped, paid and trained Scottish forces we could take the remaining money that would have gone south and by using Holyrood’s published 2012 budget we could double our national spending in housing, sport, marine and fisheries, transport projects and ferry services.
After that with a somewhat nonchalant shrug we could give every person in Scotland a £100 tax rebate and spend what’s left on a heck of an independence party.
Defense, it’s a massive independence dividend.