When it comes to defence we truly are better together
On the 18th of September the people of Scotland will vote in a referendum, the result of which will decide whether Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom or becomes an independent country.
In the weeks running up to the referendum, Endeavour Public Affairs will be publishing a series of exclusive articles from senior politicians on both sides of the referendum campaign. The second article is from the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox, Conservative MP for North Somerset and former Secretary of State for Defence.
To follow Liam Fox on Twitter – @LiamFoxMP
For many across the British Isles, Armed Forces Day was a time of celebration for those who feel a justified sense of pride in the achievements of our servicemen and women. This year was perhaps even more special, given that the centenary of the British involvement in World War One is just a few weeks away. It is difficult to recall the First World War without an overwhelming sadness for the extraordinary sacrifices made and the terrible loss of life, but it is worth remembering just how much our armed forces have achieved since that time and why the British military has become one of the most highly regarded armed forces in the world.
The First World War was a conflict that set the scene for much of the turbulence that shook Europe to the core and nearly threatened to destroy the continent at several points. It is not an overstatement to say that without the actions of the United Kingdom and our armed forces, history would have unfolded along a vastly different trajectory — one that none of us would willingly choose. After fighting off Kaiser Wilhelm II’s army, the British military was once again called to defend Europe, this time against a tidal wave of fascism as Hitler along with his allies attempted to create a racist superstate, killing millions in the process. It is unimaginable the sort of nightmare world that would have been created if the people of the United Kingdom had yielded to the Nazi war machine, but with trademark tenacity, the war was won and the genocide stopped.
It was an effort in which Scotland played a key part. With the heavy industrial backbone of the factories on the Clyde and the well-earned fierce reputation of the Scottish troops and sailors, not to mention Scottish pilots battling the Luftwaffe in the skies, it is not an exaggeration to say that Britain would have found it harder to achieve all it did without Scotland as an integral part of the nation. Many of the specialist units that were born out of that conflict were spearheaded by Scots, including the SAS, which was founded by the Scottish mountaineer and British Army officer David Stirling. From Malaya to the Falklands, the British military continued to solidify its reputation, shaping the world and promoting our values on the international stage. And in 1990, the combined effort of economic pressure and nuclear deterrence brought the Soviet Union to its knees. However you look at it, Scotland as part of the United Kingdom was instrumental in shaping the 20th Century and promoting freedom and security.
The Nationalists have used the recent white paper to promise the Scottish people a modest Scottish Defence Force that they claim will have all the benefits of the British forces, but at a discount price. Like many of the promises made, a cursory glance reveals the glaring inconsistencies in their plans. Alex Salmond talks of Scotland joining NATO, but refuses to accept that this would require a U-turn on his flagship policy of a nuclear free Scotland. He mentions reviving famous Scottish battalions inside an independent army, but fails to consider that this would mean maintaining seven battalions of infantry when the white paper only allows for three. He has chosen Typhoon, one of the costliest aircraft around, to maintain a Quick Reaction Alert, but has constrained his budget to a number that simply would not be capable of providing this option. I doubt that even the Nationalists, for whom defence is a low priority, would accept the implications of this oversight if they thought about it long enough — the Norwegians, the Swedes and the Danes, who understand the value of maintaining air power in a region where Russia still regularly sends bombers, certainly would not be happy about the extra burden they would have to carry.
Furthermore, the question remains, which soldier worth their salt would join an underfunded, poorly-equipped army with little to no hope of deploying operationally. The short answer? They would not. As part of the Union, Scottish troops have a history they can be immensely proud of; they also hold their rightful place inside a highly capable and professional military force. It is little surprise, then, that a large majority of Scottish soldiers would rather remain in the British Army if Scotland were to become an independent state, when the alternative is to conduct the occasional peacekeeping mission for a country with comparatively little global reach. What sort of career prospect is that, especially among those for whom there is no contradiction between pride in Scottishness and pride in Britishness?
The bitter truth of the matter is that either Alex Salmond was simply not thinking when he made up the white paper, which is unlikely, or he was trying to promise absolutely everything to everybody — a canny political trick, but one that would ultimately reveal itself to be incredibly dangerous should it ever see the light of day.
Published: Tuesday 08 July 2014
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Photograph: © Copyright of Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.