Scots Myths (4) – Defence.

This myth covers both defence categories:  conventional and nuclear.

Conventional defence has taken an especially interesting turn, as the Scottish Government’s Minister for External Affairs and International Development, Humza Yousef, has told us that its foreign policy (and therefore its defence commitments) will be based on the Hippocratic principle of ‘Do no harm’[1].

This shows a complete confusion, above all in not being able to distinguish between the job of a diplomat or soldier and that of a doctor or nurse.

The biggest difference is that in the former case, the usual position in any dispute will be that of a zero-sum game: for example, in a territorial dispute, for example, over Rockall, the UK now or a future independent Scotland would need to defend its interests at the expense of those of Iceland (or whoever), be it at the UN or on the North Atlantic with warships, or both.  To do no harm to Iceland would mean to capitulate.

It is more important still to extend this realisation to the commitments of an independent Scotland to collective security through NATO.  Most noticeably in recent years, this has been seen in the war in Afghanistan. Following 9/11, NATO invoked its charter principle that an attack on one is an attack on all, and set about the overthrow of the Taliban and the destruction of Al-Qaida’s military infrastructure in Afghanistan. Since 2003, the NATO mission has been to provide security while training local Afghan forces to assume that responsibility after 2014.[2]

In this case, the good being done to the majority of the Afghan people includes not only self-determination and the means to protect it from religious headcases but also such fundamental human rights as education and medical services for women and girls. But these cannot be secured without attacking and inflicting deadly violence (i.e., harming) the Taliban.

The SNP should be asked who they want to win the war in Afghanistan, and how this can be achieved without harming the Taliban?

A further myth is that if Scotland independent, its soldiers, sailors and airforce would not need to serve in “illegal wars.” (Also known as “English wars”), and therefore no Scots service personnel would be deployed to theatres such as Iraq.  I have made my views on Iraq known elsewhere (especially here: but to dwell on the specific is to avoid the main issue. This is that as in the cases of some Commonwealth citizens (and Irish citizens), Scots would still be enrolling in the British forces in considerable numbers, and therefore be deployed in combat zones.

Therefore, it is not the case that Scots will cease to fight and no longer be put in harm’s way, even if an independent Scotland adopted the pacifist policy of “Do No Harm.” But what will happen is that Scots will lose all influence over their deployment, organisation and resources; for example, it will not possible for Scots MPs to serve as Defence Secretary (as John Reid did); there will also be no Scottish Secretary in Cabinet to represent Scotland’s interest in times of crisis.

For many people, however, the big defence issue in the Scottish independence debate is that of nuclear deterrence and the future of Trident.

My own view is that I do not really see the point of Trident, and that it could decommissioned if it would be cheaper to use a different platform for nuclear weapons.

I would also be pleased to see those weapons scrapped. However, at the same time, it needs to be remembered that no government has ever been elected with a mandate to carry out unilateral nuclear disarmament.

At the 2010 General Election the Tories and Labour took 75% of UK votes, and in Scotland the presence of the SNP added to the anti-Trident vote, but the Tories and Labour between them still polled 59%. The Liberal Democrats were committed to using Trident as a bargaining chip in multilateral negotiations, which is laudable, but no guarantee of nuclear disarmament. In the UK they took 23% and in Scotland 19%.

In any event, it is clear from the voting record of the UK and of Scotland that there is no mandate for the UK government to remove Trident, either form the British people or the Scots.  (As defence is a reserved power, Holyrood votes have no significance in this case.)

Nuclear disarmers will always wish to contest this conclusion, on the grounds that a single issue cannot be extracted from manifestos. However, it is instructive to reverse their argument, and to imagine that a party or parties are elected with 60% of the vote with  a specific mandate for unilateral nuclear disarmament, which it then fails to fulfil. Their reaction would not be likely to be so dismissive.

Two other issues should be kept in mind on the nuclear issue, as well as there being no democratic  mandate for the unilateral removal of Trident.

The first is that to remove Trident from the Clyde would make no contribution to nuclear disarmament, as the weapons system would be moved to another part of the British Isles.  It is a commonplace misapprehension amongst poorly informed nationalists that the UK would not put nuclear weapons in the English Home Counties. In fact, the most prominent nuclear installations in the UK are in Berkshire (Aldermaston) as was the scene of most famous anti-nuclear campaign of all, at Greenham Common. There can  be no doubt that Trident would be redeployed elsewhere, regardless of the population nearby.

The second issue is that Trident as a weapons system has gratefully  not been used,  so has inflicted zero casualties, unlike, for example, the millions of deaths  caused by the AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle, or even the bow and arrow.

In conclusion, there is clearly no case for independence in issues of defence. It would not of itself save the lives of Scots in foreign wars, and could lead to less consideration of their safety in times of crisis. Moreover, independence would also fail to remove nuclear weapons from the British Isles, or to contribute to multilateral disarmament.

There is therefore no strong case for independence based on defence considerations; this possibly the reason that such surveys as the Scottish Social Attitudes[3] survey show a high level of Scots (66%) rejecting the idea that Holyrood should have responsibility for foreign and defence policy.


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