As a Conservative, I believe, and have always believed, that the first duty of any government is to provide for the security of its people.
Now I know Conservative beliefs don’t necessarily form the majority view here in Scotland.
But belief in that primary duty is widely shared across the political spectrum.
And I am certain that it is a duty the majority of the Scottish people would recognise:
…securing the borders against external aggression or uncontrolled immigration, defending the infrastructure against cyber threats, protecting citizens abroad, countering espionage and providing law and order on the streets.
And it’s because I believe in that duty so strongly, that I’m so dismayed to hear elected politicians, who should be answering the concerns of their constituents, advocating proposals that could end up weakening the defence of their nation.
So today I want to set out why I believe it is in the security interests of the Scottish people for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom.
And I want to challenge the assertion by the Scottish government, that somehow an independent Scotland would be just as secure and just as safe as it is now as part of the United Kingdom.
Let me start by making make a confession: I am a wholehearted believer in the union. But I am also a clear headed believer in the union.
For more than 300 years, this partnership has been an economic, social and military success story, building one of the world’s great empires, and one of the world’s major economies; providing a beacon of democracy and openness across the globe; and delivering security for the people of this United Kingdom, even when the rest of Europe was overrun by tyranny.
As Defence Secretary, it is clear to me that our armed forces, generated from across the United Kingdom, underpinned by the fourth largest defence budget in the world and so benefiting from significant economies of scale, provide a bigger bang for our buck, a far higher level of security and certainty, than would two separate forces serving Scotland and the rest of the UK.
So as well as making the defence argument for Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom, my purpose in making this speech today is to question, not whether an independent Scotland could go it alone and develop its own defence forces, of course it could, but to question what sort of forces they would be.
- how would they be structured and how effective would they be?
- what would they look like?
- what level of security would they deliver?
- who would join them?
- how would they compare with the forces to which Scotland contributes and from which Scotland benefits as part of the United Kingdom today?
And, almost as important, what would be the impact of an independent Scotland upon the many thousands of people whose livelihoods are reliant upon the defence industrial base in Scotland, and how many of those jobs would the equipment procurement programme of a putative Scottish Defence Force be able to sustain?
These are pretty fundamental questions facing the Scottish people in the run-up to next year’s referendum, and yet there have been precious few clear answers.
Defence and security should be at the heart of this debate about Scotland’s future and yet, just over a year before the Scottish people go to the polls, the commitments from those proposing independence remain almost insultingly vague, implausibly long on ambition and incredibly short on detail and the means to deliver them.
I ask myself why?
Might it be that they know that any properly informed and well reasoned analysis will demonstrate that Scotland is stronger and more secure as an integral part of the UK than it would be alone?
Stronger and safer together
The reality is that as part of the UK, Scotland benefits from every pound invested in our collective security.
Defence is planned, organised, and resourced on a UK-wide basis and the security it provides benefits Scotland as it does the rest of the UK.
Under this UK Government, the structure and capability of our Armed Forces has been based on a strategic, cross-government assessment of the threats and risks to UK security, now and in the future.
Our forces are some of the best equipped and most deployable in the world, trained to the highest standards and backed by a £34 billion budget, the fourth largest in the world.
This enables them to meet the security challenges and threats set out in the National Security Strategy, and to deliver the tasks set out in the SDSR…
From traditional, territorial defence, to maintaining the ultimate guarantee of our security, the nuclear deterrent, to tackling emerging threats upstream, far away from UK shores.
Our counter piracy operations off the Horn of Africa help provide secure passage for ships heading to Scottish ports.
Our cyber defences protect the nation’s critical infrastructure, vital for a 21st century economy whose businesses and energy supplies are increasingly reliant upon networked IT.
Our intelligence services are on a scale and of a capability that ranks them with the very best in the world.
And our effective counter terrorism collaboration with our partners around the world means that, thankfully, successful attacks on our homeland are mercifully rare.
Delivering these capabilities, and countering these threats, requires modern, integrated armed forces, the financial resource to support them, and a critical mass of people and equipment, all of which the UK can provide.
Because when it comes to armed forces, scale and scope matter.
One of the challenges any armed forces around the world will face is how to attract and retain high quality recruits.
And the key to recruitment and retention is the quality of the offer you are able to make to potential recruits.
The British armed forces are able to attract some of the highest calibre recruits because they are able to offer exciting and demanding career opportunities, with the chance to deploy overseas on operations and training and with the cachet of being among the best and most widely respected armed forces in the world.
And scale matters too when it comes to generating the type of forces we need to defend our skies, patrol our seas and give us expeditionary reach overseas…
…with fixed costs of complex capabilities becoming disproportionately burdensome on a small force.
In the UK, we benefit from scale and integration, with forces and capabilities structured and positioned to best protect the UK as a whole, based on military logic, not political calculation.
Take, for example, the defence of the UK’s northern airspace, something in which Scottish-based forces play a critical role.
The Control and Reporting Centre south of the border at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland provides situational awareness derived from long-range radars across the whole of the UK;
Quick Reaction Alert Typhoons currently at RAF Leuchars, and soon to be at RAF Lossiemouth, are on standby to intercept any threats.
And radio equipment based on the Outer Hebrides and the Shetland Islands allows RAF Boulmer to control fighters at extended ranges to deal with threats well beyond our shores.
And it’s not just our aircraft.
The basing plan for the Regular army that I announced last week, bringing the army back from Germany and providing certainty for soldiers and their families, was based upon a bottom-up, military assessment of the best plan for the UK as a whole.
I’ve read some of the response to this announcement from those who take a narrow, territorial view of our UK wide forces.
So I want to be clear. This plan demonstrates our continuing commitment to Scotland and to the UK defence footprint in Scotland. Even when viewed through the nationalists’ narrow territorial prism.
At a time when we have been forced to make reductions in the total number of personnel in our armed forces as a result of the catastrophic state of the public finances we inherited, overall, we will be increasing the number of military personnel to be based in Scotland under Future Force 2020.
In fact, military posts in Scotland are set to be at their highest level since 2007 and Scotland will be home to one of the UK’s three main naval bases; our entire submarine fleet; one of its three main fast jet operating bases; as well as one of the army’s Adaptable Force brigades.
There will be around £100 million of additional investment in Scotland, building on the £85 million to develop Lossiemouth as an RAF Main Operating Base for Typhoon, and the £140 million that the MOD spends annually on maintaining the defence estate in Scotland, and the hundreds of millions of pounds of planned future investment in Faslane.
These are clear signs of our commitment to Scotland’s continued role in UK defence and they provide certainty to our armed forces personnel, their families and the communities in which they will be based.
But it’s not just that Scotland benefits directly from the UK’s armed forces whether they are physically based in Scotland, or not.
It also benefits from the international influence they enjoy and the security alliances of which they are a part.
The size of the UK defence budget, the extent of our capabilities, the reputation of our armed forces and our political willingness to use them, vastly increase the UK’s influence with our allies.
This influence is vital, because the UK’s security is underpinned by international agreements, partnerships and alliances, the cornerstone of which is our membership of NATO.
The UK is the second most important contributor of deployable forces to NATO, after the United States.
This gives us considerable leverage to shape NATO’s activities, operations and development, maximising their compatibility with our national interest.
The UK also has an extensive network of longstanding bilateral relationships, such as our strategic relationships with the US and France.
Our significant investment in these relationships in turn delivers billions of pounds worth of defence benefits.
The UK is perceived as a highly desirable defence and intelligence partner precisely because of its powerful and proven capabilities.
An independent Scotland would have to build its defence credibility and its intelligence reliability from scratch and develop its own bilateral relationships, and the success of these would depend in part on what Scotland can offer in return.
I note the claim made by Angus Robertson that “on independence Scotland will inherit its treaty obligations”.
The reality is that it would be the rest of the UK that would inherit NATO membership.
An applicant Scotland would need all 28 member nations to decide that it met the requirements to join…
Taking into account its defence policy, including its intended budget, capabilities, missions and objectives.
NATO, a nuclear alliance, is the world’s most successful security organisation.
The UK plays a leading role in it and our nuclear deterrent provides an important part of the security umbrella for the whole of european NATO.
A real question for proponents of independence is, how would an independent Scotland argue for membership at the same time as opposing nuclear weapons and seeking the removal from its territory of the UK deterrent, part of that NATO security umbrella?
What commitments have they received from the NATO Secretary General and member states that such a stance would secure membership?
Because, in a world in which we rarely act alone, international defence alliances and relationships remain fundamental to the UK’s approach, and would be even more important for a country with a much smaller budget and much smaller armed forces.
The SNP’s approach to security
Against the benchmark of the defence Scotland enjoys from its contribution to the UK’s armed forces, we must consider the alternative being put forward by those who advocate an independent Scotland.
What does it offer the Scottish people?
And how credible is it?
As I said at the beginning of my speech, the level of detail set out by those who want to go it alone is woefully thin.
But from what they have said, we know that the plan is for an annual defence and security budget of £2.5 billion… if you believe Angus Robertson.
Or perhaps just £2 billion if you think that John Swinney’s is the more credible voice.
And for Scottish armed forces comprising 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel, apparently operating under a Joint Forces HQ at Faslane.
They say all current bases in Scotland would be maintained and the Scottish defence forces would be equipped with what they call “Scotland’s share of current assets including ocean going vessels, fast jets, transport aircraft and helicopters, as well as army vehicles and “artillery air defence systems.”
In addition, they tell us they would develop a procurement plan for new frigates, conventional submarines and maritime patrol aircraft.
That, to me, sounds like a high level shopping list, based upon a fundamental misunderstanding of how defence works and how military effect is generated, the “chocolate bar approach” that pretends you can just break a chunk off a bigger entity and it works as a standalone force.
So let’s analyse this proposal, let’s see if it adds up.
Let’s start with the size of their proposed armed forces.
They say that they would establish a regular defence force of 15,000, including all current “Scottish regiments” and “restored” Scottish infantry regiments, plus other combat and support units, Special Forces and Marines.
The current liability of the Scottish “teeth” regiments, the five battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Scots Guards, and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, is some 4,100 posts.
Add to that the liability of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers when they were amalgamated with the Royal Scots, a further 550 posts, and you’re almost at a third of the entire proposed defence force.
But what about the support functions; the “tail” without which the teeth of an expeditionary army are useless?
The tooth to tail ratio in the British Army, maximising the economies of scale that come from a force of its size and efficiency, is approximately 1:2.
So if these fighting units are going to be supported by artillery, supplied by logisticians, kept on the move by engineers, and able to talk to each other thanks to signallers, then that’s 14,000 of the entire defence force of 15,000 used up just on ground forces.
That’s before you’ve even begun to think about military headquarters, or protecting Scotland’s skies with an air force, or her 11,000+ miles of coastline, roughly half the coastline of the UK, with a navy.
On a generous interpretation, even if you ignore the logic of scale economies and assume that the naval and air elements of the Scottish defence forces would form roughly the same proportion as the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force do of the UK armed forces under our 2020 plans, this would add another 6,500 service personnel, requiring a total regular defence force of over 20,000.
And then there’s the significant question of who would want to join these defence forces.
The nationalists have taken for granted that soldiers currently serving in the “Scottish regiments” would want to serve in a Scottish defence force.
But who knows how many Scots would want to serve a new state, as part of a “Scottish Defence Force”?
And what sort of career would they be signing up for? They certainly wouldn’t have a fraction of the opportunities they currently have for overseas deployment and training, nor the diversity of experience or access to the quality of kit and equipment with which they currently operate.
It is a significant gamble to assume that troops in our UK armed forces would volunteer for a Scottish Defence Force.
All of this adds up to a set of serious questions about the SNP’s military personnel plans.
But what about their equipment plans? Do they do any better there?
They say they plan to inherit “Scotland’s share” of current assets.
As I’ve already set out, there is no such thing as a “Scottish share” or “English share”. There is a coherent, purposely designed, integrated whole.
But by their own logic, the SNP’s defence force, based on Scotland’s population share of the UK’s defence assets, would comprise of:
Ask any military strategist whether they could constitute a reliable fighting force from these elements?
There would be absolutely no military logic to a force with such a mix of equipment.
And yet, on the back of this, the nationalists say they would develop a defence industrial strategy and procurement plan, including for the procurement of new frigates, conventional submarines and maritime patrol aircraft.
I want just to pause on this proposition because the consequences of independence for Scotland’s defence industrial employment base deserve to be examined.
As many of you here will know, through the UK’s requirements for new, complex surface warships to sustain a Frigate and Destroyer force of 19, plus 2 Aircraft Carriers, there is just about enough work to sustain one shipyard in the UK.
At the moment, the bulk of that work is focused on the two new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, and in the future it will switch to the new Type 26 Frigate.
And the reason those jobs are in the UK rather than overseas in cheaper yards is because we have chosen to maintain a sovereign capability in complex warship building, just as we have in submarine manufacture, and because these contracts are exempt from EU procurement rules for reasons of essential national security.
It is worth noting that, other than procurement activity undertaken during the World Wars, no complex warships for the Royal Navy were constructed outside the UK in the 20th century, and the UK Government remains committed to utilising the strengths of UK industry in this specialist area.
So the question for the proponents of independence is this: how would the procurement needs of a Scottish naval force sustain a shipyard in Scotland?
How many frigates are they planning to procure?
To maintain the force they would “inherit” on a pro-rata share, already larger than they could afford, would involve replacing the equivalent of 2 warships over a 30 year cycle.
But they would need in the order of 20-25 ships over that period to sustain a warship building yard.
In other words, despite the bluster, an independent Scottish government would have to close Scotland’s shipyards and procure its replacement warships either in the UK or abroad.
So the nationalists have to explain how they would replace the 5,500 jobs directly linked to UK naval shipbuilding in Scotland, while at the same time replacing the 6,700 jobs at Faslane and Coulport.
The SNP’s figures don’t add up
The SNP also have some explaining to do when it comes to their planned defence budget.
As I’ve said in recent weeks, to deliver the kind of defence posture that we set out in the SDSR, the UK defence budget is already stretched to the limit.
And of course, any splitting of our defence budget would inevitably lead to a reduction in the capabilities and commitments that both the UK Government and the Scottish government would be able to deliver.
Make no mistake, Scotland going it alone would seriously damage the defence capability of both countries.
The challenge for the SNP on the defence budget is this:
For just £2-2.5 billion a year, just 6-7% of the UK’s current defence budget, how could they provide the same level of security which the Scottish people currently enjoy?
Well let’s take a look.
As I have already shown, if their commitments to the “Scottish Regiments” are honoured, they will need approximately 20,000 Regulars to deliver a deployable military force.
Assuming a similar capitation rate as the UK armed forces, the annual bill just for regular personnel would be approximately £1 billion, 40-50 per cent of their budget.
And we would have to assume there would be a Scottish Ministry of Defence or a defence and security department, with its own procurement and support functions.
Even discounting the loss of economies of scale and assuming that the civilian:military ratio for Scotland was the same as for the UK, that would be a civilian defence workforce of 6,500, and an annual employment bill of £228 million.
We also know that they are committed to maintain every current base in Scotland, that’s approximately another £140 million a year.
And what about equipment? The UK defence equipment procurement and support budget is roughly £13.25 billion this year. So Scotland’s pro-rata share would add another £1.13 billion to the bill.
Already, they’ve used up the £2.5 billion budget, if you believe Angus Robertson, or far exceeded the £2 billion budget, if you believe John Swinney.
But what about the 5,000 reserves? What about recruitment costs? What about conducting training and exercises?
What about fuel, ammunition, research and development, information technology, transport, or property management?
And remember, this budget is a defence and security budget.
What about intelligence and cyber security?
The UK single intelligence account has a budget of £2 billion a year, on top of the defence budget, and there is separate cyber funding of £650 million over four years.
How much will the SNP spend on these increasingly critical capabilities?
How much less efficient would a small, stand-alone, operation be?
And what will be the set up costs?
And when it comes to set up costs, what about setting up a Scottish MOD? What about the cost of setting up new military headquarters and infrastructure? What about the cost of setting up a new equipment procurement and support organisation?
The list of unanswered questions is long, but the Scottish government seems to think these things would come for free.
To me, it’s clear.
The SNP’s figures simply don’t add up.
They are attempting the same trick that the last Labour government tried and failed to pull off.
Their resources simply don’t come close to matching their commitments.
And now, we know that their priorities will place defence near the bottom of the pile, thanks to the leaked memo to his Scottish Government colleagues from Finance Minister John Swinney.
In it, he warned them that, in his own words, in an independent Scotland “a much lower [defence] budget must be assumed”.
The message is clear.
For all the bluster and false outrage from those proposing independence, we now know that the SNP would spend less on defence, deliver less still, and the security of the Scottish people would be near the bottom of their government priorities.
So what does all this mean?
The SNP are asking the Scottish people to vote for independence on a wing and a prayer.
But a wing and a prayer is no way to keep the people of these islands safe and secure.
For three centuries the nations of our United Kingdom have worked together for the common good.
Today people need to know that their government puts their safety and security at the top of its list of priorities.
People want answers. Not assertions.
People want facts. Not fantasy.
People want reassurance. Not risk.
The truth is plain to see, however much the nationalists may rail against it.
The size, mass and reputation of Britain’s armed forces is a force-multiplier for Scotland’s defence.
Separation would weaken the defences of both nations, and leave Scotland with fledgling forces, well below the critical mass that delivers broad-spectrum effect.
In plain English:
The nations of our United Kingdom are stronger, safer and more secure together than we would ever be apart.