Why defence matters in the Scottish independence debate
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Defence.
In this series of speeches I’ve made setting out the case for Scotland to remain part of the family of nations of the United Kingdom, there has been no shortage of support from defence companies with significant interests in Scotland.
Employing, as you do, many hundreds of people here in Glasgow, I’m grateful for your support.
I know that the debate we’re engaged in about Scotland’s future, and the future of its defence industrial base, has a direct impact not just on your business, but on your employees and their families too.
And the referendum debate is really hotting up.
Significant interventions from the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor on the economy and currency…
…and from the Presidents of the European Commission and Council on membership of the European Union, have helped clarify a number of the nationalists’ claims about what an independent Scotland would look like.
Listening to Alex Salmond last week, ahead of the SNP’s conference, I couldn’t help but be struck by how much of his independence proposition is predicated upon being able to dictate, either to the rest of the UK or to the European Union or to NATO, what their policies should be.
His entire economic policy rests upon trying to dictate to the rest of the UK that Scotland could keep the pound, when the UK government has already made absolutely clear that it will not agree to that:
…it’s not an item up for negotiation; a currency union without fiscal and political union simply doesn’t work, the only way to keep the UK pound is to keep the UK together.
And he also wants to dictate the timescales for removing our nuclear deterrent, within the first term of a Scottish Parliament following independence.
But Alex Salmond knows, as I know, that the future of our naval base at Faslane would be just one of many defence issues that would be the subject of long and protracted negotiations if there were to be a “yes” vote in the referendum.
Because if they insist that it has to go, there would have to be complex talks about the costs and timescales involved.
Any notion that it would be quick and easy is just plain wrong.
But my purpose in making this speech today is not to attack the Nationalists or make dire warnings about the future prospects of an independent Scotland.
Today, I want to set out what is at stake in this debate on defence and security…
… to renew the positive case for the Union…
…and to say why I believe, as Defence Secretary for the whole of the UK, that Scotland is stronger within our United Kingdom and the UK is stronger with Scotland within it.
Why defence matters in the independence debate
I approach this debate not, you’ll be shocked to learn, as a Scot.
But as an Englishman who has, over many years, spent much happy time in Scotland; who has always regarded Scotland as part of my home, not some foreign place.
And as someone who is a proud and whole-hearted believer in the success of our unique partnership of peoples.
Forged more than three centuries ago, and tested on countless occasions, it has not only withstood the test of time, but of domestic rebellion, continental revolution and two world wars.
This year, of all years, is a time to remember and to commemorate the millions of men from all parts of the United Kingdom who stood together in the trenches in France and Belgium…
…many of whom never returned…
…but who, together, English, Scots, Irish and Welsh, protected our freedom and our way life, as would the next generation just over two decades later.
Defeating fascism, fighting communism, building the most successful and enduring democracy in the world, and one of the strongest economies…
…the partnership between our peoples has been an economic, social and military success in which we should all take great pride…
…and which I believe can go on to achieve even greater, success in the decades to come.
And the reason that defence matters in this debate is not just because of our proud history of joint endeavour.
It’s because defence provides the security and the peace of mind that underpins almost every single other area of this debate.
And as recent events in Eastern Europe remind us all too clearly, the ability to protect your people, defend your borders and safeguard your national interests is fundamental to the successful functioning of any state – old or new.
Scale of UK forces delivers greater security
As Defence Secretary, it is clear to me that the size and scale of our armed forces, the broad spectrum of capabilities they can deliver, the high calibre of the men and women who serve in them, and the consequent influence we are able to wield upon the global stage…
…all backed up by one of the world’s largest defence budgets…
…deliver for people in all parts of this United Kingdom…
…a far greater level of safety and security than could two separate forces.
That is true now.
And it will only become more so in the future.
Because the equipment and the capabilities we require to retain our cutting edge and to keep this country safe are becoming ever more sophisticated and expensive.
And the range of threats we face is becoming ever more diverse and complex.
In the past, the threats we faced came only from the sea, from land and, more recently, from the air.
Now, they also come from two new domains, space and cyber space, and from non-state protagonists as well as from nation states.
For countries that lack the scale of our forces and the size of our defence budget…
…difficult choices have to be made about the threats against which they can afford to defend; and those against which they cannot.
But thanks to a £34 billion annual defence budget, supporting some of the most capable, agile and deployable forces in the world we, as the United Kingdom, can defend ourselves against the broad range of potential security threats we face.
At the same time as we are constructing new aircraft carriers here in Scotland, building new submarines in Barrow, test flying new Joint Strike Fighters in the United States, and trialling new unmanned surveillance aircraft in Southern England…
…we are also investing hundreds of millions of pounds in defensive and offensive cyber capabilities…
… to protect against the new and growing threat from cyber space.
Frankly, that is a position in which many of our international partners and allies would like to be; but very few of them are.
Scale: recruiting high calibre people
Of course, being able to buy and sustain military hardware is one thing.
But it is the people that operate that hardware that turn it into a military capability.
And it is the people in our armed forces that I believe are our greatest asset.
Drawn from the four corners of these islands, nothing epitomises more the strength we derive from being a United Kingdom than the men and women in our navy, army and air force…
…coming together with a common purpose, to keep our country and our people safe and secure.
And it’s precisely because of the scale of our armed forces that we can offer some of the most demanding, exciting and adventurous career opportunities available, the chance to serve in a wide variety of roles, including the chance to train and deploy overseas on operations…
…combined with the status that comes from serving in some of the best respected and most capable armed forces in the world…
Precisely because of that, we are able to recruit and retain some of the highest calibre young men and women our country has to offer to keep us safe.
Scale: supporting the UK industrial base
Scale is also critical when it comes to the size of the defence industrial base we can sustain in the UK, including here in Scotland.
On current estimates from Scottish Development International, the defence industry in Scotland employs around 12,600 people, and generates sales in excess of £1.8 billion.
The navy’s flagship project, the construction of the two new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers, has sustained thousands of jobs in shipyards around the country.
When HMS Queen Elizabeth is floated out of her dock in Rosyth in 3 months’ time, she will be the biggest ship the Royal Navy has ever had…
…and one of the greatest feats of marine engineering this country has ever delivered, a ship of which the entire United Kingdom can be proud, and which embodies the strength of the Union, working together:
with her individual blocks built in Devon, Tyneside, Merseyside, Portsmouth and not far from here on the Clyde…
…with suppliers based across the country, from Pontypridd to Plymouth and from Ipswich to Inverness…
…taking final shape on the Firth of Forth, she is testimony to the United Kingdom’s combined manufacturing and engineering strength.
A reminder of what this great country is capable of when we work together as one.
Those who are working, or have worked, on HMS Queen Elizabeth are proud of the project in which they are involved…
…and we should all be proud of them.
And as the United Kingdom, we have in the Royal Navy the critical mass of warships to generate an order book of sufficient size to maintain a sovereign warship building capability.
Rather than placing orders for our surface ships with potentially cheaper yards overseas, successive UK governments have deliberately chosen to sustain our sovereign capability, albeit at a financial premium.
As a result, no complex warships for the Royal Navy have been procured from outside the UK since the start of the 20th Century, except during the 2 World Wars.
Today, that policy, and the Royal Navy’s scale, delivers billions of pounds of investment and sustains thousands of Scottish jobs, directly and indirectly.
And I believe it is neither in Scotland’s interests, nor the rest of the United Kingdom’s, to put that at risk.
Scale: UK global influence
And there’s another area in which the scale of the United Kingdom brings direct benefits to our collective safety and security.
And that’s through our influence on the world stage.
Exercised through the use of a Soft Power which is second to none…
…but which derives its strength from being backed by the hard power of our defence capability.
The size of our armed forces, the scale of our defence budget, the breadth of our military capabilities and the reputation of the men and women of our armed forces significantly increases the UK’s influence with our international allies and partners.
Our national security is underpinned by the international partnerships and alliances of which we are a central part…
…and it is through our high level of influence that we are able to shape those organisations and alliances in our own strategic interests.
The UK is one of just five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
We are the largest contributor of deployable forces to Nato, the cornerstone of our defence policy, after the United States.
We have deep and wide ranging bilateral relationships with our most capable Western military allies, the United States and France.
And, together with the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, we are part of the world’s largest and most successful intelligence sharing community.
Being a member of those organisations is not an end in itself.
But it is the access to information on the latest security threats, the opportunities to collaborate on equipment programmes; and the ability to generate joint forces, such as the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force with France, to deter our adversaries and extend our global reach…
…that act as a force multiplier for the United Kingdom as a whole, allowing us to punch above our weight…
…and that means we are able, together, to deliver the highest level of security for all of the British people.
A strong defence presence in Scotland
And the truth is, Scotland’s contribution to the collective security of the United Kingdom is absolutely vital.
Scotland is at the very heart of the UK’s defence effort and, at a time when we have had to make reductions in the overall size of our forces to bring the defence budget back into balance…
…we will actually be increasing the size of our defence presence in Scotland:
…from a Regular force of some 11,000 personnel today, to 12,500 by 2020.
At Faslane, Scotland will be home to one of the Royal Navy’s three main bases and its entire fleet of submarines.
At RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland will host one of the Royal Air Force’s three main fast jet bases and one of our two Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon forces.
And around Edinburgh and Leuchars, Scotland will be the home to one of the Army’s seven adaptable force brigades.
With a total of 50 defence sites across Scotland…
…from Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides to Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, where part of the international Exercise Joint Warrior is taking place right now…
…Scotland is as integral to the United Kingdom’s security as the rest of the United Kingdom is to Scotland’s.
Fundamental questions about independence remain unanswered
So what of the separatists’ alternative?
What would defence and security look like under an independent Scotland?
Standing here, 5 months before the Scottish people go to the polls, I would have expected to be able to answer that question.
But the truth is, I can’t.
So fundamental are the uncertainties regarding the Scottish government’s defence proposals …
…and so basic are the unanswered questions…
…that they are almost impossible to analyse in any meaningful way.
It’s hard to avoid drawing the conclusion that the SNP want to keep the Scottish people in the dark until after polling day.
Where, for example, is the detailed costing of the Scottish government’s defence proposals?
To have any credibility, the Scottish government has to be able to show that their proposals add up.
Where, to take another, is the assessment of risks and threats that Scotland will face?
Endnote 261 to the White Paper refers to an analysis of Scotland’s geopolitical context, threats and risks – upon which the Scottish government’s entire defence and security policy is apparently based.
And yet it remains unpublished.
Do the Scottish people not deserve to see these documents before they cast their votes?
Do the welders and fitters and electricians and draughtsmen in the shipyards not far from here not deserve to know how much the Scottish government would be able and willing to invest in warship building?
And do the young people considering a career in the Forces not deserve to know what security tasks Scottish defence forces would fulfil, and what opportunities and experience they would have as members of them?
There are question marks, even, over the size the defence and security budget would be.
The white paper states that there would be £2.5 billion for defence and security.
But we know from the Finance Secretary, John Swinney, and his secret memo leaked last year, that actually “a much lower budget must be assumed”.
So do the Scottish people not deserve to know what that “lower budget” would be; and what it would mean for an independent Scotland’s ability to defend itself?
The SNP’s defence force plans lack coherence
Finally, what of the capabilities that the Nationalists say the Scottish defence forces would have?
Would they be credible? And are they coherent?
It’s tempting to go through the whole lot, but time is short, so let me just take one example.
The White Paper asserts that, at independence, Scotland’s air forces would consist of [a minimum of] 12 Typhoon jets.
And even that 12 is two more than the SNP’s logic of a population based share of the UK’s current Typhoon fleet would give them.
Since the Scottish government regularly makes comparisons with Norway and Denmark, it’s worth noting that the Royal Danish Air Force has a fleet of 45 fast jets… …and the Royal Norwegian Air Force has 57, putting them in a completely different league to the Nationalists’ proposals for Scotland.
But even that does not tell the whole story.
Anyone who knows anything about modern defence will tell you that owning 12 jets does not mean that you have 12 jets available to deploy.
Even in a fleet as efficient as the RAF’s, roughly a third of the force will be in deep maintenance; and only a third will be at full readiness.
So even on the assumption that a Scottish air force could achieve the same levels of efficiency in maintenance and aircraft servicing as the RAF, despite its much smaller size…
…under the Nationalists’ plans, the number of jets they could expect to have available to deploy at any one time is just four.
Just four, to defend and protect the whole of Scotland’s skies and air approaches, which represents a huge proportion of the UK’s current area of responsibility.
And to police that area properly would require those few jets to be capable of flying well out over the North Atlantic and the Irish Sea.
To be capable of staying up in the air for prolonged periods, as our quick reaction alert Typhoons do today.
But that requires air to air refuelling capability.
Inexplicably, there is no provision for air to air refuelling aircraft in the Scottish government’s plans.
It doesn’t even get a mention.
A vital enabling capability not even considered.
So in fast air, at least, we have a policy proposition that falls apart at the first scrutiny, revealing that, in practical terms, large parts of Scotland’s airspace would be undefended.
That, to me, is a totally irresponsible proposition.
So, with 5 months remaining until the referendum on September 18th, it’s clear that on one of the most important topics of all, their future safety and security, the separatists owe the Scottish people a lot of answers.
In place of fact, we have assertion.
And in place of certainty, we have doubt.
But against the doubt and uncertainty of the separatist proposition, the case for remaining part of the family of nations of the United Kingdom is clear.
For more than three centuries, our nations have worked together to deliver a safe and secure United Kingdom.
Our armed forces, drawn from the four nations of our union, have proven themselves, time and again, to be the finest armed forces in the world.
The combination of our scale, our critical mass and our reputation allows us to punch above our weight in security terms…
…and enables a diplomacy that is second to none…
…ensuring that the people of these islands are safer and more propserous as a result.
Over the last two and a half years as Defence Secretary, I’ve had to take often difficult decisions to provide UK defence with a stable forward plan while making a contribution to rebuilding Britain’s fiscal stability after the financial crash.
Because rebuilding our economy is vital to our ability to sustain defence in the years to come.
And now at the very point that there is light at the end of what has seemed like a very long and dark tunnel…
…do we really want to turn in on ourselves to focus on the consequences of a difficult and painful divorce…
…rather than facing outwards, together, to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of our changing world?
To me, the choice is clear..
Weakening our economic strength by dividing it with a border…
… or using our UK market of 60 million people as a springboard for success in a fiercely competitive global marketplace.
Diminishing our diplomatic reach and our unrivalled soft power by breaking up the union…
…or confidently building on our centuries of achievements, admired around the world, as we face the future together.
Dismantling the joint achievements of the last 300 years…
… or working together to deliver those of the next three hundred.
I have no doubt:
Unpicking centuries of shared security and prosperity would damage both Scotland and the rest of the UK.
It would leave us all weaker.
It would leave us all less secure.
It is our shared history, our common values and our unity of purpose which make us what we are today.
It is Scotland which makes the UK united, and adds the Great to Great Britain.
What we have is precious.
It has taken many years to build.
It works, and works well.
So let us ensure that come September, the message goes out so that there can be no doubt…
… our family of four proud and successful nations is safer, stronger and better together.