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Monday, 23 January 2012

Reflections on defence and the military

(Note: The ideas below and some of the text derive from earlier blogs. I make no apology for this - I still feel the same way and still want to say the same things in the same way.)

The choice that will soon face the Scottish electorate is devolution max or full independence. All the talk of economic factors, of the currency, of borrowing powers, of taxation and of the detail of independence is smoke and mirrors – the last redoubt is defence and foreign policy.


Because no country can truly be a nation unless it controls its own foreign policy and defence.

No country can be a nation if it lets another nation decide in what cause - and when - to place its servicemen and women in harm’s way, and to sacrifice their lives if necessary.

No country can be a nation if it permits another to determine its fate in the most fundamental areas of nationhood.

Scotland cannot be a nation again unless it is fully independent.

The above principles are entirely distinct from defence alliances and treaties, which can be entered into voluntarily and exited from at will. (An independent Scotland would undoubtedly enter into such alliances, and would also have a range of flexible and common sense areas of cooperation with other nations short of formal alliance.)

In the defence debate now raging, my concern is the insidious way in which the military/industrial complex subverts the moral consciousness of governments, trades unions and ordinary voters - and the very nature of democracy itself  - by the offer of industrial investment and jobs, and the naked threat of the withdrawal of that investment if Scotland doesn’t toe the line, not to mention tug the forelock and bend the knee.

Is this emotive, heated language? If it is, it is several hundred degrees cooler than the threats, abuse, contempt and distorted propaganda that has been thrown at Scotland since the British Establishment and their Scottish political puppets have reached the stunned conclusion that Scotland will hold a referendum and will hear the voice of its own people, without interference from Westminster and from political appointees in the UK legal system, and that the referendum is highly likely to result in a vote for complete independence

I believe in legitimate defence of the Scottish nation, and in conventional defence forces and armaments, but I abhor the use of defence jobs as job creation schemes to induce tacit participation in, and compliance with the foreign policy of the United States and of the UK as its compliant ally. This is exactly the insidious perversion of democracy that former US President and distinguished American WW2 general Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against when he pointed out the dangers of the military/industrial complex.

Why question the purpose of the armaments or their relationship to any real defence need, or the price in blood that must be paid for them when they are such an unfailing source of jobs to Scotland, not to mention lucrative directorships and consultancies to politicians? So they warn Scotland of the terrible consequences of attempting to be a free nation, to have defence forces appropriate to its real defence needs, to be free of the intolerable financial and moral burdens of WMDs, to stop sending its young men and women to die in the foreign wars that are so necessary to the profit machine called the military/industrial complex.

Of course, they are not consequences, they are empty threats, designed to intimidate a free people and suppress their democratic instincts .

But then, that’s what British imperial foreign policy has always been about, isn’t it - intimidating free peoples and suppressing their democratic instincts? But from America onwards, free nations have rejected that intimidation and thrown off the yoke of empire.

Under Labour, the Ministry of Defence,  the MOD, the legendarily incompetent - but unfailingly lucrative - body that fails to adequately equip our young men and women in the armed forces, spent an average of £5.6m on entertaining each year under Labour and probably far in excess of that under the current regime. We don’t have to be told who they were entertaining, boozing and eating lavishly with while Scottish soldiers died – while Fusilier Gordon Gentle died because his vehicle was not fitted with an electronic bomb detector.

No defence minister has retired poor: no senior MOD official retires into poverty or even a modest pension. They slide effortlessly through a revolving door into lucrative directorships and consultancies with the merchants of death, or with brutal foreign dictatorships of the kind now being overthrown by the people of the Middle East in the Arab Spring.

Scottish MPs on the high road to Westminster head for the lucrative, blood-soaked pastures of defence like heat-seeking missiles – they know where the money and the power lie.


Back in June of last year, Allan Massie wrote a piece in the Scotsman - False patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel prompted by the Labour (Ian Davidson MP) fascism slur against the SNP. Allan Massie then managed in his piece to move seamlessly from appearing to condemn Ian Davidson’s unfortunate remark, as a Member of Parliament under privilege in the House of Commons, to conflating the most extreme remarks of sundry anonymous online posters to draw parallels between  some Scottish nationalists and Hitler’s Germany, anti-semitism, Franco’s Spain, and to describe them as “at least proto-fascists”  (I said my piece to him back in June 2011)

Since then, we have had the Tom Harris’s ‘Downfall’ YouTube clip and innumerable attacks, direct or oblique, on the right of Scots to express pride and belief in their nation and seek its independence. All of them seem oblivious to the fact that the UK is a constant example of extreme nationalism under the term Britain, and regularly displays all the characteristics of such nationalism, one that is deeply alien to Scotland.

I offered an analysis of the characteristics of a fascist state back then.


Fascist states are obsessively militaristic in character, consuming a wholly disproportionate part of their national resources on armaments.

They appeal to a nostalgic and glorious past that has little to do with present social and economic realities.

They exalt the Head of State, whether monarch or dictator, and claim either a hereditary or nepotistic right to succession in key offices of state.

They maintain the semblance of a democracy, while effectively nullifying, or as they describe it, ‘balancing’ the democratic institutions with non-democratic, unelected bodies.

They have key linkages between the military and relevant sections of industry in a military/industrial complex. Defence procurement is perceived by the public as incompetent, when in fact it is mainly corrupt, and unfailingly enriches the politicians associated with it.

They claim a right to intervene by force in the affairs of other nation states, and occupy them, always with the claim that they are acting in the interests of the people of the occupied territories.

They have a cult of blood, death and sacrifice in which the Head of State plays a major role. They exalt the dead as heroes of the nation: the children of the governing elite are rarely if ever among the dead. They drape the coffins of the dead with flags.

They are given to militaristic displays at any and every opportunity. They blatantly use military contracts and jobs as a political lever to influence the vestiges of true democracy that remain in the state apparatus.

When the voice of the people is heard, either through popular protest or electoral success, a sustained attack is made by the fascist state on the legitimacy of such protest and electoral success, and the democratic mandate is challenged frontally. The fascist state exercises significant or total control over media.

The fascist state has an elaborate system of patronage, titles and honours to sustain its power and to limit and control the democratic mandate where it exists. Large swathes of decision-making are controlled by people who have no democratic mandate whatsoever, who were appointed by the ruling group.

The fascist state will sacrifice any public service rather than contain its military ambitions or curtail the profits and privileged of the rich and powerful. It deeply distrusts the public services of the nation. It readily blames the poor and the vulnerable for the ills of the nation and holds them responsible for their own miseries.


All of the above characteristics are either currently present or developing in the state of the United Kingdom. None of them are present in Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party, nor in the vast majority of its supporters.

Is the UK fascist? No, absolutely not - yet. The good sense of the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland militate against it, and the deep democratic instincts of the people are currently being aroused in the countries of this ‘United’ Kingdom, because the dangers and the abuses of power by an unrepresentative elite are manifest. The impending independence of Scotland and its non-nuclear defence policy will place an effective brake on the dangerously militaristic tendencies of the UK Establishment, tendencies that are especially evident under Tory control.

That of course is why the Scottish Government’s defence policy is under a sustained and unprecedented attack at the moment - it is the real threat to the power of the elite and the pretensions of a small militaristic state to global power and influence.

A democracy must be on high alert when the military establishment flexes its muscles and tries to dictate an agenda - world history reads us that lesson loud and clear.


A nation must be ready to defend its people, its territorial integrity and its interests against external threat. It therefore needs a defence force, and in the modern world, that means an army, a navy and an air force. The right size for such defence forces, and therefore the proportion of GDP allocated to defence must be the minimum necessary to meet defence objectives.

The idea that defence policy, defence expenditure and defence procurement should serve other objectives is a pernicious and dangerous one. It is also a seductive one. When it is allied to the commercial objectives of manufacturing and exporting armaments, it is potentially a moral and ethical quagmire.

There are powerful voices that argue that, when it comes to these issues, that maintaining an arms trade between nations - and indeed relationships between nations - can ultimately only be conducted on a basis of realpolitik, and that diplomacy - negotiation between nations - is essentially ethics and morality free. (Sir Christopher Myer, a former British diplomat who I admire as a presenter, argued this view cogently in a BBC documentary, citing from his wide experience the kinds of ethical dilemmas a diplomat faces. The late Robin Cook argued in contrast for an ethical foreign policy.)

As a negotiator, I recognise the dilemma, and the stark fact that you don’t negotiate with people who already agree with you. In diplomacy, this is expressed as ‘A nation doesn’t negotiate peace with nations they are not actually - or potentially - in conflict with.”


Scotland, with its skills and expertise, especially in its shipbuilding industry, must face such dilemmas too, including the perennial question - “If they don’t buy it from us, they’ll buy it somewhere else …”

I have no easy answers to this - ethical dilemmas are dilemmas because there are no easy answers. But decisions have to be made across a range of defence products: we’ve already made the biggest one - we will not harbour nuclear weapons, nor in my view should we trade in any products that supports them.

At the other end of the spectrum, we shouldn’t sell electric cattle prods adapted to deal with protesters and political opponents to oppressive dictatorships. The insidious argument “If they don’t buy it from us, they’ll buy it somewhere else …” could equally be applied to the cattle prods, or selling high tech thumbscrews to torturers. There must be an ethical line, and it must be drawn with care if the new Scotland is to live up to its highest ideals. I believe it can.


In Britain, the trade union movement has traditionally been more than simply a way to even up the negotiating clout of ordinary working people faced with powerful employers and legislators in the pockets of powerful vested interests.

Combination on the one side is patent and powerful. Combination on the other is the necessary and desirable counterpart, if the battle is to be carried on in a fair and equal way. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the Vegelan Case.

The British trade union movement has always proclaimed political, social and moral values, in contrast to the American trade union movement, which adopted a model of business unionism, essentially the realpolitik of unionism. American trades unions have moved a long way from Woody Guthrie and the Wobblies - Workers of the  world - Unite!

(They may have to return to this if the present parlous state of the American economy and the gross social anomalies within it continues to worsen. Five recent studies have shown America now to be one of the least socially mobile countries among the developed countries of the world.)

A number of major trades unions are beginning to show signs of challenging their long affiliation to the Labour Party, in the face of a party that is now in many respect indistinguishable from the Tories in their economic and social policies.

But in Scotland, where the heart and soul of trades unionism historically lay, the union hierarchy show no such recovery of ideals, or willingness to question allegiances that no longer serve their membership.

Not the least of their problems in doing this - in addition to the effect on the career path of trades union officers - is confusion over Scotland’s thrust for independence, and the related ethical dilemma involving defence jobs, in the shipbuilding and nuclear-related industries.

Shipbuilding and WMD-related jobs, not to mention those in the nuclear power industry, are being used cynically and blatantly in threat/bribe scenarios by Westminster politicians, notably  Scottish Labour politicians, and the defence debate is polluted and debased by such behaviour.

I do not cast a jaundiced eye on Civic Scotland - I recognise the valid place such a grouping has in a pluralistic democracy - but I do cast a sceptical eye on some of the ambivalence they are currently showing about independence, especially when it comes to the defence and jobs debate.

I would remind the churches within Civic Scotland, and those who claim a social and moral conscience of the swords into ploughshares principle, especially when the ploughshares can be readily identified as the renewables industry, among others where Scotland has real strengths.

Among the latest scare tactics over the last few days have been a number of attempted frighteners over jobs in the armed forces, where contemptuous comparisons have been made on the challenge, opportunity and travel benefits for young men and women in the British armed forces as opposed to a Scottish defence force.

My position on this is best summed up my response to a comment and query on my most recent blog, which genuinely posed the question as to what Lieut.Col. Stuart Crawford’s position is on these questions, and by implication, what is the SNP’s position. I don’t know the position of either Stuart Crawford or the SNP, but here was my answer, and where I stand.

  • Alasdair Ross Jan 23, 2012 01:59 AM

    No mention or he may have not been asked - what about the servicemen? Those who who are already in a British Army and those who would continue to join the English/Welsh Army- would the Scottish Regiments stay- becoming Scottish Gurkhas, or will Scots just travel south and join an English regiment?
    Most who join the armed Forces want to see the world and challenge themselves- that will not be possible in a Scottish Army- unless remaining part of NATO-

  • Moridura Jan 23, 2012 02:22 AM

    I don't know the answers to these questions, Alasdair. The only statement I know of from Alex Salmond said the servicemen would be free to choose, and I am sure that those with the motivation you describe would want to "travel south and join an English regiment".
    Scotland will not remain in NATO while NATO is nuclear, but will cooperate through Partnership for Peace as some other countries do. The defence forces of a nation cannot be predicated on the basis of “join the Army and see the world”, although that has always been a recruitment slogan of the military throughout the ages. Exactly how this will affect recruitment and choices cannot be predicted, but defence forces of other small nations don't find a difficulty in filling their ranks.
    What recruits to the new Scottish Defence Force can be assured off is that they will not be sent to die in illegal wars and misconceived foreign engagements, and that a Scottish Ministry of Defence will be staffed by competent and ethical persons whose motivation is to serve the military personnel and their families, instead of their own advancement and careers in private companies.


    1. The lapse time film was fascinating Peter, thanks for posting it.

    2. Thanks Conan. I'm thinking of a "Nats in the Village' initiative. Let me know if interested.


    3. As long as you two don't become 'The only Nats in the Village' - the rush on Tartan PVC breeks could be interesting.

      A thought provoking article, however, that challenges us to reassess what our true priorities should be. I will be interested to hear if Mr Salmond refers to the opportunity tonight in his London lecture to restructure our ambition when we achieve Independence.