Among all the hysteria from sundry Westminster politicians, Lords, admirals et al, it is a breath of fresh air to hear some calm commentary from a former senior soldier, now in business in Scotland - Stuart Crawford of Stuart Crawford Associates - a former Lieutenant Colonel in the British Army. From a recent BBC radio interview -
“I’ve always been a believer that an independent Scotland could run its own defence forces, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that if the political will is there, then the circumstance would allow it to happen.
“I think the big question is not -- whether Scotland could have its own armed services - I think the question is whether it should.”
I think that gets to the nub of it, and had some of the defenders of the Union approached it with this level of objectivity, instead of attacking the feasibility of a Scottish defence force, some real dialogue might have been established in the great debate over Scotland’s future.
Stuart Crawford readily accepted the interviewer’s suggestion that if Scotland voted Yes in the referendum, the realpolitik would require negotiations, and Scotland could negotiate for part of what the MOD currently owns.
“Yes, I think that would be part of the process. I think if we can can go through that process, you’ve actually got to ask yourself what an independent Scotland might want its armed forces to do: and that, together with a look at likely foreign policy - and security policy - would give you an indication of what size and shape the forces would be, and that would be a good springboard to start negotiations with the rest of the UK for the allocation of assets.
“I think Angus Robertson’s got a very valid point - Scotland has contributed, and therefore Scotland is entitled to a share of MOD assets. But it’s not just a numerical 10% thing - we have to really ask ourselves what we want them to do.”
The interviewer referred to the First Minister’s recently expressed view of the ‘blueprint’ (actually ‘template’) of Scottish armed forces as containing an RAF base, a naval base (without nuclear submarines) and a mobile armed brigade, and asked if this sounded right, compared to other countries.
(BBC report: “Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has said the UK defence review has produced a template of how armed forces would look in an independent Scotland. He said the setup of one naval base, one air base and one mobile armed brigade was “exactly the configuration” required for a Scottish Defence Force.)
Stuart Crawford said there had been “lot’s of guesses” that it would be about 10% of the UK’s defence resource, and Norway had been cited as a comparator.
“Bu again we come back to my point - what do we want them to do? The armed forces exists for a number of reasons, but mainly they are to maintain the territorial integrity and safety of the nation and the people. And we have to ask ourselves - what are the risks? Who is going to attack an independent Scotland? And what is it they might want to capture from us?
Thanks God such vital logical concepts and principles are now being discussed objectively, and such eminently pragmatic questions being asked by a professional soldier, and a Scottish businessman, free of the usual fog of negativity. I ask why such ideas and such capable professionals are not appearing in properly structured television debates, and yet again and again, radio can offer such clarity?
The interviewer asks if a defence review by the Scottish Government is necessary before conclusion are reached on the makeup of the Scottish Defence Force?
Stuart Crawford’s answer in an unequivocal yes.
“It needs to go through what I would regard as some sort of intellectually rigorous process whereby it asks itself what they are for. That may go through several iterations -“
Intellectual rigour and logical iterations clearly have a place on radio, and radio is not afraid of them, but television journalism may take fright at such terminology, preferring all too often Strictly Come Defence Chatter, or maybe Scotland’s Got Defence Forces? type programme structuring, terrified of intellectual and professional depth.
“ - because cost obviously is an important aspect, and when one comes up with some sort of design of an armed service - of all three services, I would assume -we have to put some sort of costing on it, and defence economists are the people who would do that sort of thing, not ex-military people like me. But it may be that the budget allocation that the original plan called for is too large, and therefore you have to go through the whole thing again and say - where can we compromise on it, and what can we do with that?”
The interviewer raises the question of whether an independent Scotland’s membership of NATO has a bearing on all this.
“Well, the SNP - assuming that it is the SNP that takes Scotland to independence, if that is the case - has long had the policy of negotiating its way out of NATO. I think that is a question for them to answer, not for me. The elephant in the room on all of this is Trident on the Clyde, and I think that the negotiations on the removal of Trident from Scotland are going to be absolutely central to any defence debate in the future.”
The interview referred to the previous day’s suggestion from some UK government quarters that an independent Scotland would have to contribute to the clean-up costs of the Trident bases.
“Well, I mean - gosh, who knows? All I know is - and I think rightly so - that an independent Scottish Government would not want to have the so-called independent nuclear deterrent based in Scotland, and therefore it would be very keen that it should leave Scotland. I can’t see Scotland achieving independence one day, and Trident sailing out of the Clyde for ever the following day …”
Despite the fact that it is my fantasy, and that of many nationalist to see just that, I ruefully have to accept the reality of Stuart Crawford’s last statement.
The interviewer referred to the suggestion, again yesterday, that the removal of Trident could take decades.
“That is not an inaccurate assessment. I think if we look at when the current Trident fleet is due to bec0me obsolete and out of service might give the sort of timeframe when Trident might come out of the Clyde. The real problem, as everybody has said - there’s nowhere else for it to go, except probably France or the eastern coast of the US: there’s no suitable base for the boat and the weapons south of the border.”
The interviewer closed by thanking Lieut. Col. Stuart Crawford for his comments and insight, and so do I - and so should every Scot, whether nationalist or unionist or undecided, because he spoke more hard sense in a five minute interview that all the unionist Lords and politicians have uttered to date.
With one fact alone, Stuart Crawford gave us the heart of the UK’s - and NATO’s - problem with Scotland’s independence - they have nowhere else to put their weapons of mass destruction, and may have to abandon them.
That fact alone makes Scotland’s independence worthwhile, not just for Scotland, but for the peoples of these islands, for Europe, for the world, and for generations as yet unborn.
And we can’t wait decades for the WMDs to be neutralised …