I’m just back from Barcelona where I have been presenting to the Societat d’Estudis Militars on my thoughts on how an independent Scotland, should it ever come to pass, might go about designing and organising its own armed forces. All predicated, of course, on Scotland holding another independence referendum and the electorate voting in favour of it, which looks increasingly unlikely in the short to medium terms at least.

This particular topic is something I’ve been writing about for over twenty years now. People assume that I must, therefore, be a dedicated, hardline Scottish nationalist, but I’m not. I was a member of the Scottish National Party in the past, but no more. However, I retain an interest in Scottish military affairs in the independence context and have spoken to a number of pro-independence and SNP local groups over the years around Scotland. My position is not that Scotland should become independent and set up its own armed forces but that it could, so the least we can do is ensure that if it happens it’s done properly.

So Catalonia was my first overseas gig on the topic. There are aspirations in that region of Spain that are similar to those in some quarters in Scotland. Their strategic context is quite different, of course, but the principles remain more or less the same, and the process is remarkably simple. There are three stages in my preferred model; identify the threats, risks, and opportunities to/for the state; decide what armed forces are required to defend against/exploit those risks and opportunities; and then work out if the plan is affordable.

The answer to the third stage of the first iteration of this process is almost inevitably no, so you carry out the whole process again and again, compromising, double-tasking, dispensing, taking risks and so on until the scheme becomes affordable. In the final analysis, though, the defence budget is always a political decision, and military people have to get on with what their political masters give them.

When I was first invited to address the Societat I jumped at the chance, but then along came Covid and it was delayed by two years. But now it is done and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I just hope my friends in Barcelona found it useful too.

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