An Independent Scotland could not stand alone on Defence

For the last twenty-five years or so I have been writing and speaking about defence matters in Scotland. The question always was, however, how could it do so, not that it should do so. My thinking was very much that if it’s going to happen then it needs to be done.

In October 2012 the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published my study A’ The Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland as one of its papers. I co-wrote it with Scotland-based economist Richard Marsh, who costed the proposals contained therein. The paper is still available to download from the RUSI website[1].

This all took place over ten years ago, and yet it is still, to my knowledge, the only properly costed model of what an independent Scotland’s armed forces might look like. Since then, Richard and I have modified our findings and recommendations in the light of advances in technology and tactics[2], but the methodology employed in the original report remains pertinent today.

The major point to be made is that the relationship between Scotland and the rUK in defence terms is one of interdependence. An iScotland would not have the means, expertise, or wherewithal to design and administer a credible defence policy of its own without outside help. The best that could be hoped for, in the first decades of independence at least, would be some sort of “armed neutrality” along the lines of that espoused by Ireland.

At the same time, Scotland leaving the UK would have a significant impact on the UK’s defence posture. Cover of the “High North” is facilitated from RAF Lossiemouth in concert with NATO Allies, and loss of access to the air base would be a blow. I addition, the RN would have to reorientate its naval ship procurement to south of the Border, which although probably feasible in the medium to long term would not be without its problems.

However, what to do about Faslane and its neighbouring armament depot at Coulport is a problem of a completely different dimension. It is likely that an iScotland would not wish to retain the rUK’s nuclear deterrent within its territory, but there is nowhere else in the UK where it can be based in the short to medium term. The simplest solution to this is for an iScotland to lease Faslane to the rUK for a period of time, say twenty years or so, whilst a new base is established elsewhere.

There is little doubt that Scottish independence would not be a good thing for UK defence, nor would a fledgling Scottish independent state be as secure, initially at least, as it is within the UK. However, with the prospect of a second independence referendum increasingly unlikely this is perhaps a topic that will not need to be addressed in a serious fashion for some time to come.

[1] A’ the Blue Bonnets: Defending an Independent Scotland | Royal United Services Institute (

[2] Stuart Crawford and Richard Marsh: Defending an Independent Scotland post-Brexit – Source (

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



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