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16/10/13 09:47

Defence Union through NATO

First Minister Alex Salmond
Mareel Arts centre
25 July 2013

In the third in a series of speeches the First Minister delivered over the summer, Mr Salmond set out how, following a vote for independence in next year's referendum, Scotland will continue to participate fully in a defence union through NATO.

Below is an abridged version of the First Minister’s speech, focussing on its main theme, or you can listen to the full speech here.

We will remain in a defence union through NATO. That’s the union I want to say more about this afternoon. In doing so, I want to set out three key advantages of independence. Independence would enable us to make our own decisions on Trident and overseas deployments; it would allow us to develop new capabilities; and we could create a new, more consensual approach to defence strategy.

The first advantage is very clear. Although an independent Scotland will work closely with the rest of the UK on many, many issues – we will no longer be tied to UK policies which are overwhelmingly rejected by most people in Scotland.

It is inconceivable that an independent Scotland would have taken part in the illegal and costly invasion of Iraq – costly not just in terms of money, but in terms of human life.

And an independent Scotland will no longer keep Europe’s largest concentration of weapons of mass destruction within 30 miles of our largest city. It’s astonishing that at a time when welfare cuts are reducing some of the most vulnerable members of society to penury, every single one of the major UK parties is committed to a multi-billion pound nuclear weapons system, which provides no credible response to any serious threat. The only difference between the London parties is how many billions are spent on how many missiles in how many boats.

The UK Government is so attached to Trident that two weeks ago, the Ministry of Defence was musing that they could annex the nuclear base at Faslane as a crown territory if the Scots voted for independence. This story lasted for two hours before Downing Street rushed out a denial. It’s about as likely a scenario as the previous story that Scapa Flow on Orkney could be Trident’s new home.

The reality with defence, as with other areas, is straightforward.

Independence would allow Scotland to develop roles and capabilities appropriate to our position and our size. There’s nothing unusual about that – it’s what countries around Europe do, including our Nordic neighbours and friends. It’s the second advantage of independence, and it’s one of the reasons why I’m talking about it here in Shetland.

The seas around Shetland and the north of Scotland are taking on greater importance. For regrettable reasons - the melting of Arctic sea ice as a result of global warming - new shipping lanes are opening up between Asia and Europe. Rising sea temperatures are creating new trading routes, new fishing and hydro-carbon opportunities.

Yet despite the increased economic and strategic importance of these seas, the UK has scrapped airborne maritime patrol capability. It ended the procurement of new Nimrod aircraft and closed RAF Kinloss. Scrapping the procurement – just cancelling the contract - cost taxpayers £200m. And it has caused even the House of Commons Defence Committee to raise serious concerns about the capability gaps caused by the decision.

The UK has also chosen not to participate in NATO’s policing of Icelandic airspace, an operation which brings together not just members of the Alliance but also non-NATO members Sweden and Finland.

And the navy does not have a single major surface vessel based in Scotland. The largest surface protection vessels in Scottish waters are the fisheries protection fleet of the Scottish Government.

It’s worth reflecting on all of this for a moment.

It’s absurd for a nation with a coastline longer than India’s to have no major surface vessels. And it’s obscene for a nation of 5 million people to host weapons of mass destruction.

What we have, we don’t need. And what we need, we don’t have. Our current naval capability is based on prestige, not performance.

The story becomes even clearer when we look at maritime safety together with maritime security. From 2015, on top of the loss of the Nimrods, maritime search and rescue capability will transfer from the military to private hands.

One of Scotland’s two emergency tugs has been withdrawn – despite strong opposition from the island authorities - although we welcome BP’s work through Oil and Gas UK to secure additional cover. The future of the remaining full time tug is in doubt after 2015.

And since 2000, Scotland has lost over half of its coastguard rescue co-ordination centres. We have gone from seven centres to three.

Independence would allow Scotland to devise more appropriate capabilities – based on our modern needs and those of our neighbours and allies.

An independent Scotland within Nato would prioritise having the air and naval capability we need – for security of our oil and gas resources, fisheries protection, and safeguarding our coastal waters. As well as being a member of Nato, we would co-operate with NORDEFCO, the Nordic Council’s defence branch.

We could also develop specialist expertise in areas that will be needed by us, and could be of value to our Nato allies, such as in search and rescue missions.

Our capabilities would primarily contribute to our security and that of our closest neighbours. However over time they would enable us to contribute to international operations such as peace-building and humanitarian missions.

Just as Scotland would develop our own capabilities, so we would develop our own approach to defence policy. That’s the third advantage of independence.

This Government has already stated its view that a written constitution should include safeguards about committing our armed forces – it should require that military action is in accordance with the United Nations Charter, and set out a clear role for Parliament in decisions on overseas deployment of Scottish forces.

Our view is that in an independent Scotland, the Government should work with Parliament to reach a consensus on Scotland’s defence strategy. This approach would build on the example of the cross-party Danish Defence Commissions.

To understand why that matters, you only have to look at the UK’s new aircraft carriers. One u-turn alone by the current Government - on the type of aircraft to be deployed - cost taxpayers £74 million. The total cost overrun on the carriers is now approaching £2 billion. And despite these costs, it will be 2022 at the earliest before even one aircraft carrier is fully operational. The other won’t even be used – having been commissioned in 2007, the decision was taken in 2010 for it to be held in extended readiness.

So a carrier will be built at vast expense; very well built, too - with much of the work being done on the Clyde before it is assembled at Rosyth - only to be mothballed immediately. There could be few better symbols of the inconsistency of current UK defence policy.

Rooting decisions in consensus – and this point goes beyond defence issues – isn’t a soft option. It is about being responsible as a nation. It is about taking tough decisions for the long term, instead of seeing priorities change and costs rise with every single shift in the political weather.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s now ten years since I spoke against the Iraq War in a Question Time debate at the Clickimin Centre here in Lerwick. Several hundred people had previously marched through the streets here to oppose the war – as did tens of thousands of people across Scotland and millions across these islands. Although as far as I know, only Lerwick adopted the slogan “no in wir name”.

Those protests had no effect. The UK has no constitutional safeguards on using its troops; and although most Scottish MPs who voted on 18 March 2003, supported a crucial amendment saying the case for war had not been established –they were outnumbered. Since then, Scottish MPs have been outvoted on Trident renewal; while Scotland has borne a disproportionate share of defence cuts, and airborne maritime patrol has been abandoned.

And remember - defence is just one example of how Scotland could do better if it determined its own priorities.

This Government will put forward its proposals for how an independent Scotland could use its powers to make the five remaining unions work more effectively - not just the defence union, but also the currency union, the union of the crowns, the European union and the social union.

Others will make other recommendations. One of the great advantages of the independence debate over the next year is that it gives all of us – whether in favour of independence, opposed to it, or undecided – an opportunity to reflect on the sort of Scotland we wish to see, the Scotland we seek.

Shetland, Orkney and Western Isles Councils have already taken a lead in doing that. “Our Islands, our Future” is an important initiative, which we discussed in Cabinet this morning.

I am pleased to confirm that the Scottish Government has agreed in principle, jointly with the leaders of the three island authorities, to convene a Ministerial working group to consider the issues it raises.

I am confident that the working group will produce recommendations which meet the needs of the island communities, and which contribute to Scotland’s wider constitutional debate.

After all, there is a hugely important principle behind all of this – one which matters for all parts of Scotland. But let’s call it the Lerwick Declaration.

We believe that the people who live and work in Scotland are best placed to make decisions about our future - the essence of self-determination for the nation - and therefore we support subsidiarity and local decision-making.

And it follows therefore that any Government committed to that policy needs to listen to the views expressed across all of Scotland – as we are doing here in Lerwick and as we are doing in supporting greater community land ownership, and in the forthcoming Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill.

So I look forward to hearing what you have to say this afternoon. All of us are keen to listen to your views and your priorities. And now, we are open to your questions.

During the summer of 2013, the First Minister made 6 major speeches on an independent Scotland’s place in an interdependent world. He put forward the view that Scotland is currently a member of six unions:

  • The political and economic union
  • The social union
  • The currency union
  • The union of the crowns
  • The defence union through NATO
  • The European Union

The Scottish Government wants to become independent from one of these unions – the political and economic union.

The social union will remain, regardless of Government policy, since it rests on ties of history, culture, family and friendship which are not dependent on Governments.

The current Scottish Government will choose, as a matter of policy, to remain in the currency union, the union of the crowns, the defence union and the European Union; and it will use the powers of independence to recast these unions and make them work more effectively for Scotland and Scotland’s neighbours.

The six speeches were made on the following dates -

12 July, 2013 – Nigg Fabrication Yard – introduction to the sequence of speeches
16 July, 2013 - Chief Minister’s Lecture, Isle of Man – Currency Union
25 July, 2013 - Shetland summer cabinet - Defence Union through NATO
21 August, 2013 - Hawick summer cabinet – European Union
28 August, 2013 - Campbeltown summer cabinet – Social Union and Union of the Crowns
2 September, 2013 - Fraserburgh summer cabinet – Independence from the Political and Economic Union

The idea of the six unions was explained in each speech, meaning that there are some overlaps in content between the six speeches. In addition, each of the summer Cabinet speeches began with very specific local references relating to the programme of events around the cabinets themselves. We have therefore published abridged versions of the speeches, focussing on the major theme of each speech.