Naughtie: “On the defence question – do you accept that it’s going to be a very, very costly business if Scotland does go independent? And not only costly to Scots, but costly to people elsewhere in the United Kingdom?”
Angus Robertson: “That’s not the way I see it, Jim. Firstly, the prospect of people in Scotland being able to determine their own future is extremely exciting and historic. We look forward to the referendum as a real opportunity for the country, and it is true to say that it will impact on all policy areas of life, and we think it will bring tremendous advantages - and it’s important to understand what those are in defence and security terms.
“We’re in a slightly odd position in Scotland at the present time, where we’re already responsible in Scotland for veterans, but we’re not for defence and security policy, So, the point that we believe is that Scotland, Scotland’s Parliament – the government here – should be able to decide whether our servicemen and women go to war or not, how we defend our regiments, how we retain our bases, what posture we should take – whether Scotland should be a home to Trident nuclear weapons.
“All of these are the decisions that normal countries make, and we want Scotland to be a normal, successful country.”
Naughtie: “Yes – but in the event of independence, there would be a very simple decision to be made, because the entire UK nuclear submarine fleet is in Scotland. Now that would still be -em – the defence equipment used by the government of Westminster: in the event of an independent Scotland, it would leave Scotland – right? At a cost of many, many tens of millions of pounds?”
I held my breath at this point, because the nuclear issue is at the very heart of my wish to see an independent Scotland. I regard most things as negotiable, and politics and diplomacy are the art of the possible, but for me, the objective of Scotland as a non-nuclear nation is not negotiable – it is a deal breaker – a sine qua non – as the Romans said, “a condition without which there is nothing.”
Why am I holding my breath, I asked myself? I have heard Angus Robertson confirm this very point a few weeks ago to a large and enthusiastic audience at Drummond Community School in Edinburgh, flanked by Derek Mackay. But Naughtie formulated his question as a double-header question – a very dangerous form to respond to. He asked for a single YES/NO answer to what in effect was two questions – nukes leaving Scotland and the cost. YES or NO confirms or denies both possibilities. The question must not therefore be given an unqualified YEs or NO if one answer is YES and the other is not.
Angus Robertson: “Well, first off, let’s deal with the financial basis of the defence in Scotland and the UK, before …”
That’s my boy, Angus!
Naughtie: “No, no, but hang on .. we’re talking about.” (Naughtie doesn’t like his double header being rejected.)
Angus Robertson: “It’s important for listeners in England, who’ve never heard this, to understand the way that defence is currently organised and paid for in the UK, and at the present time, there’s a massive defence underspend in Scotland – incidentally, also in many English regions.
“But in Scotland, £5.6 billion less has been spent here than taxpayers have contributed to the M.O.D. In manpower terms, we’ve seen disproportionate cuts – 10,500 jobs lost – and in the recent strategic defence and basing review, we’ve seen two out of three air bases closed, the total withdrawal of the Royal Marines, and the closure of Army Command in Scotland. That is happening within the United Kingdom …”
Naughtie: “Yes, and a couple of billion quid in defence order, which would go down the drain if Scotland were independent, because you wouldn’t be building stuff for UK defence.”
Angus Robertson: “I’m happy to move on to that in a second, Jim – it’s not true – but if I can just finish the point that I’m trying to make. It’s really important for people to understand that the UK Government does not look after defence well in Scotland, and I would argue in other parts of the UK, particularly the North of England either. And one of the advantages of being able to make defence decisions in Scotland is that we would utilise all of our resources – and Scottish taxpayers contribute about £3 billion a year towards UK defence, adequately just for Scotland.
“Now, you talked about procurement there. Let’s move on to procurement. 58% of the defence industry in Scotland in procurement is for export beyond the United Kingdom. Point two – where we have have an excellent domestic producing defence sector - excellent in shipbuilding, excellent in radar, excellent in optronics – I have no reason to believe the decision makers, either in Edinburgh or in London, will not continue to resource the best equipment wherever its made. And at the present time, the UK Government won’t spend 4.4% of its equipment and non-equipment spending in Scotland. That means that Scottish taxpayers are paying for considerable investment in the defence sector in England.”
Naughtie: “Well, the defence sector of the UK – these are matters that we are going to – well, we will return to often and at length between now and the date of the promised referendum – but for now, Angus Robertson, SNP defence spokesman – thank you.”
I was disappointed that Angus didn’t get round to answering the first part of Naughtie’s question on the “the entire UK nuclear submarine fleet ..“ … in the event of an independent Scotland, it would leave Scotland – right?”
But he was right to concentrate on the threat/bribe aspect of Lord West’s nonsense on defence procurement in Scotland and its impact on jobs, especially in shipbuilding. Angus Robertson demonstrated a superb grasp of the real issues, and the figures, unlike the two fumbling, bumbling peers who preceded him, and he did an effective demolition job on their feeble scaremongering tactics.
To Angus’ own question in his opening response – “… whether Scotland should be a home to Trident nuclear weapons.” We already know the FM’s answer, Angus’ answer, the SNP’s answer and the Scottish Government’s answer – it is a resounding, decisive, unequivocal NO and it has been given in many forums. For the SNP to renege on that posture would be an inconceivable betrayal of trust, and they will never do it.
As for the question “the entire UK nuclear submarine fleet … in the event of an independent Scotland, it would leave Scotland – right?”, I think know your answer, Angus, because you have already given it many times in the context of Scotland being non-nuclear, opposed to WMDs, whether carried on nuclear submarines, or by other delivery systems.
Or do I? Is it more complex? Perhaps … A nuclear submarine is a submarine powered by a nuclear reactor, whether or not it carries nuclear weapons. No nuclear weapons could be allowed to remain in Scotland under clearly and repeatedly stated SNP policy, i.e Trident, but nuclear subs and their bases without a nuclear payload?
I know there are existing treaty obligations about Scotland providing safe havens in Scottish waters to our allies – and we will continue to have allies, and will be part of non-nuclear defence groupings. Clearly, there are complex questions to be considered and discussed there with the UK and European allies. Angus Robertson is well equipped to discuss them rationally, objectively, and without rancour. But are the representatives of the UK anti-unionist parties and Establishment?
Not on Friday’s today showing, they’re not … The doughty Baroness was right about one thing – they had better get their act together, and field some politicians or diplomats who know what they’re talking about, unlike the ones we’ve just heard. The Scottish Government – and the SNP – have got their act together, and a superb one it is.
Ah, 2012- what will you bring?