Scotland's defence and security plan for independence fraught with "glaring weaknesses"

Andrew Elwell

When people in Scotland choose whether or not the country should become an independent state in September, what impact will a Yes vote have on Scotland’s security and defence resilience? And, by extension, that of England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

In November 2013, the Holyrood-based Scottish government released a White Paper, Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, which widely advocates the benefits of separating from the UK and details its plans for creating a new Security and Intelligence Agency.

A report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) published Monday calls the plans "problematic", revealing that blueprints for the establishment of a new Security and Intelligence Agency fall down on a fundamental economic, diplomatic and technical basis.

"The Scottish government’s proposal is a hollow initiative containing a number of glaring financial, logistical and political weaknesses," said Calum Jeffray, co-author of the RUSI report. "Fundamental issues such as the cost of setting up the new agency, how it plans to fulfil its functions from day one of independence as promised, and inevitable intelligence constraints have all failed to be addressed, while the very requirement of such an agency remains questionable."

While the researchers at RUSI accept that Scotland would likely face a lower threat from terrorism than the remainder of the UK, Alex Salmond’s SNP would need to invest significantly more than is currently being suggested into its security infrastructure to meet requirements.

Moreover, the Holyrood government is assuming many of the de jure agreements and pacts it is currently signed up to as part of the UK will remain in place, which is simply not the case. For example, an independent Scotland would likely be denied access to "five eyes," the intelligence sharing arrangement between the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US. There are in fact a number of agreements, including the EU’s Club of Berne, where Westminster would be in violation of international law were it to share intelligence from with a newly independent Scotland. While it would be in the UK’s interests to maintain close relations with a separate Scottish state, Salmond would be unwise to assume blanket cooperation and open-handed intelligence sharing.

The RUSI report concludes: "Significant resourcing, capability and legislative hurdles would affect the creation of a new Scottish Security and Intelligence Agency. This would take years to develop, and create short-term vulnerabilities for Scottish national security."

While there are more feasible alternatives for an independent Scotland – such as expanding the remit of Police Scotland along similar lines of the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) model – there is a more straightforward solution for the people of Scotland: vote No. At the very least, the UK’s current defence and security resilience – a model that relies upon all nations working together – is not economically, diplomatically and technically flawed at a fundamental level.

Last week, Defence IQ reported that a number of defence firms with bases in Scotland would need to reconsider their operations north of the border were Scotland to vote for independence.

"It will be for the UK MoD to decide whether it will continue to sustain advanced defence systems development . . . at our facility in Scotland, or whether it will require that these activities be conducted within the new boundary of the UK," Finmeccanica chief executive Alessandro Pansa told the FT.

"Clearly, these decisions would have important implications for our investment in Scotland."