In my last blog I mentioned three muddles the SNP have already got themselves into. Since I wrote about their defence policy in The Scotsman today, I’d better start with the military muddle.
The newspaper article is really about the hypocrisy of SNP politicians getting all hot under the collar when the government suggests army cuts. For of course if they had their way the military tradition would be killed stone dead. Even if they kept the armed forces the same size, no-one serious would want to join it, because no-one serious want to spend their career in an institution that has no real purpose.
More likely is that an independent Scotland would cut defence spending considerably, since it would have the opportunity to duck out of Britain’s defence obligations. In that case the ‘historic regiments’ would disappear even faster, along with all the shipbuilding jobs etc.
It would be much for credible for the SNP to admit to these cuts and say it would use the money saved for tax cuts / infrastructure investment / whatever. Almost any alternative way of spending the defence budget would create more jobs than are currently employed by the forces and subsidised shipyards.
But the SNP can’t resist trying to have its cake and eat it. It seems to want to preserve the army as a sort of living museum emplying lots of toy soldiers, which is silly. If the unionist side are worth their salt, they should win this particular argument hands down.
But that’s not the only angle on this muddle. For if an independent Scotland pursued a neutralist defence policy, this would undermine its already feeble presence on the international stage still further. The irony of Scottish nationalism is that independence would reduce Scotland’s ability to shape the world, and so reduce its power to shape its own destiny.
To take one particular example: Alex Salmond likes to say that an independent Scotland and its soldiers would not have been dragged into the ‘illegal’ Iraq War. This is nonsense, of course. For one, Scots soldiers are volunteers, and Salmond could not stop them joining the British Army even if Scotland were independent.
Second, Scotland would lose its say over whether the UK joined in such conflicts or not. The point is not just that the Scottish government would have less say than before over whether Scots soldiers went to war. Over Iraq, Scots MPs, who included the Chancellor among their number, had a decisive say on whether Britain should join the war. And Britain’s involvement was crucial to the credibility of the coalition. In effect, therefore, Scotland had a casting vote on Iraq (Scots MPs decided in favour, despite Salmond), and quite often has an important influence on other matters in world affairs, leveraged by its membership of the UK and pivotal political influence within it.
Under the SNP’s plans, especially with an enfeebled military, Scotland would have no say whatsoever.