Many people have told me that ‘Defence’ is a key area for them in the decision on independence – it is unquestionably a topic that strikes the heart and head of the debate.
Many commentators derided George Robertson’s claim that the ‘forces of darkness would simply love it’ if Scotland democratically votes for independence. George Robertson’s claims that Scotland’s independence would be ‘cataclysmic in geo-political terms’ was classed as an effort to bully the Scottish voters from Owen Jones and Ian Bell took it as an insult and a threat.
However, in a rare moment of common ground between George Robertson and myself, I think that we should look beyond his language and analyse the basis of his argument. George Robertson’s statements reflect the agenda of the UK government to which Scotland currently belongs – indeed the Westminster parliament (Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems) intends to commit £100billion of the UK taxpayers money from 2016 in an effort to ‘protect us against North Korea and Iran’. This was a case made by David Cameron in Scotland last year – Alex Salmond explained why the UK position is superficial and flawed during his 2013 Brookings Institute address which is well worth a watch – but it is worth reflecting on the priorities that are currently set at Westminster.
History plays an important role in the issue of Defence for the UK – the British Empire was essentially started by the conquests of England from as early as the 15th century – much of the Empire was established when Scotland and England formed the UK in 1707. For centuries the Empire was seen to rule the waves and from a military perspective it was incredibly successful. However, as I touched on in my last blog post, this history should not pass without some shameful reflection as there are several areas where the destructive nature of the Empire should be noted.
The 2nd World War was a pivotal moment where the role of the UK, the USA and the Soviet Union formed the ‘Big Three’ of the Allies of World War II forces that were formed to fight against Nazi Germany, saving much of Europe from unthinkable fascist terror.
The end of World War II led to the United Nations (UN) being formed and with that the establishment of the UN Security Council. The great forces of the moment were the ‘victors of World War II’ (as Wikipedia phrases it) with China, France, Russia, the UK and the US appointing themselves as the 5 fixed member states on the Security Council. This fixed membership brings with it veto rights on any motion brought to the UN – a set-up that was justifiably attacked as an antiquated system by Argentina last year (this article is worth a read to see some of the recent examples that bring the veto rights into disrepute).
The UN is potentially an excellent organisation to progress world peace, with most of the world’s population represented within the 193 UN member states. Unfortunately the role of collective governance is significantly undermined by the Security Council states acting to preserve their own strategic interests, a reality which partly explains the existence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). NATO constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party. Moreover, NATO ostensibly enabled the US Government to create a collective opposition to the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but NATO has also acted as an alliance for global military intervention without the need for UN Security Council approval (such as the ongoing war in Afghanistan).
The Cold War doesn’t get brought up much in discussions about Scotland’s vote on independence but the UK’s decision in the 1950s to spend vast amounts on nuclear weapons was largely driven by the US and their strategic positioning against the Soviet Union. UK taxpayers have continued to finance this position since and Scotland still lives with the consequences, with the majority of Scottish citizens living within a blast range of the existing base for our weapons of mass destruction (it is worth reading Harry Reid’s article on how the UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, failed to represent Scottish interests in his dialogue with the US when deciding where to store the weapons). As a point of note, France is the only other European nation to have nuclear weapons – a capability that they also developed during the 1950s and they currently own the 3rd largest nuclear-weapons force in the world.
This brings me back to the ‘forces of darkness’. I’m not entirely sure who they are exactly (Darth Vader has not been ruled out), but the mystique is part of the process. You see, to justify spending £100billion of taxpayer’s money on weapons that will never be used, it is essential to make citizens think that the government knows an important secret that is keeping us all safe. They truly hope that no-one questions whether all of the other 185 countries in the world without nuclear weapons manage to survive without nuclear weapons. We are told that these weapons serve as a ‘deterrent’ to potential enemies – with the US, France, Russia and China owning enough nuclear warheads to bring the human race to an end I think we can safely say that enough is enough.
The opportunity the Scottish people have in the referendum is so vast that the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament have aligned themselves with the movement for Scottish independence. With the UK set to start the development of a next generation system of nuclear weapons in 2016, a Yes vote will prevent this from happening. This is what George Robertson means by the global impact of Scottish independence –he knows that without the financial contribution of Scotland and also the Faslane facility – it will not be possible for the UK to retain its status as a ‘nuclear power’.
This symbolises the point of Scottish independence being one that will not only be for the benefit of Scottish citizens, but we will be showing solidarity with citizens across the British Isles by preventing more of their tax cash being wasted on such an abhorrent status symbol. In global terms, perhaps reducing the scale of one of the fixed Security Council members will lead to a review of the relevance of having 5 fixed members in today’s context. Surely it would be more important for each geo-political region to be represented in the Security Council, with a democratic voting system enabled to avoid one nation acting exclusively on behalf of its own vested interests?
As a closing thought for this post, I like the expression ‘bairns not bombs’ as it highlights that the government makes a conscious decision on how to spend the national budget: we need to consider childcare, education and healthcare requirements alongside the spending on a Defence Force that is fit for purpose.