It's still two years until we get to vote on our country's future and what that will mean to the armed forces. It is seldom out of the news and just yesterday it cropped up again in First Minister's Questions.
The 'Telegraph' is like a dog with a bone and has been lining up old colonels to take a pot-shot at Alex Salmond over the SNP's post-independence plans. Their comments are then being picked up by opposition parties to fuel this seemingly never-ending saga. Do we really have another two years of this? I hope not because I'm already heartily sick of it but without taking sides I'd like to discuss some things which have occurred to me about the armed forces debate. These are just my thoughts so I would welcome any challenges to my opinion. Although a lot of the jaw-jaw is about the army I'll start with the senior service.
The Royal Navy is a blue water navy, one which can react to incidents anywhere in the world. Would Scotland need that capability? No, we would have a green-water navy; similar to one we had in 1707 (one frigate and two sloops) which would only need small ships capable of protecting our oil-rigs, fishing fleets and support the police and coastguard. Would we need marines -unlikely. Would we need submarines, again unlikely. Would we need aircraft carriers - no of course not. So what would happen to Faslane and Rosyth? What about building the frigates and destroyers for the future Royal Navy; could the Clyde bid for them? Unlikely that a British MoD would award contacts for them to Scotland when there are English shipyards who can build them. There are about 30,000 people employed in Scotland working for the MoD and defence-related companies. How many of them would be needed post-independence?
What about an air force? The SNP plans are for one air base so which one is retained and what would be based there? Kinloss is being converted to hold a UK infantry battalion coming back from Germany but with four infantry battalion barracks in Scotland already (Redford, Dreghorn, Glencorse and Fort George) would Lossiemouth need to be retained. In fact if we have only three battalions of infantry (the brigade proposed by the SNP) would one of existing barracks close too? The answer would probably be no, because our artillery, signals, engineers and logistics troops would need a home too. But would all of those units actually need to be full-time soldiers? Assuming the SNP get their way and Scotland gets the Royal Regiment of Scotland and Scots Guards would we need those six battalions of infantry. Why would we need six full-time battalions of infantry, why couldn't a territorial force do the same job with just a few regulars?
If Scotland didn't get the Royal Regiment of Scotland and Scots Guards could they use old regimental names. Would the Cameronians return? The Scottish Rifles came into existence in 1881 but the old Cameronians were raised before 1707 and disbanded in 1968 (although a TA unit lasted until 1997). Would the MOD object to the use of the name? How about the Gordons and Seaforths and HLI? The 2nd and 4th battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland still carry on their traditions if not their names, so could they be re-used. How about Jacobite regimental names instead. The Atholl Brigade or Bagot's Hussars? Since we won't be a republic or have a Stuart monarch then probably not.
Maybe the answer is a three battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland without any affiliations to former units. No battle honours or hackles to tie them to their past. The unit would be kilted of course because we've covered that in a previous article. In fact would all units become highlanders: The Highland Engineers or the Highland Logistic Corps? Probably not, but maybe a tam o'shanter would replace a beret in the corps. Given some folk like to trumpet the famous Auld Alliance would we ditch or embrace the French headgear if we separate from the Auld Enemy?
Unlike the politicians and the media I am now tiring of this subject and I've barely scratched the surface. I've still not mentioned the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (or dare I say it the Scots Greys). I've not gone into detail about the numbers of ships or planes we'd have. What about a Scottish SAS, we'd need that I'm sure, and for heaven's sake what about the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo!
There are the bombing ranges at Garvie, Tain and Benbecula used by the Royal Navy, RAF and NATO. Would we share them or close them, or use them ourselves? Would that be a good thing or bad thing for Scotland as a whole and what would be the impact to the locals who may benefit from their presence or be delighted to see the back of them? Just starting a list like this has given me lots to think about. Maybe you too. Don't worry though, the papers and internet will be full of it for the next thirty months - Lucky us!