Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party (SNP)’s defence spokesman, has heavily criticised the UK government’s commitment to protecting the Scottish shores and the North Sea. The SNP minister, speaking to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London, claimed that the Royal Navy was relying on fishing vessels and even social media reports to understand what was happening in northern waters while the bulk of the ocean going fleet remains in the south of England. He also heavily criticised the lack of a suitable replacement for the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft which for so many years had been at the forefront of protecting the northern waters of the UK.
“As we approach publication of the strategic defence and security review it should be acknowledged that the UK has not taken northern regional security seriously enough and this must change with the new [Strategic Defence & Security Review]…While all our northern regional neighbours make defence, security and stability in our region a key priority, the UK has not. The UK did not even mention the High North and Arctic in the last SDSR. This must change.”
During his speech he highlighted that while the UK government has concentrated on operations against extremism in the Middle East it has failed to recognise the threat closer to home. He also brought to attention what he called “increasing foreign military operations” (i.e Russian air and naval forces) close to the UK and how the current defence strategy isn’t working and that to remedy this a permanent maritime patrol base should be established on the Clyde and a dedicated Scottish airbase be established.
Mr Robertson’s speech has produced both support and criticism. On the one hand he continues to highlight shortcomings that the MoD has been trying to address since the previous SDSR in 2010 namely the lack of a new dedicated maritime patrol aircraft. However his comments about the MoD using fishing vessels and social media to gather intelligence is not as surprising as it might first appear as fisherman have long been a source of intelligence to the Royal Navy since the service was formed in 1707. Indeed many of the world’s navies communicate regularly with their country’s fishing crews to plug gaps in intelligence coverage since not even the largest navies have enough ships and aircraft to patrol everywhere at once.
With regards to his calls for new military bases in Scotland there are those that question whether the UK government should invest in such expensive undertakings given that Mr Robertson’s party remain committed to Scottish independence. The question the rest of the country is asking is “Why should the rest of the UK fund a massive military project that could end up as part of the military infrastructure of what will be a foreign country?” The answer then for Mr Robertson would be to have Scotland fund their own bases but if this were to happen it would only further alienate those Scottish voters who are undecided about independence and put them in to the SNP camp meaning Scotland would be more likely to go independent.
The issue of Scottish nationalism cannot be ignored and both London and Edinburgh will have to find some harmony in regards to defence expenditure and posture regarding Scotland. However many Scottish voters, traditionally Labour voters, feel that Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative government does not represent them but rather they’re own interests alone and unless that mood changes the feeling in Scotland will remain frustrated and angry.