Thursday 1 May 2014

Scotland's Vote 4: Beware the Cataclysm

The Scottish independence referendum is a decision of the utmost importance. It deserves serious and sober discussion from both sides. Instead, more often than not, we are given complete and utter bilge.

The Yes side is far from blameless, but this particular offender is from the No campaign.

A Cataclysm to Delight the Forces of Darkness

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen was the UK's defence secretary from 1997-99, and Secretary-General of NATO from 1999-2004. As shadow Scottish secretary in the 1990s and a Scottish Labour MP from 1978-99, he is a veteran of Scottish politics. One might expect him to be a person of substance when it comes to defence policy in Scotland.

Then again, Robertson is the man who predicted devolution would "kill Scottish nationalism stone dead." His latest contribution is unlikely to restore his credibility.

On 8 April Robertson gave a gave a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, in which he declared Scotland leaving the UK would have "cataclysmic" strategic consequences:

The loudest cheers for the break-up of Britain would be from our adversaries and from our enemies. For the second military power in the west to shatter this year would be cataclysmic in geo-political terms ... the forces of darkness would simply love it. [Emphasis mine]
The Brookings Institute is a serious think tank. I expect there were a few raised eyebrows at this sort of language.

Sauron supports Scottish independence for his own evil reasons.
Image source: LOTR wiki

If we take his remarks at face value, Robertson imagines a very strange conversation among the forces of evil:



EVIL WARLORD: If only we could put our evil plan into effect. NATO is just too strong. [Sighs] Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it.
EVIL MINION enters in a state of excitement.
MINION: Important news, sir! Scotland has declared independence! They have abandoned their warrior tradition, and NATO has kicked them out in disgust.
WARLORD: Excellent! They are weak now. Weak, I tell you! At last we can strike! Without Scotland, NATO will be helpless to stop us!
MINION: Sir, I have a question.
WARLORD: Yes, what is it?
MINION: Aren't you worried about the rest of NATO?
WARLORD: Not in the slightest.
MINION: Really? They still look sort of dangerous to me. Especially the Americans.
WARLORD: Don't ask questions, just get to work.


As an evil warlord (or a former British defence secretary) should know, the UK defence budget was US$57.5 billion in 2012. Scotland's GDP is about 10% of the UK total, so it contributes $6bn to the British armed forces pro rata. As it happens, the SNP wishes to remain in NATO, but this may be contingent on allowing the UK's Trident submarines to continue being based in Scotland. In the most drastic scenario, we could imagine Scotland becoming a neutral country like Ireland or Sweden.

According to the official newspaper of the US Army, after planned cuts to the Pentagon's budget, total defence spending by NATO will equal $1,020 billion each year. The Scottish share is 0.6%. That is not a cataclysm, it is a rounding error.

Furthermore, NATO defence spending is 70% of the global total. It outspends the rest of the world combined by more than two to one. In fact its advantage is even more lopsided, because "the rest of the world" includes allies such as Australia, South Korea and Japan. In sheer numbers it has an advantage as well; NATO has 3.37 million people in its armed services, which is more than China (2.3 million) and Russia (0.8 million) combined.

This isn't 1941. It isn't even 1961. What, specifically, is this military threat Lord Robertson thinks NATO will be called upon to fight? Why would it be unable to fight them without Scotland?

Only a Scotsman can fight the forces of evil.
Unfortunately, the character on the left is Egyptian.
Image source: Total Film

Lord Robertson decoded

Along with France and the USA, the UK is one of the few Western countries both willing and able to attack places far from its own shores. (As we all know, the target regions are usually poor, dusty and inhabited by dark-skinned Muslims.) I suspect Robertson actually means this: Scottish independence would diminish the ability of the UK to make war in distant parts of the world.

Personally, I think the UK's wars since 2001 range from questionable to disastrous; but that is beside the point. If Robertson thinks Scotland has some sort of duty to help bomb places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, he is free to say so.

Of course, Robertson will never state his beliefs so plainly. Like a true New Labour politician, he lacks the courage to stand up and defend his convictions. He is well aware that military interventions overseas are not popular in the UK as a whole and even less so in Scotland. Instead, he has issued this rather deranged warning. Even by the low standards of modern politics, this insults the intelligence of its audience.

It is not too late for Robertson to stand up for what he believes in. If he really is serious about strength through unity, he should call for additional steps to integrate the UK with the USA.

Perhaps full political union is in order. The UK could give up its independence for the safety of full protection from a stronger military power. To reflect its change in status, the United Kingdom could be renamed Airstrip One.

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