One of the most humorous myths peddled about Scottish independence is that it could not, and should not have a competent military structure. This week Lord Richard Dannatt even suggested that we would struggle to have recruits because it would be too ‘boring’ serving in a Scottish regiment. Presumably he was thinking of the fun enjoyed by Baba Moussa at British Army hands , or the recent case of soldiers in Kabul? Perhaps he was thinking of the collusion in the murder of the human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, or other exciting times in Ireland?
Whatever he was thinking of, it should be remembered that it’s not actually a prerequisite of a nation to be armed to the teeth. The stark geopolitical consequences of Scottish sovereignty are what motivates these myths and attacks.
The reality is that Scotland was exploited by the military during the Cold War and that situation remains. Cape Wrath is the only ship-to-shore bombardment range in Europe and since the United States Navy was forced to withdraw from a similar range in Puerto Rico in 2003, Cape Wrath can unwittingly claim to be the most important area for naval training in the world, or at least in the Northern Hemisphere. The range also contains the only place in Europe where aircraft can release live one thousand pound bombs. For a country as small as Scotland, it is staggering that it contains:
- All of Britain’s nuclear weapons at Coulport and the strategic nuclear submarine fleet at Faslane
- Britain’s biggest Tornado base at Lossiemouth
- The largest and most frequently used low flying area in Britain in the north west Highlands
- The only open air live depleted uranium weapons test range in Britain at Dundrennan
- Britain’s atom bomb store at Coulport in Scotland. Sixteen massive bunkers have been gouged out of the ridge overlooking Loch Long. This building can store more than 100 atom bombs in underground vaults behind airlock doors.
Just over 50 miles west of the range at Dundrennan, is the QinetiQ owned bombing range and weapons facility at West Freugh in Luce Bay. Activities that take place at the range include a number of bombing activities and short-range weapons trials including the testing of cluster bombs. Cluster bombs are a major armament of the RAF’s Tornado GR4 attack aircraft, 64 of which are based at RAF Lossiemouth, on the east coast of Scotland, making Lossiemouth the largest Tornado base in the UK. Cluster Bombs are munitions that on explosion hurl hundreds of pieces of metal fragments and shrapnel in all directions. Civilian casualties and injuries are a common occurrence when they are used. On the 22 March 2003 at least 50 Iraqi civilians in Basra were killed as a result of an aerial bombardment that included the use of cluster bombs.
Speaking in the referendum debate in the Scottish Parliament First Minister Alex Salmond said: “It is inconceivable that an independent nation of 5.25 million people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil.” But it is worth remembering that it is not just about Trident, it is about the de-militarisation of Scottish society and the long decontamination that will be needed. This process is likely to be a cultural, psychological one as well as a technical and ecological one. It is about raising new generations of young people with higher aspirations than to join the British Army.