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A case of ‘unfriendly fire’ from The Scotland Institute defence study experts


The Scotland Institute was set up a year ago by academic and businessman Azeem Ibrahim with the stated objective to support an intelligent debate on Scotland’s constitutional future by providing timely evidence and rigorous analysis of the issues in the debate on Scottish Independence.

It is certainly well staffed with Research Director Dr. Roger Cook, Director of Operations Clyn Gallagher, Development Officer Dr Christopher Cripps, three Legal Fellows and Research Fellow Dr Smon Smith who wrote the latest report. Azeem Ibraham is Executive Chairman. There is no indication of how it is funded other than it is open to donations. A Board of Advisors is planned but has not yet been announced.

The latest of three reports, Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland from is certainly a contribution to the debate, but the early released summary findings ahead of the launch on Monday suggested a lot of people have been consulted and invited to stare down a narrow tunnel.

The emphasis on the headline bullet points and tone of Dr. Ibrahim’s press release at the weekend could just have easily have come from Better Together, undermining the proposition that this was an unbiased study. Indeed this early material did something of a disservice to some aspects of the full report.

If anything is uncertain it is the future – and that applies to the present defence arrangements for the UK. The UK is currently downsizing its defence capabilities having conducted two versions of a strategic defence review in recent years. Service numbers are being cut, soldiers returning from duty are given their redundancy papers and George Osborne has just agreed cuts in the MOD civilian staff.

MOD projects are notoriously over budget. Specifications don’t match up – as in aircraft with aircraft carriers or submarines with the role of protecting Trident armed subs that do not have the capacity to travel at the same speed. Sending out troops to do what they are asked without the necessary equipment or protection is legend, all because the MOD’s stomach is bigger than its purse.

Relying on the past as an example does not provide confidence. The immediate future of UK defence capability is in turmoil. How it has been is not how it will be in the years ahead. The obvious proposition for those planning for the defence of an Independent Scotland is simply to argue that Scotland can do this better.

With clear strategic objectives combined with efficient procurement there is no reason an independent Scotland could not match resources with the requirements of Scotland’s Defence Force. The SNP have set out the range of roles expected of the SDF and also been clear about the type of operations they would not take part in.

Determining capacity to take part in a multi task force operation that a future Scottish Government thought was justifiable would be a matter of contributing at a level according to the resources available at that time. This is the case for every government engaged in these calculations and discussions at the time of such events.

The following are the summary points from the initial material released to the press with comments added-

  • An independent Scotland would have to develop its own fleet of ships and open a Ministry of Defence as well as a training academy. This would prove costly and there is no reason to believe it would make Scotland any safer.

This states the obvious. An independent country requires a Defence Ministry and training capacity. This statement does not imply Scotland would be any less safe – a point conceded at the launch in Edinburgh today. The naval complement Scotland would need would be comprised of the resulting split of UK assets, and in all probability, augmented by new purpose built ships.

  • The SNP’s intended defence spend would be able to deliver a notional Scottish Defence Force (SDF) – but its role would be limited and modest.

Like realistic. We would not have world domination in mind. The SNPs proposed £2.5bn spend is in line with defence spending in Scandinavian countries.

  • Scottish independence will lead to difficulties in recruitment and retention in an SDF.

A new Defence Force offers opportunity for the brightest and ablest to get in on the ground floor in establishing a Defence Force for a northern European country in the 21st century. That could be both challenging and exciting and no doubt a welcome break from the monolithic and ponderous MOD.

Recruitment objectives can be met by providing opportunity, skills development and training. Present problems in army recruitment are not helped by the UK’s down sizing operations shedding doubt on job security. A new defence force should be able to command assurance in that regard because it was being planned for the future.

  • A defence industry of some sort will probably survive in an independent Scotland, but it is unlikely to be near its current size. As such, jobs and economic growth are at stake.

The defence industry is international. BAE may be a British company, but it is global with operations in the US where it has more locations than in the UK. It has locations in Sweden, India, Israel, South Africa, Australia and more. It is already in Scotland and the proposition that Scotland would not be able to contribute research and expertise, especially in niche markets, is unrealistic. Defence equipment is complex and involves many companies in the delivery of projects. The inference the UK only buys ‘British’ is quite simply not true.

The defence industry internationally is currently going through consolidation and increasing capacity to meet civilian demands (e.g. oil supply vessels and civilian aircraft) in response to Western Governments cuts to defence budgets. We can expect increasing collaboration with the defence industry in Europe in the years ahead, despite the failure of the merger of BAE and EADS.

Collaborative procurement may have its challenges, but is undoubtedly set to increase. Such options would be available to the Scottish Government in addition to the SNP’s expressed interest in entering joint procurement with rUK.

Defence industry contraction is taking place everywhere. Hampshire based Chemring has recently reported a drop in profits and closed two locations. Its air and navy defence systems could to be in the frame for the protection of North Sea installations. Scotland is an open economy. We trade with the world and will have to buy from other countries. Scots are unlikely to view buying some defence equipment from an English based company as dealing with a foreign country. A different country yes, but the suggestion that we might not be considered an ally tells us something about the people we are supposed to have been with in the most successful union the world has ever seen, according to Better Together. In an extraordinary conclusion to his foreword to the Scotland Institute report Major General Andrew Douglas Mackay CBE, wrote ‘It is easy to argue – from the comfort of a nearly 300 year old union – that an independent Scotland would only require a small fighting force. It is not likely to be so comfortable after you have jettisoned your allies and you are on your own.’ (My emphasis)

Independence is likely to pose a risk to our defence contractors threatening thousands of jobs and billions of pounds in turnover.

A Scottish Defence Force is projected to spend more money in Scotland according to SNP plans. Current MOD spending in Scotland is below our contribution to the UK defence budget. Scotland’s strength is its ability to retain a defence industry through further developing university and research collaboration with our engineering base. Developing niche markets would be in line with Scotland’s present economic development strategies.

An independent Scotland would find it extremely difficult to set up an effective intelligence arm quickly and therefore find itself much more vulnerable to terrorist and cyber-attack.

This implies that there would no longer be cross border co-operation and collaboration which is unthinkable for serious minded people considering the growth of inter country travel and ever increasing inter-nation co-operation. Scotland has contributed to the considerable cost of the UK’s intelligence services and intelligence gathering operations. Intelligence sharing would be in our joint interest following independence.

NATO membership would need to be renegotiated which may prove difficult with the SNP’s commitment to remove trident.

This is not an out and out ‘NATO won’t have you’. The term renegotiation suggests we would be inside the tent talking terms. I get news releases from NATO every day. Today’s release is a report of a meeting with the NATO-Georgia Commission.
NATO talks to everybody. The panel at the Edinburgh event thought there would be serious difficulties in Scotland being accepted for membership. So Albania is welcome but Scotland, strategically placed in the North Atlantic, is more problematic.

How is that for strategic thinking?

More to come on the report detail and on some serious omissions.

Comments (42)

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  1. Spout says:

    Azeem Ibrahim is a right-wing Unionist.

    I remember reading about this ‘Scotland Institute’ when it was initially aired. My feeling at the time based on previous articles by Mr Ibrahim was that it was an ‘academic’/’think tank’ front to place biased articles in the mainstream media with some borrowed gravitas, in the run up to the referendum.

    This has indeed started to happen.

    Questions regarding funding are indeed appropriate.

    Anyone should be very wary of taking any pronouncements from “The Scotland institute” at face value – dig deeper & be skeptical.

    1. R Richards says:

      I am sure I read that the think tank is funded entirely by its founder. I am also sure that their previous reports blamed Westminster for increased poverty in Scotland. So not sure if it is Unionist as you claim.

      1. Spout says:

        Do not be so naive.

        “So what’s my problem with Azeem Ibrahim and his Scotland Institute?”


    2. BraverHeart says:

      Everyone of these allegations against the report are rebutted in this piece by the reports author:


      1. Spout says:

        I’m afraid they are not.

        It is a shame that such an ‘esteemed’ propaganda unit must lower itself to sock-puppetry:


  2. George Gunn says:

    What Westminster wants Scotland for is for it to be a place for military exercises in our “unspoiled wilderness” of the Highlands where they can fire off their various weapons at bits of rock such as they do regularly off Cape Wrath. They also like to site their various missile systems in such places as the Clyde and the Western Isles and HMS Vulcan next to Dounreay where now the MOD are going to patrol the roads west of Thurso. Oh aye, and squaddies for their pointless and bloody wars. What Scotland needs to do is to set up an international commission to discuss what this new country actually needs militarily, if in fact it needs any of that ilk at all. Maybe we need a new beginning with all the old war mongery consigned to the past in which Westminster still lives.

  3. It struck me when I first heard of the setting up of “The Scotland Institute” that this appears to be a vanity project by Mr Ibrahim, set up to further his aims of personal aggrandisement while showing his support for the union and Brit establishment.

  4. I also wonder if I’m the only person who finds the name a bit pretentious?

    1. R Richards says:

      Yes. I think you are the only one. It is a great name.

      1. Spout says:

        Do you have any association with Azeem Ibrahim?

      2. Obviously I’m not, going by the comments below and, just like Spout, I wonder if you have any association with Mr Ibrahim?

    2. pmcrek says:

      I’d certainly agree its a bit pretentious

  5. pmcrek says:

    Newsnet had an article pointing out a host of unionists including Darling spoke at the launch of the think tank. I would be surprised also if many of the members actually live in Scotland.

  6. Graham Ennis says:

    OK: Some ruthless comments.
    1:Scotlan does not need an Army. It needs a National Guard on the Swiss model, with reservist volunteers, and a core full time force of about 5000 troops, backed up by reserves from the Swiss type arrangement. It does not need heavy armour, just armoured cars, troop carriers, etc…..and good anti-tank weapons. It does need an Air Corps, full time, with light aircraft, small attack helicopters, (not many) and it’s primary task is civil defence, emergency aid, and international peace-keeping.

    2:Scotland does not need a Navy. It needs a Coast-guard, with fast patrol boats and a small squadron of general purpose small ships. Plus rescue helicopters. It’s primary task is economic zone security, fisheries protection, and search and rescue.

    3:Scotland does not need an Air Force. It needs an Air Corps, (small) with some transport aircraft, a squadron of interceptors/patrol aircraft, for support of the Coast Guard, some VIP jets for the Government,and a limited missile defence system as a deterrent, (These are cheap these days). The model is the Irish Air-Corps. Total full time forces, about 10,000 people. Total reserves, about 50,000.(Like UK territorials.) Nothing else needed. Since Scotland will not be invading other countries, and stealing their oil, it does not need huge forces.

    Bluntly, the main danger is the remaining UK, as it slides into economic collapse and gets ever nastier right wing governments. A set of border strong points, asymmetric warfare, and a fall back emergency plan to arm the general population and initiate mass irregular warfare in the event of an invasion, would be a powerful deterrent if this happened.

    This think tank is using an outdated set of retired military officers, who do not get it at all. Vietnamese General Giap’s concept of “People’s War has been proven to work. The Afghans are using it. America is withdrawing. They were forced to withdraw from Vietnam. Enough said. Anybody want to critique my analysis?………

    1. R Richards says:

      What you imply is not what is being offered by the SNP post independence. They clearly have ambitions to create a force which is smaller model of the UK military (NATO, EU, UN global missions).

      1. Spout says:

        Do you have any association with Azeem Ibrahim?

      2. pmcrek says:

        FYI SNP havent won the 2016 election yet.

    2. BraverHeart says:

      Here the author destroys all the cybernats claims agains the report using clear facts, numbers and references to SNP papers themselves:

      Would love to see the indy fanatics address these:


      1. Spout says:

        Sock Puppet
        ” The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a third party or organization”

    3. Dennis Revell says:


      Absolutely correct in every particular.

      The fact that, VERY sadly, it does not match up with ideas the SNP has, is irrelevant to the accuracy of the points you make.

      Let’s remember, Nicola, who I once thought had sunbeams issuing from her derriere, astonishingly endorsed ALREADY War-Criminal and Mass-Murderer Hillary Clinton for US President – and even ore astonishingly just ONE day before that result would be known.

      Don’t get me wrong, one way or another, but MAINLY via Democratic Party corruption, the Americans were presented with a choice between two catastrophes – so whichever way that election went was bound to result in catastrophe. At least Trump had the ‘decency’ to wait and achieve office before turning into the customary Mass-Murdering War-Criminal – the remarkable thing about Clinton, had she won, would not have been as the first woman president – but the first president who was ALREADY a War-Criminal before walking into the Oval Office for the first time.


  7. James Coleman says:

    The Scotland Institute? a Unionist ‘think tank’ which like all of them is an oxymoron. They don’t think. They just produce Unionist bullshit dressed up to look like serious analysis. The excerpts given above show that the report is an irrelevant fear bomb produced by irrelevant people.

  8. R Richards says:

    Their last report supported more power to Scotland to tackle social exclusion and blamed Westminster for increased poverty.

    Maybe if you spent time reading them rather than being an internet troll you would have a better understanding.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Not sure who this is aimed at?

    2. Spout says:

      Do you have any association with Azeem Ibrahim?

    3. pmcrek says:

      FYI more powers within the union is a unionist argument.

      1. ermmm.. no it isn’t.. their argument is to set up a commission to look at proposals that might or might not be added to their next election manifesto and then if their particular party gets elected will probably be treated like every other manifesto proposaland quietly dumped in the bin…

  9. BraveHearted says:

    I am a firm supporter of Independence and the report does raise lots of serious holes in the SNP defence policy. I disagree wholeheartedly with the SNPs policy to join NATO and participate in global missions. I resigned my membership of the SNP over this.

    We need a national guard service for homeland security and nothing more so we can focus on our own citizens and the social problems we have.

    I certainly hope the SNP will change its stance because as it stands their policy is trying to be everything to everyone and simply does not add up.

    1. RedGordon says:

      I completely agree. The report is a devastating indictment of SNP defence plans which are in effect just a continuation of Westminster imperialism. Many Indy supporters believe the SNP plan a pacifist posture which is simply not the case. The SNP say one thing in public but read the small print in their white papers and resolutions and a different picture emerges. I am a Green supporter and have waited for this referendum most of my adult life and believe the SNP and making a mess of it with their half baked ideas. I have read the report cover to cover and welcome Dr Ibrahim’s clinical analysis and ability to expose the SNP plans for what they are – hypocrisy of the worst kind.

    2. pmcrek says:

      I certaintly agree however remember the SNP’s defence policy is only the SNP’s defence policy. It only becomes the defence policy of an independent Scotland if the SNP win a majority in 2016 with that policy in a democratically elected manifesto.

      1. HunterGG says:

        I disagree. If we win the referendum (fingers crossed), the SNP will immediately initiate NATO & EU negotiations without any further consultation with the Scottish people. Both these organisations demand members to be net contributors which means Scotland will have an obligation to participate in NATO operations around the globe and EU operations like those in Africa with the French. In fact this is official SNP policy.

        We must support the YES campaign but also hold the SNP to account. Far too many of us are apologist for the SNP and what are clearly poorly thought out policies. We are blinded by the YES campaign whilst the SNP make a dogs dinner out of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

      2. pmcrek says:


        Post indy we wont be applying to NATO though we’ll still be in it and have to renogotiate the terms and participate in good faith, thats not exactly the SNPs fault, they didnt sign the treaty. What Indy gives us is the ability to actually change that by voting Green or SSP or if you are in the SNP/Labour or Lib Dems, campaign to have your respective party adopt withdrawal.

    3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      Nato, the monarchy, Bank of England…..the nats really must stop soft pedalling on these. We expect change after indie not a cosying up to the old and discredited dispensation. A new world order is taking shape we need to be part of it.

    4. Dennis Revell says:


      NATO is nothing more than a Western War-Mongering institution, that should have disappeared at the same time the Warsaw Pact did.

  10. David McCann says:

    The Royal United Services Institute, a body not known for their pro-independence stance has stated in a press briefing that Scotland would actually be better off independent to the tune of £ 1.5 Billion. They state that “The overall cost of defending an independent Scotland has been estimated to be around £1.8 billion per annum, approximately 1.3 per cent of Scotland’s GDP, and around £1.5 billion less than the costs currently paid by Scottish taxpayers as their contribution to the defence of the UK” So what would Scotland get for its reduced bucks for bangs (couldnt resist that). According to RUSI it would be :
    “Scottish Navy: surface fleet of between twenty and twenty-five ships including Type 23-class frigates and Mine Counter Measure vessels. No submarines. Approximately 1,500-2,000 personnel. Based at Faslane and a reinstated Rosyth. Cost £650 million per annum.

    Scottish Air Force: around sixty aircraft including BAE Hawk (notably operated by the ‘Red Arrows’), C-130 Hercules, Chinook and Sea King helicopters. No Typhoons or Tornados. 1,750-2,250 personnel organised into six operational squadrons. Based at Lossiemouth and either reviving Leuchars, or converting civilian airports to dual purpose military bases. Cost £370 million per annum.

    Scottish Army: 10,000-12,500 personnel, dependent on detailed organisation. Including a brigade-sized force, three combat battalions plus supporting arms, allowing it to deploy and sustain itself in a combat zone. Additional troops for internal duties, plus back-up for deployed regular troops, might be provided by a Territorial Army brigade, comprising three battalions plus supporting arms. Special Forces seventy-five-plus strong. Restoration of some of the traditional Scottish regiments which were disbanded in 2004. Cost £820 million per annum.


  11. Barontorc says:

    Seems to be a lot of new names commenting on this. Is this a subject of specific interest to them, why are we now blessed with their opinions?

    Why don’t people realise there is only one ‘think tank’ going to effect policies in an independent Scotland – the Scottish Gov and that will be formed by whichever party is elected by the people, not from crackpots with big dubious funds from God knows where.

    This increase in ‘advice’ from all these ‘interested parties’ must be closely related to the growing acceptance/certainty of oncoming independence. Puts the charade of opposition for opposition’s sake well in its proper place.

    I look forward to the day when these think tankers will be commenting on the implementation of policy designed for Scotland; an unfettered independent Scotland standing alone in a community of friends. Of course, with their gas then all reduced to a peep, nothing much will then be getting said.

  12. James Coleman says:

    “… Seems to be a lot of new names commenting on this…”

    And they all seem to be pretendy YES supporters. Also, among them seems to be our old friend Norse Warrior in a (another new) disguise. And one of them who is clearly trolling has the audacity to call a regular on this site a troll because they presumably disagree with it.

  13. Ken MacColl says:

    I note that in the recently announced shuffle of Johann Lamont’s Shadow Scottish Cabinet she will now have as shadow to the Financial Secretary, John Swinney, somebody who will know the price of a submarine.

  14. Dominic says:

    There is some naivety among journalists about how ‘think tanks’ like this work, and some of this naivety is in this article. Think tanks have been in use in high-level US and UK politics for decades now. Their purpose is to grab the attention of journalists and occupy headlines in the services of their economic and political backers,, create credible stories to this effect. They are so widespread in the US that the public there has almost lost all trust in ‘experts’, since corporate journalists normally cite people from think tanks rather than actual independent academics when turning for ‘expertise’. One of the first things A Darling did in Better Together was put his weight behind this think tank (in fact it was he, not Azeem Ibraham, who launched it as far as the media were concerned). He is a savy operator who knows well enough that it’s one of the main ways of fighting propaganda wars in modern politics. You can be sure this is unincorporated extension of Better Together. You will find it will release largely negative ‘reports’ in time to occupy the headlines of Sundays and Mondays that won’t overlap with other sources of such headlines, like government papers or prominent speeches.

  15. Craig P says:

    Graham Ennis. I agree about the concept of national service in Scotland, on a Swiss model. Admittedly Scotland is not surrounded on all sides by large countries against whom constant vigilance must be maintained (or at least it needed to be in the pre-EU past), but an armed citizenry trained in guerrilla warfare is an excellent deterrent to a larger force invading. Of course this creates potential new issues, thousands of neds with access to automatic weapons or armed bands of citizens thinking they can overthrow the government….

  16. pfburke says:

    @ BraveHearted, Yer dead right pal! We’ve fought enough of England’s wars for them and had nae need o’ oany o’ them. A we need is a coastal protection navy, nowt mair…and a lot less polis! They’re just the English state’s oppressive force. Work wi them indeed!

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