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Scotland and the Armed Forces

Totally Gallus Events and Independence Live are holding a virtual conference this Saturday (details here). The event asks:

How will an independent Scotland fulfill its role within the international community and what role will the armed services play in an independent Scotland?

The In Defence of Scotland Virtual Conference will, for the first time, bring together all of the major stakeholders to discuss the armed services in an independent Scotland. As well as looking at the role of the armed services the event will have a major focus on the treatment of veterans.

Ahead of the conference we have been contacted with letter from a serving soldier who wants to remain anonymous. We publish it here in full with edits only to ensure anonymity.

“Below are the points which I believe need to be answered in order for the Armed Forces Community to come along in support of an Independent Scotland.

I would love to be able to take part in the debate but unfortunately as I am still serving this is forbidden. Rest assured however there are many of us who are serving are 100% behind the indy cause no matter what guise it will take. However we must take everyone with us in the AF community to ensure an Indy Military is a complete success.

These comments are from a serving point of view from a family with [x] generations of service across the Army and RAF. With two generations still serving, all of whom support independence. This is also coming from an individual who has close ties to the Veterans Community who has experience in dealing with the welfare and benevolence of soldiers and veterans.

In the last year I have seen many of the senior officer cohort start to come round to the idea of independence, this is partly down to the excellent leadership shown by Nicola Sturgeon. This is an interesting issue, if you win this cohort over the debate within the other ranks will be more focused on independence and less of a taboo subject.


Most of the focus on Defence in and Independent Scotland has focused on the Strategic level.

This is hugely important but there must be a parallel focus on the Operational level where your serving and veterans will focus.

This will be crucial in ensuring the Armed Forces (AF) community (Veterans, Serving Regular and Reservist and their families) support the independence movement.

They have to believe the Armed Forces in an Independent Scotland will be a hugely attractive proposition, if you don’t get this right there will be no soldiers, sailors or airmen to man an Indy Scotland Armed Services.

Point 1 – Pensions

This is the no one question amongst veterans, Will my pension be safe in an independent Scotland? This question must be answered beyond any doubt, if pensions are at any threat you will struggle hugely to gain support within the Veterans Community. For the serving, will current pension contributions be maintained and will they transfer directly across to the Indy AF pension.

What will this pension look like? If this can be an improvement on what is currently on offer to serving personnel, this will go a long way in gaining support from the serving and veterans.

Point 2 – Pay and Allowances

For the serving will the current levels of pay and allowances be maintained? Any reduction in these will very quickly see support for Indy disappear within the AF community. These must be matched, they don’t have to be exceeded.

Point 3 – The OFFER

What is the offer going to be, how are you going to attract me from my current offer to move across to an Indy AF?

rUK will go out of their way to attract personnel to remain in the rUK AF.

You will very soon see the infantry go to a whole army recruitment model.

Recruits who turn up at the Infantry Training Centre will be allocated to any battalion which needs them.

No longer will soldiers from across Scotland be automatically allocated to a Scottish Battalion.

This will also happen to recruits from the other home nations, this will see a huge dilution across Scottish battalions.

This will make it harder to prize personnel from their battalions into an Indy Armed Forces. Included in the OFFER must be the role, which has to be exciting, offer overseas opportunities including the opportunity to deploy on operations.

If this is not included in the OFFER the troops will go elsewhere.

The OFFER must encompass the full package, pay and allowances, pensions, role, recruiting and training and opportunities. If an Indy Scotland does not get this right it will never get the AF off the ground.

Point 4 – Recruiting and Training

How will this be physically delivered?

Currently recruiting is outsourced. Will an Indy Scot Gov do the same? This has to be up and running from day one, it must be a slick process which ensures the right people are recruited, and all the H&S responsibilities are met.

Where will basic training be delivered? In and Indy Scotland you must have a recruit training deport, you must consider this set up, will it be multi cap badge catering for different cores in one location.

You must also consider each service will need their own recruit training location.

You must also consider the instructors who will deliver training,

How and where will Officer training be delivered, will potential Officers continue to go to Sandhurst or will the Indy Scotland have its own officer academy?

Career Courses, where and how will these be delivered?

Is there liaison with the rUK to continue to use the locations for training JNCOs and SNCOs training or will separate schools be set up in Scotland.

Point 5 – Armed Forces Covenant

A huge amount of great work has been done in Scotland in the delivery of the Covenant in Local Authority areas.

The Veterans Commissioner has been a huge asset in the support of the Veterans cause, but more still needs to be done.

There must be a whole Scotland approach to the delivery of the Covenant, which MUST be enshrined in law.

This must go have in hand with the support to our regular and reservist personnel especially when it comes to employer engagement and support.

Tied into this is the wider support for serving and veterans when it comes to medical support, including mental health services.

This has to be tied down with the messaging to the Armed Forces community and wider civilian community clear and concise. The Covenant is about fair treatment not preferential treatment.

How will we look after our sick and wounded, we do not have a military hospital in Scotland, will there be one set up meeting the needs of wounded personnel or will this become part of routine NHS business?

This must include recovery and rehabilitation services.

I would suggest an idea may be to follow the Queen Elizabeth Hospital model where a specific hospital is set up with an Armed Forces wing to deal with those injured on and off operations.

If the messaging on the Covenant is right and it is enshrined in law you will go a long way in gaining support for an Indy Scotland.

You need to strive for a cradle to grave message, if you join the Indy Scotland AF you will be looked after in your through life journey.

Point 6 – Third Sector

What will the support from the 3rd Sector look like?

We have many great charities out there looking out for the AF community but many are tied to a whole UK organisation.

Will these organisation diverge to separate organisations or will we set up new charity organisations to support the Armed Forces Community?

Will an Indy Scotland get a share of benevolence funds from these organisations to set up in Scotland?

Point 7 – Sense of Belonging

An Indy Scotland the Armed Forces must have a sense of belonging from day one. If you generate this and ensure it is a people focused organisation you will have happy, enthusiastic people who will be proud to serve.

The British Army try to generate this and talk about a people’s focused Army, they fall well short of delivering on this.

It will be up to the Politicians, Officers and CoC to deliver the initial pitch it will then be down to all serving personnel to make the Indy AF a military which people will be proud to serve in.


The points listed above are not exhaustive but focus on what I believe if answered the Armed Forces Community would be more likely to support an Independent Scotland.

Independence will be complicated but many areas can be untangled and answered.

Defence is a huge weak point in the Indy debate, you have to be able to answer not only the strategic questions but the operational questions.

Do not assume that personnel serving will automatically transfer to and Indy Scotland AF, you have to nail the argument. You have to offer that through life journey and support, create that sense of belonging, nail the OFFER while maintaining their pay, allowances and pensions.

You do this and you will get the support you need to set up.

You will then have an Armed Forces that is an attractive career prospect for our young people and is an organisation which is capable of delivering on and off operations.

Comments (33)

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  1. Colin Robinson says:

    ‘…100% behind the indy cause no matter what guise it will take.’

    Aye, see, there’s your problem right there.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      And what is that problem as you perceive it?

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        It’s problematic that someone who wants independence to be Scotland’s future state is so careless of what the nature of that state will be: ‘independence in any guise’.

        It’s the same problematic that attaches to those who say that once we get independence we’ll then be able to decide its constitution etc. and that all such decisions can be deferred. The problem is that independence – Scotland’s future state – will be constituted not after the fact, but in and through the process by which we become that future state.

        At the moment, the Scottish government is preparing for independence. It’s shaping the constitution of our future independent state by developing the institutions through which our public affairs will be conducted and power will be exercised. By the time we get independence, the constitution of that independence will be a done deal.

        Anyone who thinks that ‘independence in any guise’ can be a springboard to change is deluding themself. Our independence has to be that change itself.

    2. Well aye maybe but its a fair account of a problem as he sees it.

  2. Lordmac says:

    A Scottish regiment ,would their be a need to go to war, only as a NATO regiment, or part of a war effort if needed ,or could we. Not have. A swiss type of deal.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      If the Scottish government would need a standing army only in order to fulfil the international obligations it undertook, then why have a standing army at all?

    2. Colin Robinson says:

      I presume by ‘a swiss type of deal’ you mean a militia system.

      1. Lordmac says:

        If we had to have armed forces, we would have to have a dual use of these men and women either in construction working or such building railroads or forestry work as for our defences we would not be able to compete. with a force of about 70,000 personal and more. Chiefs than Indians , it would be hard to justify just having a army on walk about

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          The fact remains that a standing army – a separate group of armed people, under the control of government as part of its monopoly on violence – is a socially dangerous institution. A standing army also removes from the economy for coercive purposes hundreds of thousands of people who could otherwise be producing socially useful goods.

          To limit the coercive power of government over our lives, part of our independence – Scotland’s future state – should comprise not a standing army, but semi-regular formations of armed citizens who periodically complete a term of training in order to maintain their readiness to defend their communities; militias, in other words, the members of which maintain their readiness to defend their communities from external threat as a civic duty rather than as government mercenaries or hirelings.

          The Swiss model provides a good example of such a militia system. Only about 5% of the Swiss defence forces are regular soldiers; the remaining 95% are regular citizens. Most of their officers are also regular citizens who may be called upon in times of need; ordinarily, they too live, like your average Swiss squaddie, as tinkers, tailors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, shopkeepers, mechanics, beggars, and thieves.

          Every Swiss citizen from 20 to 50 years of age is liable to be called upon to fulfil the civic duty of community defence. At the age of 20, every citizen completes 120 days of basic training, after which they enter the primary reserve, where they undertake eight further terms of training over the next 12 years. At the age of 32, they transfer to the secondary reserve, and at the age of 43 to the tertiary reserve, where they remain in readiness until they reach 50, whereupon they’re no longer liable to undertake this particular civic duty. On average, over the 30 years of their liability, every Swiss citizen can expect to undertake a cumulative total of one year’s militia duty.

          Citizens don’t lose their jobs or salaries while serving in the militia. Companies subsidise militia training of their employees by continuing to pay them while they’re undertaking that training. This ensures that the country’s armed forces remain largely in the pay of the communities they represent rather than in the pay of the government.

          What’s the Scottish government planning for us in its ongoing constitution of our independence? Who knows? Who cares what guise our independence takes, as long as its independence?

  3. Graham Ennis says:

    But the road to Indy is not going to be a smooth one. in Ireland, when they left the empire, there were huge problems, not to mention a civil war set up and financed from London. I think the best solution is the Swiss/Swedish model. It has worked very well.
    Combine that with a careful trimming and structuring of the forces, who will probably be on international peace keeping a lot of the time, and a strong militia of volunteer adults, who will be available for emergencies, is a good starting point. Transfer with full rank and pay and pension will be needed. Also, there might be a difficult situation like that in Ireland in 1921, The country was deliberately destabilized, and nearly collapsed. Also, I doubt that relations between Alba and London will be all warm and cuddly at the start. The situation might end up like that in Algeria, after the French were forced to the negotiating table, after a long and bitter war. I fear the worst. There is also the issue of the border, internal security, and much else. comments please

    1. Jacqueline Jensen says:

      We have a significant bargaining position in the Trident defence subs that are based in Scotland. rUK don’t have a deep water port able to meet the conditions required. Although we aim for a nuclear free Scotland, negotiating a transition period could prevent destabilisation of an independent Scotland’s economy. I’m a republican, however there will be some benefit in the plan to retain the monarchy after Indy (for a period) they could prevent west ministers worse excesses
      As they say, you’ve got to play the game in front of you, not the one you want

  4. SleepingDog says:

    Well, anybody looking back with pride on generations serving in the British armed forces is reflecting on a period of militant imperialism replete with war crimes and crimes against humanity. Not only that, but Cold War MADness. Besides, British military institutions are redolent of the fever-dreams of a gay theme-park designer. Out with the lot of them. It used to be the case that standing armies were associated with tyranny. Certainly they are anti-democratic and in the British case extremely and damagingly hierarchical and stratified. Plus of course their loyalty has been to the Queen. The MoD is a cesspit of lies, incompetence and criminality. And here we have our mercenary-minded forces trying the velvet glove to keep their privileges. No, an independent Scotland will have no need of a standing army, or military bases and patrols around the world. Get rid of the lot of them, nuclear weapons and all, and institute a civil militia for local defence if there is a perceived need. Cyberthreats can be handled by civilian services, terrorism by the police.

    The Queen as head of British Imperial armed forces is also responsible for covering up their crimes and blocking justice for their victims. Here is a taste: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batang_Kali_massacre
    As for pensions, I have no objection to maintaining current arrangements, subject to reasonable conditions being applied.

  5. James Mills says:

    It seems to me reading this list of ‘demands’ that the writer is seeking a return to the Crown’s Shilling ! Never mind what I can do for my country – how much will my country pay me ! Mercenary springs to mind
    His loyalty appears to reside in his wallet – but I would hope that others are not so selfish .

    I look at the way the British have treated so many veterans of the recent illegal wars ( were they happy fighting these ?) and their subsequent lack of support after , especially those with mental/physical concerns . Does this treatment inspire loyalty ? Does the writer want reciprocity in an Independent Scottish Armed Forces ? That is a very low bar indeed !

  6. Derek McDonald says:

    All valid points by the serving AF commentator. Other significant questions for me are:
    1. What will be the role for the Scottish Forces. We do not need to be “expeditionary” like the UK. We should focus on home defence and support for overseas aid where needed. Rather like Eire.
    2. Will we need separate forces? I think a Defence Force incorporating all specialisms would be more suitable, effective and economic.
    3. Facilities. We have fit for purpose facilities all over the country already. These should be retained and reused. This will ensure that local communities dependent on them for employment can be confident in their economic future as well.


  7. Dougie Raine says:

    Very interesting. Potentially very important. No surprise about the worry over pensions. That worry applies to others outwith the armed forces. How many of you remember the excuse frequently trotted out by folk of a certain age in 2014: “Ah’m votin Naw cause o ma penshun”

    Assurances must be made to people concerning their future pensions. These assurances must be made loudly and frequently, well before indyref2.

    The current SNP leadership and its lackadaisical attitude towards independence continues to worry me.

  8. Susan L. Kemp says:

    A very good piece which should inform those who are (hopefully) progressing this preparation right now within the SNP and other pro indy parties. It would be useful to know the author’s view on whether UKGOV moves to reduce the size of the British Army are a factor in changing attitudes and also whether there are similar levels support for indy across the three services.

  9. Janet Bungener says:

    Clear and thorough advice and analysis. Thank you. I can’t attend the event today but very much it is going to be recorded.

  10. John Hedges says:

    What would an independent Scotland require a standing army for? Protecting its territory from an invasion by aggressive neighbours when the only immediate neighbour is England? (I think the Welsh would be fairly agreeable or at least ambivalent to Scottish independence.)

    What would be the raison d’etre of a standing military force?

    That is surely the starting point.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Precisely, John. I see no reason why we’d need one and several good reasons why we should resist having one.

  11. The problem I have with some (most) of this is it doesn’t take us very far.

    It’s a great insight into what one section of the population might want as an indy offer but it doesn’t seem very generous or imaginative. It’s certainly food for thought and I like the detail. I suspect we need the same across every ‘sector’ or demographic.

    But this approach has its flaws, it’s like saying “tell us all the things you require and we’ll make them happen and then you’ll vote for independence.”

    In this instance the ask or ‘demand’ is mostly “I want nothing to change”, “I want everything to be the same: my money my life my prospects, everything is to be exactly the same”.

    If you were to do that across the country you ould maybe persuade key groups, but you would have changed nothing. That’s kind of. missing the point entirely isnt it?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      But ain’t that the thing, Mike; to sell independence, you have to tell people a) what it is, b) why they should buy it, and c) why they should buy it from you? If your market is ‘Middle Scotland’, the majority of people, of middling aspiration and for whom life is okay, then your sales pitch will have to be conservative if you’re not to scare those customers/voters away.

      Insofar as Middle Scotland has a vision of independence, it’s of a future state which isn’t too different from the current state of res publica. Which in turn is why the SNPs social policies aren’t that radically different from those of the social democrats (Labour) and the liberals (Conservatives) from whom they’ve acquired market share in the form of the middle ground (the democratic majority) of Scottish politics.

      Alienate the conservative vote by promising radical change, then you won’t get independence. Base the future state of an independent Scotland on what people want, then you’ll get an independent Scotland that isn’t very much different from the current state.

      1. I think that’s a rather desultory description that assumes that change never happens. And we know that’s not true.

        I don’t know that ‘my’ market is really Middle Scotland, although there is widespread and deep support for those that are comfortably off but find the Brexit experience and Johnson’s government to be repellent. This isn’t a fleeting thing.

        Second you write: “Alienate the conservative vote by promising radical change, then you won’t get independence”. I dont think anyone is really wooing the Conservative vote in Scotland. They are reduced to a minority rump who want anything but to love in a country that can elect its government. It’s extraordinary but true. These people are largely in their 60s 70s and 80s and are unlkey to change their views. If you look at the demographics that are pro indy it is HUGE in people below 60.

        Finally we face enormous unprecedented challenges of climate crisis, people displaced by war and the ongoing covid crisis. The idea that the response to all of these is just to shrug your shoulders and assume everything will just bumble along as if none of it exists is … a bit odd.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          Things change all the time, Mike; life evolves, driven not by idealism but by the material conditions under which it produces itself. When I look back, it’s astounding just how much and how profoundly society has changed over my lifetime.

          And I was referring to the ‘I want nothing to change’ conservatism of which you complained rather than the Conservative vote.

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            That said, the apocalyptic claim that we face loads of existential dangers, and that we won’t survive those dangers unless we leave the UK, might work as a sales pitch in the millennial culture of hyper-anxiety we’ve cultivated.

          2. There’s a lot of “I don’t want anything to change” conservatism about – and it’s not confined to the Conservatives, in fact its rife in the nationalist movement. But I note you don’t respond to the voter demographic realities, and the uncomfortable reality is that we started pre 2014 on something like 35% and are now at an impasse of 50/50 before any campaign starts.

            I do like the idea of dismissing the very real crisis we face as the result of the “millennial culture of hyper-anxiety we’ve cultivated”.

            Would you like to expand on why the threats I reference are just about the “millennial culture of hyper-anxiety” – I’d really like to hear that.

      2. But I do agree that you need to “tell people a) what it is, b) why they should buy it, and c) why they should buy it from you?”

        I don’t think its necessarily a particularly “radical” idea any more.

        Basically the vision is “Do you want to live in a country where you can elect the government?”. Some people don’t want to, for a variety of complex cultural and psychological reasons.

        Going back to the anonymous posters argument – I think the idea that the needs and wants of an indy Scotland in defence terms would be significantly different from those of Britain.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          But we already live in a country in which we collectively elect our governments at local, national, and UK levels, using a variety of different voting systems. So, nothing will change with independence there, then? Mair conservatism?

          1. No we live in a country where it makes no difference if we elect 47 MPs out of 59 (twelve up from the 2017 election). We could elect 59 and it would make no difference. That’s a fundamental undemocratic condition.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            No, as UK voters, we collectively elect 650 MPs. As Scottish voters, we collectively elect 129 MSPs.

            You might as well argue that it makes no difference whether, down here in D&G, we elect six or nine of those 129 MSPs. I suspect that this ‘fundamentally undemocratic condition’ won’t change in an independent Scotland; we’ll still be bound by the collective decision of the electorate.

            Concerning the existential dangers from which independence will rescue us: as far as I know, they’re very real. Their very omnipresence has generated a culture of hyper-anxiety, which politicians exploit by promising us salvation from the various catastrophes those dangers threaten.

            Claiming the power of salvation is one of the sales strategies Machiavelli recommends in his handbook on government. The sceptics’ recommendation is that we take all such claims with a pinch of salt.

  12. SleepingDog says:

    Even some people who believe in having a standing UK military seem critical of its toxic culture. Whether that’s a rape and bullying culture, or that the UK military is a ideal home for rightwing extremists (not just neo-fascists but royalists), its ultra-secrecy/propaganda/brain-washing, its perverse out-of-step insistence on child soldiers, its elitist necrotic leadership, its denial of (yet quiet rejoicing in) past colonial atrocities, its persistent and current racism and sadism… and the mythology that British (apart from possibly a few bad apples) never commit war crimes, when the historical record and family recollections are full of them.

    Every so often they wheel out someone like Wigston to flutter their hands over the problem:
    but this toxic culture is baked in, and ends up causing more problems at home than are solved abroad. There are a few, a vanishing few, members of the British military that have actually provided active defence of the homeland, but their fig leaf has been stretched to ridiculous extents to try to cover the rest.

    And worse than most of this, the British military standard use of terrorism (now including nuclear terrorism) throughout the Empire obviously (including in Ireland) but also in the illegal, undeclared covert wars the British secretly wage by psychopath-recruiting special forces on the authority of the Royal Prerogative, that supreme war criminal, the Queen. It’s like asking Daleks what they want from Scottish Independence immediately after watching them swear allegiance to Davros. The British military is exactly the kind of thing we should be seeking to abolish in Scotland through independence.

  13. Norman Fraser says:

    The above comments are very important,I mentioned this some weeks ago, and immediate action must be taken on this very important subject. To give the people involved peace of mind and clarity on their future.

    1. John Hedges says:

      British armed forces retired personnel (‘veterans’) would still receive their service pensions as per their contracts from Westminster post-independence, wouldn’t they?

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Liability for British army pensions is one of the matters that will have to be settled as part of the Scexit negotiations that determine our independence, in which it will presumably feature as a small pawn.

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