The United Kingdom Government is in the process of publishing a long series of papers analysing all manner of aspects of Scottish independence. Something like 12 or 13 papers are planned for the series. To date, seven have been published. Some of these have been more important than others. It was the first Scotland Analysis Paper that set out what Scottish independence would mean legally (the answer is that Scotland would become a new State and that the rest of the UK would continue as the “continuator” State: this is important because it has implications for (e.g.) EU membership, for the distribution of assets and liabilities, including the national debt, and other matters). It was the second Scotland Analysis Paper that set out what the currency options would be for an independent Scotland, where it was explained that just because the SNP claim that there would be a currency union with the rest of the UK does not necessarily mean that there will in fact by any such currency union. For the rest of the UK to agree to such a deal, there would have to be a fiscal pact between the two countries (in order to avoid the sort of chaos we see in the Eurozone) and this would make Scotland more dependent on London, not independent of it.
The two most recent Scotland Analysis Papers have focused on Defence and Security. I’ve read them both, as I have all the papers in the series. Neither is as important as were either of the first two papers in the series, and neither has had nor will have anything close to the same impact on the “indyref” debate. But both are excellent in achieving exactly what they set out to do. Not that you’d know this from the way they have been spun by Scotland’s commentariat.
This is because the nature and purpose of the Scotland Analysis Papers has been misunderstood. It is not the purpose of these papers to seek to persuade Scotland’s voters to reject independence in next year’s referendum. Rather, it is the purpose of the papers to explain and to analyse (often in great detail) what the issues are which ought to inform how we vote next year. The point of the papers is not to furnish us with reasons to vote No: their point is to draw attention to the huge and complex range of issues which will need to be explained in order for anyone to vote in an informed way.
Of course, the papers are prepared and published under the auspices of HM Government. And of course HM Government has a view on how it would like the referendum to be determined. But the analysis papers are not advocating a No vote in the referendum. They should be read not as a list of reasons to vote No, but as a source of questions to be asked about what is actually at stake.
This matters for two reasons. At the constitutional or legal level it matters because this is what the independent regulator of the referendum (the Electoral Commission) called for. In its formal advice on the referendum, published earlier this year, the Electoral Commission found that there was significant demand among voters for factual information about what independence would mean. The Commission called on both the Scottish and the UK Governments to publish such information. This is what the Scotland Analysis Papers do: they are the UK Government’s means of delivering what the Electoral Commission (quite rightly) demanded. But at the political level it matters also because one of the strategies adopted by the SNP and Yes Scotland is to do as if voting for independence won’t make that much difference to anything. People will still go out to work. Children will still go out to play. The rain will still fall. All that sort of thing. It suits the SNP and Yes Scotland to play this game because they know they can win only by appealing to the middle ground, by not frightening the horses, and by underplaying the huge significance that tearing up a 300-year-old Union and becoming a new State would actually have. Thus, a critical function of the Scotland Analysis Papers is to set out dispassionately and in detail exactly what any Yes vote would entail — for its consequences, contrary to the impression the SNP seeks to make, would be enormous.
It may well be that few voters are all that bothered about what independence would mean for Scotland’s defence and national security. Questions of identity and, of course, of economic well-being (including economic security) loom much larger in most voters’ minds. But this does not mean that defence and national security are unimportant and, in any case, it is the purpose of the Scotland Analysis Papers not to win votes but to inform voters. What is and what is not electorally salient changes with the seasons. I remember a time when defence policy did influence the outcome of general elections (in the 1980s) and the only reason why questions of national security are not electorally salient is because we take so much of our collective security for granted. We are hugely privileged to be able to do so (many people in the world cannot) and we owe this privilege to the police and to the security and secret intelligence services. Because so much of what they do is secret, the security and intelligence services are never able to be given credit for all they do to keep us safe.
What the defence and security papers do is to set out something of the ways in which the United Kingdom currently defends and secures Scotland and her people: the money that is spent, the training that is given, the employment that ensues, and the opportunities that accrue in terms of regional and indeed global reach, of scale, capability and influence. The papers contrast what currently happens in other small European countries, similar in population size to Scotland, and explains the costs of defence and security in those countries.
In contrast, we know next to nothing of what the Scottish Government would propose by way of detailed strategies for the defence and security of an independent Scotland. This is yet another burden that will have to be carried by the forthcoming Independence White Paper, it seems.
The conclusions drawn by the defence and security papers published by the UK Government are stark. Scotland is both safer and more secure as part of the UK than it could be as an independent State. Defence and defence-related employment in Scotland would inevitably reduce upon independence. At the same time, costs would rise, at least if Scotland wanted defence forces comparable with those found in such places as Denmark, Norway and Finland (for example). The capabilities of a newly established Scottish security and intelligence service could never match those enjoyed by the UK. The UK’s global partners in intelligence-sharing could not be guaranteed to share their secrets with an untested Scottish security service, leaving Scots more exposed to international risks (including from cybercrime). Defence assets located in Scotland which are integral to the defence of the UK as a whole would not pass to an independent Scotland: as part of a UK institution they would in international law continue as a public institution of the rest of the UK. An short, “an independent Scottish state could not come close to replicating the level of defence and security that comes from its place within the UK” (Defence paper, p. 14). Likewise, “the creation of an independent Scottish state will, … without proper planning and investment lead to a reduction in the capability of its government to protect Scottish interests, infrastructure and people” (Security paper, p. 19).
Alex Massie, whose commentary on Scottish politics is normally both insightful and well-informed, is not alone in misunderstanding the reasons why these conclusions have been reached in the damning but misguided critique he posted about them on his Spectator blog earlier this week. He described them as “drivel” and, “worse … exasperating drivel”. If it had been a sound-bite from a campaign speech that “we must vote No or risk our collective security”, Massie would have a point. But, as I have shown, this is not at all their purpose. The point is not that we “must vote No or else …”. The point is that we would be well advised not to vote Yes unless and until we have heard something compelling — something convincing — from the SNP and from Yes Scotland as to how their policy of independence would not risk Scotland’s defence or collective security. It is to remind us what is at stake. It is to insist that there is much more at stake than the SNP would have us believe. And it is to seek to inform voters about the questions which should be asked — and answered — before anyone casts their vote, whichever way they intend to cast it. “Vote No or else …” would be scaremongering, and the voters would see straight through it, but that is not what is going on here. What is happening is that difficult, vital questions are being asked of the SNP’s pet project, questions to which as yet there are no answers.