2007 - 2021

Scotch Myths 4 – No Scottish Army

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.


Comments (0)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Alex Grant says:

    Excellent article Mike. If only we can get this subject into the public domain I am certain is worth many votes for Independence. The morality and economic issues are very powerful and the Unionists can have no defence for this. Claims that we cannot defend ourselves without this are classic too wee, too stupid and again will only increase the YES vote. However the SNP will have to get the message across themselves

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      “However the SNP will have to get the message across themselves”

      How true those words are. We’ve already seen from TV debates etc that the media are treating independence as an SNP-only idea, completely ignoring the other parties and organisations that want it. Where are the Greens from these debates? Why do all three unionist parties tend to get a say, when all three say the same negative rubbish?

  2. Rhys says:

    Great post. I didn’t see the programe myself, but your parody of the Army advert above remonded me of a picture posted on Twitter on how BBC Newsround tried to explain the refferendum to the kids. I’d have liked to find out the context (or maybe I wouldn’t!).

  3. ianbeag says:

    “The reality is that Scotland was exploited by the military during the Cold War and that situation remains”
    Not to forget that the Island of Gruinard was contaminated by the British military in 1942 with deadly anthrax and remained quarantined for 50 years until much of the topsoil was removed in sealed containers. Gruinard was far enough away from London as not to cause anxiety to our Lords and masters.

    1. Morag Lennie says:

      Where was the topsoil from Gruinard taken?

      1. ianbeag says:

        The clean up was done in 1986 but I don’t know where they disposed of the topsoil which was removed. Here is a link to a slightly weird video which shows part of the event http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig1Cz2tdVjY including the detonation of the anthrax bomb and the sheep which were the sacrificial lambs for the experiment – they started to die within three days. Wikipedia should have more information.

  4. John Souter says:

    Are they Britain’s nuclear warheads, or USA rent-a-nukes?

  5. J McIllaney says:

    Exactly right Bella. I’d like to see some costings for cleaning up the Solway Firth and Dalgety Bay along with 100 more sites.

  6. Isla Browning says:

    Good article Mike but I’m not sure what you mean when you say there is a myth that Scotland should not have a competent military structure when later you say that we should raise our youth to have higher aspirations than to join the army. I’m all for demilitarisation.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      Well, there’s a difference between not wanting to have young men in deprived communities feel like their only chance of survival is to join the army, and not wanting to have an army at all.

      Although I’m sure Mike will explain himself!

    2. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi Isla, good question. I’ll try and be more specific. I’m not a pacifist. I think there are times when you need to take collective action against forces who will invade you or intervene against fascism. I think that Scotland could and should have a decent defence force and I’m sure we’d do it well without having to go down the road of the imperialist action we’ve been drawn into for so long.

      I think you could also argue strongly for a Peace Corps that engaged young people in constructive hard work and experience of outdoors and adventure that also acted as a ‘social leveller’ – everybody does it, but you can chose from a dozen options.

      What I hate about the current set up is the army recruitment cruising the poorest communities schools and setting up the British Army as some sort of adventure. I think that’s obscene.

  7. Tocasaid says:

    Good article. Our obsession with things martial should be put in the past.

    Of all the scare stories surrounding our progression to independence, the ‘Scots’ army would be boring’ must be one of the most laughable. Hell, I guess if Scots want ‘fun in the army’ they could always seek out some ‘Deepcut’ type kicks courtesy of the British Army.

  8. Alasdair says:

    Excellent article. Scottish regiments have been exploited for hundreds of years.First ones into battle and last ones out. As General Wolfe said ” No mischief if they(the Highlanders) fall”. At present, the SAS is made up of 80% Scots.When, however, the wars are won it is always a matter of ‘England winning the war’. Per head of population, there were two Scots for every Englishman killed or wounded during the First World War. Enough !

    1. Lachlan MacNeil says:

      The SAD is NOT 80% Scottish. Absolute rubbish !

    2. Ally Anderson says:

      Scottish troops were celebrated in works such as the Thin Red line. They considered us racially superior as a martial race like the Gurkhas. We should celebrate how much they revered us, its a Scottish myth that they look down on us. Whether more Scots died or not they all died for the same cause as a British soldier fighting for the United Kingdom.

  9. Alan says:

    Serving soldier of a fine Scottish regiment myself, i have to admit that a few of the posts above are laughable, carry on though. One question you all need to take into consideration, how do you convince serving Armed Forces personnel to give their vote to independence !

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Would soldiers of ‘fine Scottish regiments’ not like to serve an independent Scotland?

  10. j33zy says:

    Quite clearly a bunch of arm chair generals..
    were never getting “independence” you think your all hard done by being part of the UK.
    peace is One man having a bigger stick than the other.
    “the Scottish regiments were exploited” no were just good at our fucking job.
    think we hold the Majority of the SAS for nothing? your fear sickens me to think your my countrymen… have your independence ill move south with my brothers in arms.
    stop watching brave heart and learn some history.. we weren’t forced in the the Union..
    he partly created it.. fools

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      “peace is One man having a bigger stick than the other”

      What a fantastic attitude. As for not being forced into the union – I think you’ll find we weren’t asked if we wanted in, and we’ve never been asked since if we want out. But we’ll get that opportunity in two years time – and we won’t need a second one.

      Move south? Well, it’s already been pointed out that the British Army is made up of several nationalities, so no one is going to stop you.

  11. Ally Maciver says:

    Those stats are too terrible to contemplate. I’m struggling to believe them. I’d like to share this but I’d need more reassurance on their provenance before ranting about 27%/12% killed in WW1 and a third of UK casualties in WW2.

    Surely this cannot be right?

  12. Rod Macleod says:

    This is disgusting. It shames and belittles the fine men and woman who have give their lives for our country. The author (and I use that noun loosely!) should be mortally ashamed of what they have written. Waken the f*** up! Salmond and his retarded rhetoric will never bear fruit. The man is genius politician. But his ideology is so flawed it’s verging on hysteria, if the electorate would please stop basing their opinions and stances on the tabloid press then this great country would be an altogether unstoppable force.

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      If people based their opinions and stances on the tabloid press we’d never have had an SNP government. In fact, we’d never have had devolution.

      People need to realise we do not need to do things the British way. Indeed, there is little point of becoming independent if we just follow the same path they do. We can already see the UK government readying itself for another war, a war that we can ill afford. Iran has nuclear weapons because it fears for its existence. It knows the US has never invaded a country with nuclear weapons, because it only invades countries that it thinks can’t fight back. There is no need for Scottish lives to be lost fighting America’s obsession with the Manifest Destiny. This is why we need to do things differently from the UK.

  13. Col Blimp says:

    I’m not sure that this article is very helpful. Scotland is going to have to have an effective defence force. We can discuss how that is made up as a separate issue. Of course it is initially going to be based on the already existing Scottish units in the British Army. How it develops subsequently will depend upon want an independent Scotland sees as its defence need.

    While I appreciate that there are those who have moral objections to recruitment for any armed forces, it is a pity if you are going to rob people from the poorest backgrounds of opportunities which they do have if they join up, without giving them an alternative with the same prospects.

    In the mean time it is not helpful to recycle the general myths about the forces that all the officers are posh. Yes some are, but a lot aren’t. A recent governor of Edinburgh Castle (a Major General) came from an ordinary home in Stranrear and began as an ordinary soldier.

    If you want to recount the ways in which Scotland and the Scots have been abused by the British military machine, be my guest, but if you are trying to Scotch the Myth that the Unionists are going to be pushing in their lies about the future defence profile of Scotland you are going about it in exactly the wrong way. We do not need to demilitarise Scottish Society, for we will need to have sharp enough teeth to deal with those who would wish to interfere with assets like our oil platforms, and to be able to play our part as has say the Irish Republic in United Nations operations.

    Some of your statements and ideas could be taken, twisted and distorted by the Unionists to make it appear that you, and therefore those who want independence reject having defence forces, while of course all you are doing is producing a rather old fashioned and recycled attack on the British armed forces and their history.

  14. Ally Anderson says:

    So what happens when all these servicemen and armaments leave Scotland. When thousands of pounds are taken out of the local economy? The so-called “SDF” will not be able to operate abroad and won’t be able to take part in any international peacekeeping missions. And no I don’t mean Afghanistan, i mean where it is really needed in countries like Sierra Leone. A retreat from the world stage for what? More leeway over fishing regulations in the EU which the Spanish still wont comply with. Because of course the votes of Slovakia and Ireland are more powerful than the UK with a Veto. We should celebrate the 300 years of history, which have seen us spread democracy, not as a colony of England but as an equal partner in this United Kingdom.

  15. Peter says:

    The truth that is uncomfortable for many is that many who join the forces are not cannon fodder but well balanced individuals who have a range of options before them and still choose a military career. Everyone is due their own opinions but those of us who have served, have experience of both civilian life and military life and hence we can understand what the underlying points in the Generals original article.

    Some of every society will always want to seek to test themselves both mentally and physically in difficult conditions. The military provides this challenge. Of course Scotland can provide a Scottish army and military of the numbers that are being discussed ie 5-6000 . However so can every other commonwealth country and these countries still have huge amounts of nationals applying to join the British Army. Scotland will be no different, those that feel the calling will look at a Scottish Defence force or the British Army and many will opt for the British Army. That of course does not mean Scotland will have any problem filling its defence force, it will not.

    One still hugely respected part of the UK on a global basis is the Army, I would suggest their is no higher aspirations for the young generations to be prepared to step up to the mark and serve their fellow man and country.

    The world is a complex place and events happen and events will happen that will impact on a independent Scotland. Having a credible military which is part of a larger group ie NATO is essential.

    I am an independence supporter but one that knows it comes with many difficult choices for us all, and their are no more serious choices to be made in this unstable world than in the area of defence and security.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      No doubt there are some people who make well balanced judgements in enrolling.

      As we can see here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/7311917.stm there is substantial concern in civil society – and has been for a number of years
      about the manipulative approach of the British Army in schools nurseries and communities.

      See also:




      1. peter says:

        Are you trying to say that with all the news for the past couple of decades of NI, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc that individuals who sign up do not know they are going to be going to war zones?

        Military service should be a respected profession by society as it is those who serve who do so in societies name and many bleed and die for society. I would argue that the military like any other organisation should be allowed to promote what it does for recruitment purposes.

        I do agree that anyone who joins and does think that they do not have a strong chance of serving in a war zone should not be anywhere near the military. Hopefully the systems are in place to weed out those that are not suitable. I and everyone I every came across in the military certainly knew what we were signing up for. I am personally out of date , however my son is currently going through the recruitment process and he has been made well aware of what he is signing up for.

        If we take him as an example he has no interest in serving in a Scottish Army he wants to serve in the British Army. This has not been instilled my me as I wanted him to pursue his current career path and as I mentioned I am a strong supporter of independence for Scotland. So I am not coming at this from unionist point of view. Just a practical point that Scottish youth will still continue to be attracted to join the British Army and other services even if Scotland is independent.

        Not to belittle the serious nature of military service , as their is no more serious career choice , think of a recent IT or legal graduate getting two job offers

        IT graduate Offer 1 from Google Offer 2 small local very professional company

        Legal graduate Offer 1 from large city of London firm Offer 2 Small local very professional firm.

        Of course their will be some who choose the second route but many and I would suggest the majority will.

        In the business of war the British Army and other armed services have a global well respected reputation, that will ensure they continue to recruit from Scotland.

        As already said that will not for one minute stop Scotland recruiting a professional small force for our own needs.

  16. Thomas McCarthy Reynolds says:

    This is disgusting! Complete and utter rubbish.
    The uk should stay united! It would not work being two separate country’s. One power hungry arsewipe has caused all this. Hope he will fall on his face.

  17. A Marxist says:

    All small countries in the EU with standing armies use them almost exclusively in support of offensive NATO operations. That is to say, paying a sort of military tithe to US energy imperialism. Prior to that to some extent Cold War geopolitics meant that the ruling classes in these countries saw that aligning themselves with the US empire was a way to prevent Stalinist movements at home.

    It’s simply unfounded dogma that small modern states need standing armies for self defence or that they’re even effective for this purpose. An independent Scotland would have basically one asset worth defending, namely the oil platforms. Yet the oil industry collectively has as much if not more experience in warfighting using mercenaries than the Scottish military establishment does using regular troops.

    The knucklehead mentality of “peace means one man having a bigger stick than the other” expressed by the military types above expresses the corrosive cultural effect standing armies have upon states. The idea that turning men in poverty into psychological and economic dependants upon a pointless killing machine is “offering them an opportunity” is pessimistic and reactionary.

    As far as I’m concerned, a sine qua non of a worthwhile independence movement is fundamental anti-militarism from the ground up. Self defence is a part of life for all people. Teach martial arts in the schools. Create a populace ready, if absolutely necessary, to fight a guerilla war against an occupying army, which is how David and Goliath battles are always fought in modern warfare (an independent Scotland will always be a David). But far more importantly teaching self defence skills to all will increase people’s health and self esteem.

    1. Galen10 says:

      Anti-militarism may be something you see you see as a sine qua non of independence, but I’ll wager that few will agree with you. I’m not sure I want a martial arts trained, tooled up populace thanks very much. I’d much prefer small, professional armed services, decently equipped, and prepared to take their place either as part of NATO (if that is what the majority want), or to support a reasonably secure neutrality.

      As noted, we have relatively little to fear from an armed ground invasion, so it would make sense for Scotland to concentrate on naval forces to protect her waters, and air forces to make any aggressor think twice about attacking using air-mobile forces.

      Armed neutrality is an expensive option, as the Swedes and Swiss can testify, so you are left with the option of having little or no armed forces and hoping nobody attacks you, or free-riding on a big brother like the USA in NATO like most European countries did for decades.

      The right place and role for the forces of an independent Scotland (whether as part of NATO or not) is to use them to ensure our own security and to help in humanitarian disasters or UN peace keeping missions, much as other small European nations do.

  18. Galen10 says:

    It’s not rocket science: an independent Scotland can have a small military establishment in keeping with the size of the country and the economy. I doubt many would support total de-militarisation, but there is nothing to stop us having a small, mobile army capable of defending the country and/or participating in e.g. UN peacekeeping operations or any other external roles that are approved or in keeping with the particular circumstances of the time.

    If you look at countries like Norway and Denmark, both have significant numbers of modern aircraft in their air forces, so there is nothing to suggest an independent Scotland couldn’t do likewise, and of course we’d need maritime patrol aircraft and helicopters. Similarly we’d need a navy of sorts to patrol our vast territorail waters, for fisheries protection etc.

    As has been discussed elsewhere, the amount currently spent in Scotland on the military is MUCH lower than the contribution Scotland makes, so it is an argument the SNP should be making that we could in fact spend less on defence, and yet obtain the same or more, and pocket a useful difference to spent on other priorities. Simples.

    1. Morag Lennie says:

      This afternoon,I asked a person who spent 7 years in the army, just what he did during those 7 years.He spent 3 months in Northern Ireland, and the rest of the time……….he trained. How much did it cost, to keep this man in uniforms, housing, married man’s allowance etc. for almost 7 years. It just doesn’t make sense to me. If an apprentice took nearly 7 years to keep training, you would Have to ask how efficient the trainers were. Add to that, Teachers, Social Workers, science graduates, etc. etc.

      1. Galen10 says:

        Yes, because an untrained soldier, sailor or airman (airwoman?…airperson?) would be much preferable!!

        Your individual experience of someone who spent only 3 months in 7 years on “active service” may be true (although it seems unusual…. I’m sure there are plenty more who have done lots of tours of duty in various places).

        If you want highly skilled service personnel to be able to perform in modern conflicts, they need to be trained; it’s not 1914… you can’t put them in uniform, give them a rifle and a few weeks training and ship ’em off to the front.

        The fact remains that Scotland now doesn’t receive anything like the roughly 9% of the defence budget that “we” pay in return; thus a smaller Scottish defence force would leave us with an immediate “gain” of several hundred million to spend on other things, whether security related or not.

  19. biowrite says:

    Let’s face it. The UK and US armies armies are the tools of big business (albeit they might occasionally might do something good). The bad far outweighs the good. Look at the facts: http://biowrite.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/thinking-of-joining-the-armed-services-look-before-you-leap/

  20. Brian Ritchie says:

    Well I don’t know anything about the military, but I do know that countries like Norway and Denmark manage OK in the modern world…no reason why Scotland can’t do the same.

  21. Greg' says:

    I think this thread started out well and for a few posts lost its way a little before finding its way back. I think that the whole argument is complex anyway and that defence just becomes really emotve regardless which side of the martial fence people sit on. I’ll qualify my position first of all – I am a former soldier of the Scottish Division as it was prior to its complete destruction by the British Government (5 years regular and 2 years TA service). I also have many years of experience in the Social Service sector where I, like many others am trying to work against forces which lead to the destruction and blight of our communities – particularly the deprived and often urban communities. I am very much a product of our Northern culture and hence identity and I am a supporter of the SNP and Independence. Never the less… I like colonelblimp can see where many arguments presented by the blissfully unaware can be counter productive and as a result, downright harmful to Eck in his attempts to gently raise awareness of the separate Scots identity and Scotlands current inability to prevent itself becoming a stool pidgeon for clowns like George Bush jnr while simultaneously avoiding the pitfall of falling into the negative fallout from traiterous clowns like George Galloway. It pains me to see serving soldiers come on to forums like this in the mistaken belief that all Nationalists are conciencious objectors and against any idea of participation in global affairs. The truth is that Scotland has a long standing tradition of honorable service in arms. The SNP will not dictate all policy decisions on defence after independence and their stated position is for independence to be negotiated then at some point, for a new election to decide who forms the first independent government. I have no doubt in my mind that the Scots Electorate will be keen to maintain a strong martial identity after independence, just as we have done for centuries. However, we need to avoid giving the impression of military naivety in the lead up to referendum and we will still need our Jocks to do the job better than anyone one else too. Once we are independent, it won’t be unlawful for teachers to teach Scottish history in our schools as it is now and once that happens, all of Scotland will know how much weve been short changed. Cabarfeidh Gu Brath!

  22. WeeFreeSoutherner says:

    The SNP has chance to break the mould of conventional thinking and tell a strong story around a unified maritime defence force to do protection of fisheries / offshore renewables / Search & Rescue / coastguard.

    Would be more relevant / plausible to ordinary Scots than a story around a separate air force.

    After all New Zealand eliminated the pure combat role of RNZAF in 2001 so there is a precedent.

  23. iainmcr2 says:

    Just caught up with this, as an ex-serviceman myself (12 years RN and 6 RNR) my one and only regret is that I never sailed in a ship flying the Scottish ensign. I only need to look at the move to base most of the RN and RAF in the South of England by successive UK governments, (Faslane is only spared owing to Coulport IMHO), to see the attraction of Independent Scottish forces based on Scottish soil, also don’t forget that trained service personnel have wide and varied peacetime roles, I myself have taken part in flood relief in Dorset, and hurricane relief in the Caribbean. I’ve worked with many of the navies of the smaller Scandinavian countries, they are, well qualified, very professional, and well respected in their own countries for the job they do, and I can see no reason why we in Scotland couldn’t have the same.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.