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Defence - Minutes of EvidenceHC 198
HOUSE OF COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
TAKEN BEFORE THE
DEFENCE IMPLICATIONS OF SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE
KEITH BROWN MSP and SEAN STRONACH
THE RT HON. PHILIP HAMMOND MP
Evidence heard in Public
Questions 259 - 421
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Defence Committee
on Tuesday 2 July 2013
Mr James Arbuthnot (Chair)
Mr Julian Brazier
Mr Dai Havard
Mr Adam Holloway
Mrs Madeleine Moon
Sir Bob Russell
Ms Gisela Stuart
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Transport and Veterans, Scottish Government, and Sean Stronach, Defence Policy Unit, Scottish Government, gave evidence.
Q259 Chair: Order. I do not usually say that, but I am told that it starts the broadcast. Welcome, both of you, to this evidence session on the defence implications of possible Scottish independence. Mr Brown, you are the Minister for Veterans.
Keith Brown: That is right: transport and veterans.
Q260 Chair: As I understand it, you served with 45 Commando during the Falklands war. You have respect and the country’s gratitude. Mr Stronach, would you like to introduce yourself?
Sean Stronach: Yes. I work in the Scottish Government, in the Defence Policy Unit.
Q261 Chair: Mr Brown, can you describe, briefly if possible, the Scottish Government’s defence policy?
Keith Brown: Certainly. Can I do that by way of an opening statement? It should not take too long.
First of all, we believe that the fundamental case for independence is that it is better for all decisions about Scotland to be taken by the people who care most for Scotland. They, of course, are the people who live and work there. In areas currently reserved to Westminster, all too often, in our view, decisions are taken against the Scottish interest, and often against the wishes of Scottish MPs. For example, a majority of Scottish MPs voted against Trident renewal in 2007, and a majority of Scottish MPs agreed that the case for the Iraq war had not been established, but on each occasion the Scottish majority was outvoted.
It is not just in formal votes of the House of Commons that the Scottish interest has, in our view, been badly served. Between 2000 and 2012, the total number of service and civilian Ministry of Defence personnel dropped by 8,800, a reduction of more than 35%. Reductions in Scotland were substantially greater, incidentally, than in the UK as a whole. Civilian defence jobs in Scotland have been cut by half; the current coalition Government have broken a pledge on the number of troops to be stationed in Scotland; and, of course, the latest MOD announcement is that a further 4,480 UK Army personnel have received redundancy notices, which is extremely concerning. Service personnel commit to undertake active service, putting their lives at risk to defend our freedoms and our way of life. Scottish Ministers believe that all service personnel should therefore have reassurance that they will not face compulsory redundancy during their service contract.
Mr Chairman, I know that you have expressed serious concerns about the risks involved in the loss of maritime patrol aircraft capability. This was, in our view, a particularly wrong-headed decision for Scotland’s security, as well as for the rest of the UK and our international partners.
The context for choices on defence and security will be Scotland’s wider foreign policy, but Scotland will play its part as a good global citizen, to come back to your initial point about the context for this. We will take a positive approach to economic and social justice, environmental and climate security and the protection and promotion of human rights, but our geographical position, our proximity to the high north, the wealth of our offshore assets and our commitment to working in partnership with allies will be the key determinants of a defence and security policy appropriate to Scotland’s needs.
Scotland’s position in the north Atlantic is of huge geo-strategic importance, not least in relation to the other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, so continuing co-operation in that area will be of critical importance. It will be an undoubted priority for Scotland to secure and monitor an extensive maritime environment. The security of our closest neighbours and partners will be a central element of our own security, and vice versa. Security will develop through a process of dialogue, negotiation and sharing, working with the rest of the UK and other partners such as NATO. Our closest ally will, of course, be the remaining United Kingdom.
From my experience, Mr Chairman, the most vital part of the armed forces is its personnel. To be most effective and motivated, they need to be well equipped, well supported and properly treated. We should not, for example, leave our troops with inadequate footwear or having to buy their own rations while on the front line. We should not have the regiments to which they joined up disbanded while they are on active service. Above all, we should not have our service personnel looking over their shoulder, during mortal combat, to see if they are going to be handed a P45. It is hard to stress how strongly serving families and members of the armed forces feel about the way in which they have been treated in that respect. It is a fundamental breach, in our view, of the covenant that should exist between servicemen and women and their political masters, whose decisions put them in harm’s way.
Finally, Mr Chairman, having stood at the Somme yesterday, neither myself nor the Scottish Government need any reminder about the debt of gratitude owed to those who serve in conflict or, indeed, about the need for robust, properly equipped defence forces. If people in Scotland decide in a democratic vote to become independent, I believe that our countries will continue to enjoy the closest of relationships when it comes to defence co-operation, procurement and other matters, but that will be a relationship based on equality and mutual respect.
The Scottish Government, as you know, are resolutely opposed to Trident and, in the event of a yes vote, will negotiate to ensure the earliest safe removal of Trident from the Clyde. Scotland’s interests will also be directly reflected in decisions to deploy military forces, with a stronger role for the Scottish Parliament than there currently is here at Westminster. The Scottish Government welcome the legitimate public interest in defence and security in an independent Scotland, and your inquiry is part of that, but our plans will be presented in detail first of all to the people of Scotland well in advance of the referendum, allowing them to take a fully informed decision.
I know that some of the questions that you have will touch on the budget that we have set. I can confirm that the overall budget that we propose for defence and security for an independent Scotland would be £2.5 billion. This would in fact be an annual increase of more than £500 million on recent UK levels of defence spending in Scotland, and would be nearly £1 billion less than what Scottish taxpayers currently contribute to UK defence spending.
This is the most important point: in defence and security, perhaps more than in any other area, all the people of the UK have the right to expect their Governments to work together constructively. The UK Government, in particular, should follow the recommendation of the Electoral Commission by engaging in discussions to prepare for the outcome of the referendum. That does not mean-as some have suggested, including the Prime Minister-that that would involve pre-negotiation, but it would allow officials on both sides more fully to assess the issues and opportunities involved, and to prepare for decisions that would need to be made very soon after a yes vote. For example, Scotland would be entitled to billions of pounds-worth of assets, listed in the National Asset Register, that our citizens have contributed to-something which the Scottish Secretary of State, Michael Moore, has agreed with.
Whatever the result of Scotland’s referendum next year, both Governments have committed to working together constructively in the best interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK. It will be in that spirit of constructive and friendly negotiations that those negotiations should be conducted.
Thank you very much for the chance to make that opening statement. I am happy to try to answer your questions.
Q262 Chair: Thank you very much. That is extremely helpful. We will try to drill down into some of what you said during the course of this afternoon. I should say that we expect this particular evidence session, with both of you, to last until 3.30 pm. Then we will have a quarter of an hour’s break before we hear from the Secretary of State for Defence. As he has already said a lot of the things that we would be asking him about in a speech, we expect his evidence session to last until 4.30 pm. Your torture will be over by 3.30 pm, Mr Brown.
You said that you would be making your defence policy clear to the Scottish people in good time before the referendum. When do you expect to publish the White Paper that will provide the details for the Scottish people?
Keith Brown: The autumn of this year.
Q263 Chair: Would you say October or November, or would you rather leave it as the autumn?
Keith Brown: I think that it will be the autumn.
Chair: Okay. Thank you.
Q264 Sir Bob Russell: Mr Brown, the forces of the four nations of the United Kingdom are currently known as Her Majesty’s armed forces. What would the forces be called in an independent Scotland?
Keith Brown: I cannot say that there would be much difference from the current situation, given, of course, that we would expect the Queen to be the continuing Head of State in an independent Scotland, but this again will be something that we cover in the White Paper.
Q265 Sir Bob Russell: The reason I ask is that it has been suggested by some people that it would be known as the Scottish defence force, but at the moment a defined name has not been agreed.
Keith Brown: No.
Q266 Sir Bob Russell: That is fine. Previous witnesses have suggested that the role of a Scottish defence force would focus on "the internal security of Scotland" and "defending Scottish territory, assets and possessions on land, at sea and in the air against intrusion, disruption and attack". If that description is correct, what do the Scottish Government consider to be the priorities and core tasks for a Scottish defence force?
Keith Brown: I think they follow on from the statement which you have just made. They are not radically different from those threats and requirements that the UK currently has to anticipate, in terms of the deployment of its armed forces. For example, there are our energy assets, which I have mentioned already, and our obligations to our neighbours. To be frank, once the referendum has concluded-I anticipate a yes vote-we will see a radically different approach to the pragmatics of how we organise areas of joint interest.
We will obviously have joint interest with the UK in areas such as air cover and on some of the maritime activities. What we do not have just now is effective maritime patrol facilities and air facilities, which were not seen through by the UK Government, so we would have to look at ensuring that we can meet the obligations our neighbours would expect, in terms of air cover. In relation to maritime security, we would of course have to ensure that our coastline was free from the threat of drugs and terrorism. I am sure that you know about the arrangements in place for safeguarding the oil-rig installations in the North Sea, which would obviously be a major factor for us as well.
We would contribute to international efforts where we believed it was in the interests of the people of Scotland to do so. We would seek to be a good neighbour in the world and a good partner with our partner countries-those in the immediate area-and our policy is to be a member of NATO. I realise that there is a process to go through with NATO, and that it is a matter for NATO to decide. We would seek to uphold those obligations and play a full and active role in terms of those obligations.
Q267 Sir Bob Russell: I want to ask one more question on the back of that answer. How close to the English border would you anticipate Scottish land forces being based?
Keith Brown: I cannot say that we have thought about it in terms of how close they would be to the English land border. You will have seen from our statement of defence policy that we would expect the headquarters of our armed forces to be at Faslane-that is the joint headquarters. The disposition of Scottish forces after that to some extent relies on which bases have been left to us by various UK defence reviews. They have been chopped and changed, and are in the process of being put on the market and so on, so it is hard to say exactly which bases we will have left at the point of independence, but we are not about to amass an army on the border. We do not see that as necessary.
Q268 Ms Stuart: In your opening statement, you made reference to potentially dividing assets in the case of a yes vote. Can you expand a little on how you think that asset division might be achieved and what the basis for the asset division would be?
Keith Brown: Certainly. Just now we have about £92 billion-worth of defence assets in this country. Scotland’s proportionate share would be between £7 billion and £8 billion. It is fairly obvious that we would not be looking for 8.4% of an aircraft carrier-that would be absurd-but it is fair to say that Scottish taxpayers have contributed to the defence assets that are there, so they have that say. Some of the evidence that I have seen from your previous sessions suggests that it is almost a standing start and that there is nothing that Scotland has a stake in. We do not think that is true.
What is crucial in this respect, and what should be happening now, is discussion between officials in the Scottish Government and the UK Government. I cannot believe for a second that there are no contingency plans, as has been stated previously, being drawn up by the UK Government on independence for Scotland. Given that the work is likely to be ongoing, let’s have the discussion now and find out what a proper division would be-one which serves the interests of both countries. It is that practical discussion, which has to take place, that will give us something suitable for Scotland and for the rest of the UK. The security and defence of the rest of the UK is vital for an independent Scotland and vice versa, so that is what we would seek to achieve in those discussions. There is no point in being disruptive just for the sake of it.
Q269 Ms Stuart: Help me with my arithmetic. You suggest a population-based share of the assets. Scotland’s approximate population is about 8.4%, and that is the kind of asset you would be looking for.
Keith Brown: As reflected in current arrangements between Westminster and Edinburgh, in terms of Barnett consequentials, which do not apply in relation to defence, obviously. In proportion to that, yes.
Q270 Ms Stuart: Is that the asset register?
Keith Brown: Indeed.
Q271 Ms Stuart: Clearly you have been reading it.
Keith Brown: Every single word.
Q272 Ms Stuart: Even in the absence of the UK Government’s planning contingencies, have you established some priorities-the key things that you want to maintain in Scotland?
Keith Brown: That work is ongoing, but from what I have already said, you can probably deduce some of those priorities. I am referring to the absence of maritime patrol aircraft in the north of Scotland, and the fact that there is no major naval surface vessel in Scotland at all now, and has not been for some time. There is certainly one under construction, but not one based there. You can see why Scotland, with 800 islands and a vast coastline, would want to have substantially better sea capabilities than we currently do. That would obviously be a priority for us. We believe, on the work that has been done so far, which is ongoing, that it is possible to reflect those priorities in the discussion that we have with the UK Government. Just now, as I say, that discussion is not ongoing, but we believe it is perfectly possible to reflect what Scottish priorities are in that discussion. You can also make deductions in relation to air cover, which I have mentioned.
The idea has been suggested, in previous sessions that you have had, that there should be a ripping up. First, we do not seek to replicate a new version of UK armed forces in miniature for Scotland. We have a different set of criteria that we wish to apply to the armed forces in Scotland, and a different role for them-non-nuclear, for example. Our priorities can be deduced from that, and we are working on that just now. That will be reflected in the White Paper. It would be much easier to do if we were to have the other side of that conversation with UK defence officials now.
Q273 Ms Stuart: In the White Paper, will you be specific about the assets that are essential to your plans? Will they be spelled out in the White Paper in the autumn?
Keith Brown: I think you will get substantially more information at that stage. There are clearly some areas where the UK will not have what we believe we will need for an independent Scotland. I think you will get a lot more information at that time about what we might be able to agree with the UK is useful for Scotland and, bearing in mind the needs of the rest of the UK, what it is clear that Scotland will not require, but beyond that, we will also start to spell out where we think we have other needs, which we have met from elsewhere. It is a White Paper. There will be more information in it that will help you with the answer to your question.
Q274 Ms Stuart: May I press you a little further, to help me to understand? We are having a White Paper, and we have the referendum in 2014. Let us say that there is a yes vote. There are not yet any negotiations as to what assets you would require. What kind of time scale would you be looking at, as a minimum, for a decision on which assets would remain in Scotland if you wanted to ensure continuity in the defence of Scotland?
Keith Brown: First, to go back to a really fundamental point, these things are much easier to be clear about if there are two sides to the conversation. I hope that when the Committee has a chance to speak to Mr Hammond, he will respond to the point that if his officials are willing to discuss this with us, we can get to a much clearer position. However, to go back to your point, it will be a variety. For example, we have accepted the fact that the Trident nuclear missile system should not be removed ahead of any safe time scale for doing so. Some people consider it an asset, I believe. If that is considered an asset, it is quite possible that it will be in Scotland for some time after we assume responsibility for defence forces, which will be in March 2016, so that will be a longer time scale. There are other things that it would be much easier to transfer before that, but again, to be more specific on that, we have to have the other side of the equation. If we do not have a discussion-if we have this stonewalling from UK defence: the MOD and so on-it is very hard to come to an agreed position on that, although I do think that after 2014, you will have to see a different attitude on the part of UK defence, because the security and defence of both our countries will be at stake, and the only way you can deal with that is by being pragmatic, reasonable and responsible about it, so I think that will happen very quickly after September 2014.
Q275 Chair: May I ask a brief question to clarify something that you just said? You said there was no major surface vessel in Scottish waters at the moment. What sort of surface ship were you referring to?
Keith Brown: I didn’t catch the last part of your question, Chair.
Chair: What size ship were you referring to?
Keith Brown: In relation to not being in UK waters, and what we would like to see there?
Chair: No; you were saying that there is no major surface vessel in Scottish waters at the moment. What were you referring to as a major surface vessel?
Keith Brown: Vessels not for inland waterways-vessels for patrolling the seas. We do not have those just now. We have no major surface vessel based in Scotland just now.
Q276 Chair: Clearly, there are no Type 45 destroyers there.
Keith Brown: Not based there.
Q277 Chair: Is there anything else you wish you did have there?
Keith Brown: Yes, I think I have mentioned that we would like to have more capability in relation to maritime patrolling. That is something that we are looking at very seriously just now-how we might achieve that. We should have that facility now within UK defence, but we do not have it, so we will need to enhance that.
Chair: I see. We will be coming on to the Scottish navy in just a moment.
Q278 Mr Brazier: How many personnel, Mr Brown, do you envisage being in the Scottish navy, army and air force?
Keith Brown: A combined complement of around 15,000.
Mr Brazier: I did not fully hear that.
Keith Brown: A combined complement of around 15,000, with about 5,000 reserve forces.
Q279 Mr Brazier: Can you split that down between the services?
Keith Brown: No. As I have mentioned, we have a different set of needs in Scotland from those that are currently served by the UK Government, so we would want to take some time-as we are doing-to find out exactly what the configuration should be. I have mentioned already that we have 800 islands and a large coastline. Obviously, we want to reflect that priority. Beyond that, the extent to which you need to have sustainable levels of forces for air forces and land forces would be reflected in that as well. We are talking to a number of people just now about exactly what that configuration should be, but that will be made clear in the White Paper.
Q280 Mr Brazier: Who would you regard as eligible to serve? The bulk of Scotsmen serving in the British armed forces at the moment are not resident in Scotland. What would be your eligibility criteria for the services?
Keith Brown: Well, yes, anyone currently serving in the armed forces in the UK who wants to serve in the Scottish defence force. Beyond the Scots, there are something like 42 different nationalities in the UK armed forces. That is a valuable resource, so we would not want to be restrictive in relation to that. Those Scots who wanted to continue to serve in the UK armed forces can do so-the First Minister has made that point clear-and those who want to serve in the Scottish defence force can do so.
I have heard some comment in this Committee about recruitment and retention in relation to armed forces, and some scepticism about the ability of an independent Scotland to recruit armed forces. We believe first of all that the Scottish regiments, as you may know, have been very effective in terms of recruitment. They have some of the highest levels of recruitment in the current British Army. Beyond that, we believe that we can make it more attractive. I have already mentioned the fact that we would have an agreement whereby there were no compulsory redundancies on people serving in the armed forces during the term of their contract. It is also possible to look at moving beyond where the UK currently is, in terms of the conditions of service for armed forces personnel. We have one of the most restrictive agreements that you have to make when you join the armed forces, in terms of your political and civil liberties. We think that that would make it more attractive.
Thirdly, many people in the armed forces whom I have talked to had a very different conception of their ability to serve in different roles, and to build a career within the armed forces. They have found themselves, by and large, tied to one particular role, or they have been continually rotated, in terms of Afghanistan, and are quite unhappy about their prospects for building a career within the UK armed forces. That has probably not always been the case, but it seems to be the case just now. So, those things taken together would make it very attractive-and this is obviously in our interests-to join an independent Scotland’s armed forces.
Q281 Mr Brazier: Clearly, Afghanistan will be winding down by then, but you envisage lots of opportunity to serve abroad, if I have understood you correctly.
Keith Brown: I have already mentioned that we would take seriously our international obligations. They might be in a different context from UK choices, in terms of international engagement. I cannot believe, as I have mentioned already and as is reflected in the votes of Scottish MPs and the views of the Scottish people, that we would have been involved in Iraq, or in the servicing, use of or patrolling of nuclear weapons. Those things would not be available, but there is a great deal that can be done. I am sure that you will know about the joint exercises that various nations currently undertake. Certainly, in my time, there were the joint exercises with the Dutch marines and large-scale NATO exercises in Norway. There is a great deal of scope for personnel in the independent Scottish armed forces to be involved in international activities.
Q282 Mr Brazier: Could I ask you about training? Do you envisage Scotland having its own Sandhurst, Cranwell and Dartmouth? You said a lot about islands and the importance of patrolling. How will you organise that?
Keith Brown: It is worth prefacing my answer with the point that Scotland has already contributed substantially to those establishments-to the cost of establishing and running them. Scotland has a stake in those already. I am sure you know that Sandhurst trains people from nationalities around the world. It is an excellent teaching centre for that purpose, and has been recognised. This is one of those areas-it is also related, for example, to training areas, in which Scotland has a great deal on offer-where we can come to a proper discussion, if we have that discussion with the UK Government, about how best to achieve that.
Obviously, one of the possibilities is collaboration, and we want to look seriously at that. Another possibility, as you have suggested, is setting up our own version, but I think that we would want to have that discussion with the UK Government first of all. It is hard to see, if it was to be the case that we believed that we had collaboration-so perhaps accessing the training available at Sandhurst-why that would be an issue if, as at present, the establishment services personnel from armies around the world. It is possible to achieve that, but I think we will take our time, as we are doing, to talk to some of the experts about what would best serve the interests of Scotland.
Q283 Thomas Docherty: Let us deal with Sandhurst first, Mr Brown. If we assume that there are 8,000 in the army-that figure is possibly low, but if we said 8,000 in the army-and I am using the British Army model, then you are requiring somewhere in the region of 200 officer cadets per year. Sandhurst currently has, in total, 75 international places a year. Is there not a disjoin there between your figures and Sandhurst availability?
Keith Brown: First of all, I would challenge the 8,000 figure that you mentioned, but no, because if you think about it just now, those 75 international places do not currently include those from Scotland. Those from Scotland who join the UK armed forces are currently accommodated within Sandhurst. There is no increase to that quantum unless, of course, Scotland decided it wanted to have a greater number of officers being trained. It is perfectly possible-if that is what we chose to do and if that is also what the UK Government wanted to do-to reach an accommodation on that. That is not to say that that is what we currently propose, but it is perfectly possible to reach an accommodation even within the constraints that you mentioned.
Q284 Thomas Docherty: We will come back to the 8,000 figure in a second. The problem is that we are making assumptions, but if we assume that the rUK British Army-whatever you want to call it-stays at about the 80,000 Regulars and 30,000 Reserves that it is moving towards, that is a huge disjoin between the number of places that Scotland may need and the number of places that are available. Do not forget that those are places that countries are buying as well; I think that £50,000 a head is what the PQs say. Forgive me, but I do not understand how you can say that there will be places made available at Sandhurst for the Scottish army.
Keith Brown: Again, you have stumbled back to this difficulty with the inability to have the engagement which we would seek. If you were able to sit down people in the defence policy unit within the Scottish Government and those who are within the UK MOD-it is hard to understand why it is not possible to do that just now-I am sure that you could satisfactorily answer some of the questions that you have.
My point is that there would be no change to the current quantum going through Sandhurst in the event that Scotland was independent and sought to have officers trained at Sandhurst, or indeed at Dartmouth for the Navy. There is no change to the quantum unless, of course, as I have mentioned, an independent Scotland decided, for whatever reason, that it wanted to have a substantially greater number of officers trained. It is possible to do; all I am saying is that the practicalities of that can be properly defined only if we can have that proper conversation.
Q285 Thomas Docherty: We will have to disagree on that one. On the issue of the army specifically, your position-agreed, I think, in January or February-said there would be one MRB, or multi-role brigade, and one reserve brigade. An MRB, as was envisaged by Liam Fox, was about 6,000 or 7,000 in strength. What else do you see in the Scottish army on top of that MRB?
Keith Brown: Going back to my answer to Mr Brazier about the idea that we have that kind of figure of 15,000 for armed forces personnel, we are currently working just now on what this position would be between the different armed forces. Within that-you mention the two MRBs-once again, the goalposts have completely shifted since we adopted that position. For example, you had Liam Fox talking about an extra 6,000 defence jobs coming to Scotland. That has now transformed into around 600, so the position changes regularly, and we obviously have to look at-we are looking at just now-the way in which the situation has changed within the UK, and obviously we have to respond to that. The armed forces units that we would have would make sense on a logistical level-what we thought were suitable for our purposes as an independent Scotland-but as to how they would relate to the current number of UK armed forces, it is hard to tell because it changes so much.
Can I mention this point, which I think is very important? You have mentioned Liam Fox. Liam Fox talked about 6,000 extra jobs-
Q286 Thomas Docherty: Hang on. No, he didn’t. He misspoke in the Chamber once, and he corrected it immediately. The MOD came straight out and said that he meant 6,000 in total. I have heard this before, and I am no fan of Liam Fox, but I think you would agree that what he meant was 6,000 to 7,000 in total, not 6,000 to 7,000 additional.
Keith Brown: I am happy to provide the quotes that I have.
Thomas Docherty: No, no. I am sorry Mr. Brown, we can keep running round in circles, but Liam did say in the Chamber in an answer to Sandra Osborne that it would be 6,000 to 7,000, and immediately the MOD clarified that what he had meant to say was a total of 6,000 to 7,000. You are absolutely right that if you look in Hansard it says that, but it took the MOD about seven seconds to clarify that what he meant was a total of 6,000 to 7,000. That was in all the documentation before, during and after.
Q287 Chair: May I come to a slightly different issue? Let us suppose that I am an ambitious and thrusting young soldier-would that I were-and I am trying to decide whether to join the Scottish armed forces or the remainder of the UK’s armed forces. If I look and compare the size and the relative ambition of those two armed forces, will I not find the larger force the more attractive?
Keith Brown: What I would say to that, and what I tried to outline earlier on, is that what most people would look at rather than the size of the force-I don’t know about others, but when I joined the force I had no idea of the relative size of the UK armed forces compared with many others; you would probably have a rough idea in your head, but it was not a determining feature in deciding to join-are the careers and opportunities that they might enjoy in the armed forces.
Q288 Chair: Which would surely be greater in a larger armed forces?
Keith Brown: I do not agree with that point, and I do think that the opportunities within the UK armed forces have substantially narrowed from where they were before. First of all, if you were joining the UK armed forces just now, you would have in the back of your mind, "What if I join, and at the very point I am asked to do some extremely dangerous work, there is a further series of defence cuts and I am made redundant? What would be the effect on any training programmes that I would be going through if I was made redundant?" For example, telecommunications technician or its equivalent-would that be broken and affect your ability to get a job subsequent to your military career.
Part of it, I think you are right to say, would be the things that you would get the chance to do if you were in the armed forces. You could look at the UK armed forces and say, "In my day, you were most likely to be in Northern Ireland. These days, not withstanding drawdown in Afghanistan, you would have expected to be involved in Afghanistan, but there is very little of the variability that was there before." I mention that because I visited my old unit to find out some of the issues that were there, and this was a point that was made to me. The biggest point was, "What can you do to help us prepare for life after the military?" They were interested in individual learning accounts to take on specific training to qualify for North Sea operations and things like that. I do not think it is about the size of the armed forces. That is not a determining feature for most people when they decide whether they want to join the armed forces.
Q289 Bob Stewart: Mr Brown, if you add up all the Scottish soldiers in the Army, there are substantially more than 7,000 to 8,000. Assuming they all wanted to join the Scottish army, would you be turning them down and would they lose their jobs if they really wanted to join the Scottish army? I accept that there would be a certain amount of profiling and some people would not be able to do it, but there could be substantial job losses of people if they wanted to join the armed forces, even in the infantry-especially in the infantry. How are you going to deal with that?
Keith Brown: To compare your question with some of the other points that have been made, usually on the other side-that there would not be enough people coming to the Scottish defence services in the event of independence-obviously, it can be one or the other, but it cannot be both. I think that making that offer as attractive as possible is very important to serving personnel.
I recently spoke to the mother of somebody serving in Afghanistan, in the RAF, who felt that their career had become extremely limited, was looking for further career opportunities, and was asking what the opportunities might be in an independent Scottish air force. If you can make that offer as attractive as possible-I have mentioned some of the ways in which I think we can do that-we will get that complement of 15,000 across the armed services. That applies to women as well, incidentally, not just men. We could get to that figure. If what you say is true, and we would not be able to accommodate everybody in the UK armed forces who wanted to come to the Scottish armed forces, it cannot at the same time be true that we would not have enough people to staff the Scottish armed forces.
Bob Stewart: We are talking possibilities here, as we know. I will have some more questions for you later.
Q290 Sir Bob Russell: May I suggest to you that a comparator is the Republic of Ireland, in terms of the size of its armed forces? Ever since the Irish Free State era, a significant number of Irish people have applied to, and served with great distinction in, Her Majesty’s armed forces. Is that evidence that they prefer to be with a more substantial armed force, rather than a localised defence force?
Keith Brown: I would not describe an independent Scotland’s armed forces as a localised defence force.
Q291 Sir Bob Russell: I was coming back to the phrase, "the Scottish defence force."
Keith Brown: Which was used in previous evidence sessions. I tried to respond to that point in your first question about the nomenclature of Scottish defence forces. However, Scotland comes from a very different position from the Republic of Ireland, in terms of defence forces. Given Ireland’s historical position as regards the second world war, NATO and a whole host of other things, and given that it has not had the shared experience that we have had, so far, with the UK armed forces, you are right: those from Ireland who wanted a career-I served with some of them-saw that as an attractive proposition. I do not think that Scotland is at all comparable to Ireland, except in relation to conscripts, of course, which we are not advocating. We are much more comparable to other north European countries, such as Norway and Denmark.
Sir Bob Russell: Thank you.
Q292 Penny Mordaunt: Could you outline the core tasks that would be required of the Scottish navy?
Keith Brown: I may have missed out something-I am not sure-but I have tried to. Examples include defence of the coastline, obviously working with other agencies, in terms of drugs and countering any terrorist threat. That would also relate to North Sea installations. There would also be a role in international operations. There are niche areas where Scotland may want to develop particular expertise that may relate to the navy. If you think about some of the services that are required to protect North Sea installations-I will not go into too much detail about that-they are very similar to anti-piracy activities that NATO and other countries undertake.
Some of these things are essential, such as protecting the integrity of your coastline. For example, we have incursions by Russian vessels into Scottish waters. As for the idea of having to wait two days for a boat to come up from the south of England and present itself, I think we could do better than that in an independent Scotland. I mentioned energy as well; there is obviously North Sea oil, and also what we are doing in relation to renewables. We want to protect those assets.
Q293 Penny Mordaunt: What would be your criteria for taking part in joint international tasks? I am not asking you to give me specifics, but is it about protecting your trade routes, or expertise that you might be developing? What is the thinking on that?
Keith Brown: Consistent with what I have tried to outline as a defence and foreign policy posture, we would want to be seen to be good neighbours. There are many activities around the world in which you can be involved that would be seen as contributing to the international good; anti-piracy is an example of that. Obviously, you want to defend your vital national interests, but that is done much more in terms of working with other countries, through NATO membership, which we want, although that is obviously a decision for NATO. These things should be carried out in conjunction with other countries. I would very much hope and expect that it would also be in conjunction with our nearest and oldest partner, the rest of the UK.
Q294 Penny Mordaunt: Will the White Paper set out in detail what your core tasks would be?
Keith Brown: Yes. There would be a substantial amount of detail in that. Just to put this in context, we will produce the White Paper in the autumn, as I mentioned, and it will have a substantial amount of detail and give much more of the bigger picture. That will be upwards of 10 or 11 months before the referendum-substantially more notice, for example, than the Czech or Slovak Republics had before they agreed on their relative independence.
I tried to talk with UK Ministers about the basing review, which is extremely important to Scotland. Let me talk about the way that Scotland found out about that. I had undertaken a commitments paper in relation to veterans, and had happily agreed to a request from the UK Minister to come along to the launch of that at Edinburgh castle some weeks before. I found out about the outcome of the basing review, vital as it was for those in Scotland, when the UK Defence Minister and the Minister of State in the Scotland Office strolled down to Edinburgh castle. They never told the Scottish Government, never told the First Minister and did not respond to my requests.
To come back to your point, we will lay a great deal of information before the Scottish people well before they have to make a decision. That is in stark contrast to what we see just now, which is a lack of communication from the UK Government.
Q295 Penny Mordaunt: That is very helpful, because my next question is: how many and what type of ocean-going vessels would you require the Scottish navy to have?
Keith Brown: I think I have mentioned this point already. That is something we are looking at quite seriously, and we are talking to other people. The one thing I could say from the discussions we have had so far is that, as I have mentioned already, we do not think it is possible to have an agreed division of assets that would give us all that we need, so we will be looking for further procurement, but that detail will be in the White Paper.
Q296 Penny Mordaunt: Out of the current surface fleet, what capabilities would you need?
Keith Brown: We do not need aircraft carriers, for example; we do not see a need for that.
Q297 Penny Mordaunt: What do you need?
Keith Brown: That is what we are looking at in the White Paper. It is up to us to look at our requirements in relation to energy, international contribution and maritime patrol. There is probably a fair bit you can deduce from that statement, but we are working on that just now, and will make our views clear at the White Paper stage.
Q298 Penny Mordaunt: It is your prerogative to make it clear when you wish to, but do you know now what you actually need from the current surface fleet?
Keith Brown: No. Obviously, we have an idea-I have outlined what we think are the threats, obligations and needs that we will have. There are some things that are not entirely clear, because we cannot be clear; the UK Government are not engaged in that conversation. I can give you one example of why it is difficult to be as specific as you would like: the Type 26 contract, which the UK Government have not made an announcement about, has led to a great deal of uncertainty, not just in Scotland, but in the rest of the UK, not just for defence planning purposes, but in relation to jobs. It is vitally important procurement. We wish the UK Government to go ahead with that as soon as possible. I have made the offer to other parties, at least to the Labour party in Scotland, that we will make a joint approach to both the UK Government and the contractors, to see whether we can provide sufficient assurances-if the contract is awarded prior to the referendum-that in the case of a yes vote, their interests will be protected.
Q299 Penny Mordaunt: We will come on to procurement later. Am I correct in deducing that you are thinking of frigates as parts of this?
Keith Brown: All I was going to say was that it may well be that a Type 26 would be a possibility. Looking at what is currently specced in relation to the Type 26, it may not be something that we want to see specced to that level, but that is a possibility. The other point I am trying to make is that where we find we cannot agree with the UK Government, or the UK Government currently do not have the capability that we want, we will procure from elsewhere.
Q300 Penny Mordaunt: For the stuff that is not currently part of the surface fleet, it is things like ocean-patrol vessels and those sorts of things.
Keith Brown: Yes, I have mentioned some of them.
Q301 Penny Mordaunt: What else?
Keith Brown: Again, I come back to the point that we are looking at this now. We will make it clear in the White Paper, when that is produced.
Q302 Penny Mordaunt: Does the same apply to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary?
Keith Brown: Yes, it does.
Q303 Penny Mordaunt: You do not know yet. You are doing the work and you will announce it in the White Paper. Thank you. Whatever that capability is-one of the challenges of the fleet as it is currently constituted is continuous readiness and resilience-how would you cope with what will inevitably be a smaller surface fleet?
Keith Brown: Obviously the aim has to be-I am sure it is the aim of the UK Government-to cope with that in such a way that it is seamless. The UK Government have failed in that objective. The Type 23s are coming towards the end of their lives without a replacement being in sight. I think you are right to say that it is very important that you have that transition, so that when one set of vessels comes to the end of its life-
Q304 Penny Mordaunt: Sorry, I was not talking about the successors to the current surface fleet. If you have ocean patrol vessels, you will have a small number. You may have one frigate. How will you ensure that you have that capability? Is that being factored into the numbers that you require, or will you work with someone else? Would it require obligations of the remainder of the UK fleet? That is clearly one of your main challenges. I am just wondering how you are approaching that.
Keith Brown: It is a challenge that other smaller, independent countries have faced and met, so we have no doubt that we can meet it, but I think there are a number of ways of meeting that challenge. You have asked whether we can come to an agreement with the rest of the UK. That is a very good question. There is obviously a possibility of doing that in the mutual interest of both Governments, but once again, our ability to progress with that line is hampered by the lack of communication. In the absence of that, we are looking to make sure that we can make it sustainable. I do not think we would face quite the challenges you mentioned. These have been met elsewhere, and I am confident that we can do it. It would be nice to do it in the context of discussion and co-operation with the UK Government.
Q305 Penny Mordaunt: My next question was about the cost of running the navy. Presumably you could not answer that, because you do not know what you need yet.
Keith Brown: I have been trying to mention the fact that we are involved in discussions just now with a wide range of people in a number of different countries about what our defence requirements would be. It is not, as you have tried to suggest, that we do not know. We have some very good ideas about what we want to see. The ability, though, to prescribe what we will need is inhibited by the lack of communication from the UK Government and a sensible pragmatic discussion. That means that it is more difficult to be prescriptive. In any event, we would not want to be prescriptive just now. We believe that the first necessity for us is to report and present this information to the people of Scotland, so we will do that in the autumn of this year.
Q306 Penny Mordaunt: On cost, do you have a budget in mind for the navy?
Keith Brown: We have the overall budget of £2.5 billion per year. That is roughly 1.77% of GDP, which sits at the top end of comparable countries. They range from about 0.7% of GDP to 2.7%. We believe that that is an appropriate budget for Scotland. Within that, we would have to fund naval services.
Q307 Chair: But if you don’t know what you need how have you come up with the figure of £2.5 billion?
Keith Brown: I don’t think I have said that we don’t know what we need. The answer I have just tried to give is that we have a clear idea of the kind of things we would like to see a Scottish armed forces do and some of the obligations it would have. So we have a fairly clear idea of that. Where we can be less clear is in the areas of collaboration and co-operation with the UK Government. That hampers us coming to a final conclusion on these things. But we are clear about the role that we would see for the armed forces and the obligations it would have, especially in relation to international treaties and so on.
Q308 Penny Mordaunt: I understand you want to present your White Paper to the Scottish people. Have you had any detailed communication with the Secretary of State about your requirements?
Keith Brown: We have written to the Secretary of State for Defence asking for those discussions to take place. We have also used whatever sources of information we can. For example, parliamentary questions laid at Westminster have helped us gain some of the information.
Q309 Penny Mordaunt: The sooner you put your wish list out there the better, presumably.
Keith Brown: Sorry?
Penny Mordaunt: I am trying to ascertain, as we are seeing the Secretary of State next, whether you have given him your wish list-ball park, finalised or whatever-of capabilities.
Keith Brown: No. We have to have a sensible discussion, rather than just presenting a demand. It has to be a two-way discussion.
Q310Thomas Docherty: As I understand it-it sounds like this is all torn up now-you are planning to make Faslane the joint headquarters. Is that still the case, or has that also been chucked overboard?
Chair: You said you were planning to make it headquarters.
Keith Brown: Are you saying that you did not know that?
Thomas Docherty: No, I am asking whether that is still your policy.
Keith Brown: Yes.
Q311Thomas Docherty: How many personnel will be based at Faslane?
Keith Brown: I think I have just tried to explain that we will present the configuration of the armed forces of Scotland in the White Paper. You can take from the fact that it will be a headquarters facility, and also the major naval base for Scotland, that it will be a matter of thousands of people servicing that facility.
Q312Thomas Docherty: Forgive me, Mr Brown, but we have just heard you say in response to serious, reasonable questions from Ms Mordaunt about how many frigates and submarines you will have that you have no idea at all how that will be worked out in the future.
Keith Brown: I never said that at all.
Q313Thomas Docherty: We can look at the transcript afterwards, but you said repeatedly that you did not have figures for each of the types. At the same time, you are very robust that Faslane is going to see no reduction in its headcount. You will understand my scepticism about how those two join up. You know that you are going to have 15,000-I am assuming that Angus Robertson did not make that up on the back of a fag packet in Inverness. I am sure that that figure of 15,000 is worked out. How does that 15,000 break down? Approximately how many will be at Faslane? How many submarines, frigates and MCMs do you want, and how does that fit inside a £2.5 billion budget?
Keith Brown: Mr Chairman, it would be useful if there was no inventing of things that I said. If you check the record, you will find that I never said the things that Mr Docherty accused me of. Also, I think I have answered that question a number of times already. I really have nothing to add to my previous answers in relation to that question.
Q314Thomas Docherty: When did you first write to the Defence Secretary asking for negotiations?
Keith Brown: I will have to check that and get back to you.
Sean Stronach: The letter to officials was, I think, sent earlier this month.1
Thomas Docherty: This month? I am pretty sure that Alex Salmond became First Minister in May 2007.
Keith Brown: I think that is the case. I would accept that, yes.
Q315Thomas Docherty: There was at least one consultation. Was it a White Paper? I cannot quite remember the exact phrase. This has been a six-year process. I genuinely do not understand why it is at this point that you are saying you want to have negotiations. Why didn’t this take place over the previous five or six years, when we had Bob Ainsworth as Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy as Scottish Secretary and Gordon as Prime Minister? Why didn’t you make a request for negotiation at that point? Why is it only now that you are writing to the UK Government?
Keith Brown: First, I should say that we have not asked for negotiations. In fact, I specifically mentioned the fact that we are not looking at pre-negotiation. That is important to the UK Government, and we accept that point. I did actually try to speak to Gordon Brown about this. He came to my street during the election in 2010, and I made the point to him about the lack of helicopter support and support for Scottish regiments. He did not seem to want to answer at that time.
I have had a number of discussions with the MOD since becoming Veterans Minister. The important change that is taking place, of course, is the Edinburgh agreement, which commits the Governments to discussing these things. That should be the starting point. That is when these detailed discussions really should be taking place.
I can probably provide for you the different times that I have been rebuffed by the MOD when trying to get information. One example may suffice. I have now asked four Defence Ministers in the UK to be allowed the opportunity to go to Afghanistan. The Scottish Government have responsibility for veterans-for their health and education, for medical services specific to those coming out of the armed forces, and for employment and, crucially, housing. There is really only one way to get the best information about that, which is to talk to those who are serving and are immediately expecting to come out of the armed forces. That has been rebuffed, and I believe it has been rebuffed because it is the Scottish Government who asked.
Q316Thomas Docherty: Very quickly, when did you last visit Faslane, and what was your assessment of it?
Keith Brown: My assessment of it?
Thomas Docherty: Of its capability. When was the last time you were at Faslane?
Keith Brown: I think it was 2008 or 2009.
Thomas Docherty: You have not been for six years. Okay. That is my final point.
Q317 Chair: Moving on to the air force questions-we are running short of my timetable already-how many and what type of fast jets do you think Scotland would need to operate?
Keith Brown: As I have mentioned already, we are looking at that issue. To give you more information on this, we believe that there is a gap currently where we do not have that facility. I think it was the case, for example, that the UK Government had committed to work with Iceland in relation to the Typhoon squadron to provide cover for the high north, and that was withdrawn at short notice. Despite that, if you look at the different countries in Scandinavia, Scotland’s neighbours, and all sorts of obligations around the north Atlantic, we believe that there is a need for a marine patrol aircraft in that area, and we are looking at that just now. We are talking to people about what our requirements could be and how they could be met.
Q318 Chair: Indeed. Would you expect to inherit Typhoons, for example, from the remainder of the United Kingdom?
Keith Brown: As I say, I do not want to prejudice what the White Paper says, but I think the Typhoons would be beyond the requirements of an independent Scotland. Obviously, we have contributed substantially to their cost, but there may be more suitable ways for us to provide air cover.
Q319 Chair: Do you think that while Typhoons would be beyond the requirement of a Scottish air force, Hawks would be beneath the requirement of a Scottish air force, because they would not be fast enough? Do you agree with that?
Keith Brown: I think we really are approaching the same information from different directions, Mr Chairman. We do have to look at these issues. I do not think that Hawks would be beneath the requirement. I think there could very well be a role for them.
Q320 Chair: Certainly, there will be a role-for example, for training-but they would not be able to do the air intercepts of airliners or anything like that.
Keith Brown: No, they would not be able to do that; you are quite right.
Q321 Chair: So you need something faster than that?
Keith Brown: Typhoons are obviously an option, but there are other options as well. If you cannot have the detailed information and discussions just now about things like the Typhoon, it is difficult to be hard and fast about it. Typhoons may be one possibility, but there are many others internationally for us to try and see whether we can use. As I say, it is hard for us to be specific just now, because we do not have that discussion with the UK Government. We have had major reductions in terms of RAF bases and facilities in Scotland; we do not have that experience. We would like to discuss the possibility of Typhoons, but we are also looking, as I mentioned in relation to maritime vessels, at other options.
Q322 Chair: You have mentioned maritime patrol aircraft several times. You would expect to buy at least one maritime patrol aircraft, and presumably more than one.
Keith Brown: I understand why the questions are being asked, but I ask you to understand, from my point of view, that it is down to us now to make sure that we carry out the work on this and see exactly what the requirements are-whether we need one or more, what kind of vessels we need, and whether they are currently available from a possible division of assets with the UK Government. The same applies to aircraft, Typhoons and otherwise.
Q323 Chair: And you would give the same answer about air bases as you would about army bases, would you?
Keith Brown: Again, yes. You do see a changing picture in Scotland. As things stand, we believe that the one air base would be sufficient for Scotland’s needs.
Q324 Chair: You think that one air base would be enough?
Keith Brown: Yes, but the UK Government’s defence review seems constantly to change this, so we have to see what the situation is at the point of independence.
Q325 Chair: As for that one air base, do you have a preference as to which one it would be?
Keith Brown: Once again, there are different options available to us. I think you have to wait and see. For example, if you have an air base or an army base that has been used for a number of years, and then is no longer used, bringing it back into use presents different logistical challenges. I have heard it said that different elements of Redford barracks-and Dreghorn barracks, not far away-could be sold off, but not the whole thing. It makes an awful lot of sense to take decisions on some of the detail as close to the decision as possible, because then you understand what the actual position is in the UK.
Q326 Chair: Okay. Thank you very much. Again, the answer on the costs of the Scottish air force will be the same as you have given in relation to the navy: you cannot be sure what it would cost, but you know that it will all be within that £2.5 billion. Is that right?
Keith Brown: Not quite. That is not the whole picture. Some of the discussion that you have had in previous sessions has neglected to mention the assets that we currently have. We have between £7 billion and £8 billion of assets. Scotland starts from that position, and not just a position of being able to spend the £2.5 billion, and that compares favourably with many other countries. We have that in the first place, and we also have, for example, our proportion of what we have contributed to Typhoon aircraft. We have what we have contributed towards aircraft carriers and other things. It is that, taken together with the annual budget that we have established, that should be taken into account.
Q327 Thomas Docherty: On cost-I am not going to get into the detail-I understand the argument about Typhoon and the model; that all makes sense, but it would still leave you with a significant shortfall on the number needed for critical mass, as you know, Mr Brown. Based on what Air Vice-Marshal Nicholl said, you need two squadrons. You need to buy approximately 16 to 18 Typhoons. Those are House of Commons figures, based on parliamentary answers. It would cost you £1.2 billion to get to critical mass.
Chair: Buy or inherit, I think Mr Brown is saying.
Thomas Docherty: Forgive me, but there is a gap between what you inherit and what you need. You are absolutely right: there is a valid argument about buying F-18s or Rafales or Gripens. The cost-these are House of Commons Library figures-is $80 million for Super Hornets, $80 million for Rafale and $80 million for Gripen, which makes it about £1.2 billion again. Could you briefly say how that fits into the £2.5 billion envelope?
Keith Brown: Can I first say that you mentioned the Typhoons, which is interesting? You have assumed, and I think I can see why you assumed, that you would take the proportion that I mentioned. I have also said, however, that we would not be looking, for example, to take on aircraft carriers, yet Scotland has contributed to those aircraft carriers. There obviously is a process, and that is why it comes back to the need for discussion and mature, responsible information-gathering on both sides. It is quite possible to say, "You would not have aircraft carriers. How would we reflect your share in relation to other aspects?" You can have that discussion. It would not necessarily be the case that it would be proportionate in relation to Typhoons, for example.
Beyond the requirements, we would not start from a position of looking to procure the Typhoon aircraft from the start. Typhoon aircraft could serve the purpose that we would have in mind for the North Sea. We would have to consider Typhoons in relation to the number of other possibilities that can be brought internationally, which Mr Docherty has mentioned. The F-35 costs £100 million. These are very expensive pieces of kit, and we understand that. Come the White Paper, we will be asked by you, as a resident of Scotland, how we will pay for it. It up to us to do that, and we are working on it.
Q328 Chair: If I may point out something about your negotiation, you will be giving the rest of the United Kingdom no choice as to whether to take on your eighth share of the aircraft carrier, will you, because you will not be buying an eighth of an aircraft carrier. That will affect your negotiating position, I would have thought.
Keith Brown: I do not anticipate an argument over that, to be honest.
Q329 Bob Stewart: Can I return to the subject of a Scottish army? You wish to have two brigades, one in high readiness and one in reserve. You will know from your time in 45 Commando that even a light brigade has 3,500 people. Those two brigades will just about mop up the 7,000 or 8,000 people in the army. Do you have any idea how many support troops you envisage having in the Scottish army?
Keith Brown: Again, I have to refer you to my previous answers, but to give you some more information on that, we do not see the experience that you or I have had of how the UK Army organises itself as necessarily the best route for Scotland. We are approaching this matter from a much more international perspective, and are trying to relate this to the needs that we think we will have in Scotland. I would not assume that we will try to reflect what the UK currently does. In fact, as I have mentioned, we are specifically not looking to replicate a smaller version of the UK armed forces. We will have a different relationship with the armed forces in Scotland. I have mentioned some of the things about those serving in the armed forces, but we will also have a different kind of armed force. We are looking at that issue among the others that I have already mentioned.
Q330 Bob Stewart: Do you envisage having special forces?
Keith Brown: Yes.
Q331 Bob Stewart: And how many reserve forces might you have?
Keith Brown: Again, I expect that we will hear from Philip Hammond, probably after I have finished speaking today, exactly what kind of reserve we will have in Scotland. Perhaps the Committee could ask him. I expect the decision has been made already and will be announced tonight or tomorrow, yet there has been no advance notice to the Scottish Government. It is not like we do not have an interest. We would expect a reserve force of about 5,000, but it would be useful to know the starting point in terms of the UK Government.
Q332 Bob Stewart: I see. The structure, fundamentally, would presumably be that command headquarters for all Scottish forces would be at Faslane. Presumably there would be an Army element there, and a general of some sort-two-star, maybe. Do you envisage all the current Scottish infantry battalions being retained? I think the answer is yes, but is that right? My assumption is that you might reduce them in scale.
Keith Brown: It is fair to assume that that is one of the things that we are looking at, not least given our commitment to reinstate Scottish regiments previously abolished. You can anticipate from that, given the numbers involved, that it would not be on the same scale as currently, except of course that the Argylls, my local regiment, have been dramatically reduced in scale in recent months.
Q333 Bob Stewart: Speaking as an ex-infantry officer, I am of the view that the British infantry battalion is far too small already. It was 200 heavier when I joined the Army than when I left it. The British model is already too small, yet you are proposing to cut the numbers, possibly, of a battalion. Would you still call it a battalion?
Keith Brown: I have to say that the issues that we are looking at will include that, but nomenclature is perhaps not top of the list. I agree with your point. I think that both the UK armed forces and the Scottish part of the armed forces are at less than Napoleonic levels just now. That has happened over a number of years.
To go into another point about the way that the UK armed forces have been treated, if you look at the aircraft carriers that we have mentioned, they are massively over budget, massively behind time and not scheduled to have aircraft on them. If you look at what happened to Nimrod and its replacement, billions have been spent on it and hundreds of millions on dismantling and scrapping it. You will know better than I do the litany of disasters that the UK has overseen in terms of procurement. It is vitally important to Scotland that we do not replicate those disasters. I know that that is not true only in relation to the UK; in the US, as well, you can see the cost of budget overruns and delays. I think it would be possible for Scotland, not least because of its size, to eliminate some of that wastage. That would help sustain the higher levels of armed forces that you talked about.
Q334 Bob Stewart: Thanks, Mr Brown. I have just one more question, because I know that we are pressed for time. I am slightly worried about putting a quart into a pint bottle again with the number of infantry battalions outside Scotland; I am thinking of the Scots Guards and other battalions. You might have a problem on infantry or army-type bases in Scotland, because we have more Scottish units than we have spaces for them. Is that, too, something that you are going to investigate in the White Paper?
Keith Brown: Yes. The White Paper will show the structures, as you have been hinting. Also, we will go into detail about the bases. Again, we will get some further idea from the announcement that Philip Hammond will make shortly about the installations that we have, including, for example, the reserve installations. I can only emphasise, again, that it is difficult to present an option when the picture is moving as rapidly as it has been in relation to bases in Scotland. We think that we are currently well served with the bases that we have, if you look at the capacity at Leuchars, for example, and some of the changes taking place there. If you look at the capacity at Redford barracks, which is being sold off in part, and elsewhere, that capacity exists just now. There is no guarantee that it will exist at the point of independence. You will understand that we have to wait until the White Paper to see exactly what we will do about those bases.
Q335 Chair: Moving on to the nuclear deterrent, how would it be removed from Scotland, exactly? Who do you think would bear the costs of relocating it?
Keith Brown: Can I say first that Scotland has borne its share of the costs of the current nuclear deterrent, and borne disproportionately the risks attached to that? As the First Minister said, it would be ridiculous to expect the Scottish Government and the Scottish people to bear the costs of its relocation, not least given the fact that it was the starting point of the Scottish Government that we did not want to have the weapons in the first place. In relation to their actual removal, there has to be discussion on that.
I readily accept that the Scottish Government do not have expertise in relation to it, so the only way in which it can be done safely is by having discussions with others and, by and large, just now that expertise lies with the Ministry of Defence, so it is vital in relation to the practicalities of removing Trident from its base that we have those discussions first. We have said that we have two criteria: one, that it should happen as quickly as possible and secondly, that that speed should be consistent with safety. Those are the two criteria that we would apply to it, but no, we should not have to bear the costs.
Q336 Chair: What do you think the costs might be?
Keith Brown: Again, based on the lack of rapport with the UK Government-I have seen some of the discussions that have taken place in this and other Committees about the potential cost-it did not seem to be something that anybody who has more knowledge of this than the Scottish Government can define specifically. In fact, last week, there was a remark that it could cost billions, but there has been no further, more specific, figure put on it. You had the vice-admiral here last week. If he-having served and been at the top of the tree in the Navy-cannot say, I am not going to have the ability to do so without having a discussion with the MOD.
Q337 Thomas Docherty: I accept the logic of your position, by the way. Who should pay for the conversion costs to so-called conventional forces? Would it be the Scottish Government?
Keith Brown: I think so. There could be quite a lot of conversion costs. You may remember a time when the Labour party, in particular, had a very strong arms conversion policy, of which I was always something of an admirer. I think that you are right. Conversion should fall to the Scottish Government, both in terms of personnel and in terms of the facility.
Q338 Thomas Docherty: And the submarines in Rosyth, which, as you know, I obviously have an interest in? Who pays for their decommissioning costs?
Keith Brown: It is funny because I remember that, in the 1992 general election, there was a story put about that Rosyth could lose the refitting of submarines if Scotland became independent and, lo and behold, it went very shortly afterwards.
Q339 Thomas Docherty: We didn’t win that election, I seem to remember.
Keith Brown: Again, in relation to that, we would have to have a discussion with the UK Government.
Q340 Chair: Presumably, it would not be your position that the Scottish Government should have a fair share of all the assets, but not a fair share of all the liabilities.
Keith Brown: I think that equity, in its broader concept, is the way that it should be approached. I think that that is the case. I mentioned in relation to the aircraft carriers-
Q341 Chair: So there should be a fair share of all the liabilities?
Keith Brown: The settlement that is agreed should be fair, and it should be equitable. If we end up taking Typhoons but no aircraft carriers, that could well be equitable, but it would not be defined by a particular formula in relation to those specific items.
Q342 Chair: One of the liabilities would be the cost of decommissioning the submarines at Rosyth, wouldn’t it?
Keith Brown: Again, that would have to be part of the discussion with the UK Government. To make a point about nuclear weapons: nuclear submarines, in particular, are an asset that we do not want in Scotland and which we understand that the rest of the UK does want. We respect that.
Q343 Chair: I do not think that the rest of the UK particularly wants the decommissioned nuclear submarines.
Keith Brown: That should be a matter for negotiation in discussions between the two Governments.
Chair: Thank you.
Q344 Sir Bob Russell: Mr Brown, it has been the policy of the Scottish National party for years-decades, in fact-to oppose membership of NATO. It was only eight or nine months ago that the SNP decided to vote in favour by a very narrow majority of an independent Scotland being a member of NATO. Was that a cosmetic decision ahead of a referendum vote that could be easily reversed? After all, the majority was only 94.
Keith Brown: First, I should say that I have nothing against narrow majorities. Ours was one in the last parliament, and I was first elected with a majority of four. Majorities are majorities. That is the decision that we took; 94 as you mentioned ahead of it.
No, I do not think it was cosmetic. I spoke in that debate myself. It was a debate in my view with real passion and conviction on both sides, but the decision was made and accepted by the conference. I do not think you can chop and change. You can change policy, which all political parties do on a regular basis, but it has to be done for the right reasons. I believe it was done for the right reasons.
Q345 Sir Bob Russell: So you can give an assurance that an independent Scotland, led by the SNP, would not revert to a position that was its historical policy for decades.
Keith Brown: Yes, that is our position.
Q346 Sir Bob Russell: So a Scottish Government would apply to join NATO. How is that consistent with the intention to remove the nuclear deterrent from Scotland?
Keith Brown: That is our position. We oppose nuclear weapons and we oppose them being in Scotland. We have made clear for decades our opposition to nuclear weapons. We believe that, in achieving that, we will be the same as around 25 of the 28 member countries. I might not have those figures exactly right, but certainly the vast majority of NATO countries do not have nuclear weapons.
Going back to comments by George Robertson, who used to be NATO Secretary-General, and these days has turned his hand to deriding armed forces in Scotland as a dad’s army, he laid out the philosophy and reason why NATO would not want new members to have nuclear weapons. So it is consistent with that, as it is with Greece and Canada-NATO countries that have divested themselves of nuclear weapons.
Q347 Sir Bob Russell: So an independent Scotland would have the benefit of membership of NATO and the luxury of being under the American nuclear umbrella.
Keith Brown: I don’t know if that is how you would describe the status of the vast majority of NATO members. If I can speak for the SNP, we would like to have the benefits of being a member of NATO and the luxury or benefit of being in a nuclear-free world. But we have to take our starting point from the position that we find ourselves in.
We have responsibility; we have an obligation based on what we have said to rid Scotland of nuclear weapons. If we are part of NATO, as my party wants us to be, we have obligations in relation to NATO as well. We have to accept those obligations, but an independent Scotland in that respect would be no different from the majority of members of NATO.
Q348 Sir Bob Russell: The current policy of the UK Government of four nations is to have a nuclear deterrent. Are you comfortable that three nations in the UK would still have that deterrent, but Scotland would not, having a land border as well?
Keith Brown: I would rather you did not have that nuclear deterrent, but it is not a decision for me to take.
Q349 Sir Bob Russell: No, I recognise that, but that is not my question.
Keith Brown: I am afraid that is my answer. The fact is that of course we would have that, but trying to say that in some way we are relying on it or enjoying the luxury of that, is not how the majority of people in Scotland feel about nuclear weapons. I am afraid you are just going to have to accept that we are trying to do this for the best of reasons.
We do not think nuclear weapons are things that we would ever want to use. We think, as many senior serving military personnel believe, that they are a hugely expensive diversion from defence expenditure that could be spent on much more valuable things. That is where we are starting from. I was not making a facile point. It is not the position of an independent Scotland or any Minister serving in it to make the decision for those other countries if they want to continue with nuclear weapons.
Q350 Sir Bob Russell: It is fair to say that that debate is happening throughout the United Kingdom. How long do you estimate it would take for an independent Scotland to negotiate NATO membership?
Keith Brown: There are fairly substantial processes to go through, but it has been done relatively quickly in the past. For example, I mentioned some of the eastern European countries. I do not want to give the impression that this is an automatic assumption. We do not assume that. We would go through the processes. In the past it has taken between about 18 and 24 months. Bear in mind, as I have said, that we would immediately start work on many of these things, in the event of a yes vote for independence.
Q351 Sir Bob Russell: Has legal advice been taken already?
Keith Brown: I think you will appreciate that, just as here at Westminster, we do not comment on the fact or content of legal advice.
Q352 Chair: During that 18 or 24 months, assuming that it goes that way, would you be members of NATO or not?
Keith Brown: For Scotland to become independent in March 2016, the vote would happen in 2014, so for that intervening period, yes, we would still be part of the UK and still part of the international treaty obligations that the UK has.
Q353 Penny Mordaunt: To what extent could an independent Scotland procure its defence matériel requirement domestically? Would you have a policy of doing so?
Keith Brown: Our policy would be no different from many other countries, which would be to seek in certain circumstances to procure within our own borders for certain defence equipments. We have outstanding expertise in many, but not all, areas; for example, the evidence that you heard last week, I think, talked of world-class facilities on the Clyde and in Faslane in terms of military shipbuilding, but in other areas we do not have such expertise, so we would want to procure a working partnership with others for that.
Q354 Penny Mordaunt: What kind of capabilities would you look to procure abroad?
Keith Brown: Again, that goes back to the question of what capabilities and equipment we believe we would need to have. I should also mention, of course, that we are part-at least at the current time-of a single market within the EU. We enjoy a trusted relationship and have EU obligations, so that would feature in our thinking as well.
Q355 Penny Mordaunt: What sovereign capabilities would you look to retain?
Keith Brown: I am not sure what you mean.
Penny Mordaunt: Shipbuilding, for example?
Keith Brown: Shipbuilding is interesting, because we have seen in Scotland over a number of years now a diminution of our coastguard service, for example. That is not defence, but allow me to develop the point. I think that there is a great deal more that we could do in terms of shipbuilding capacity in Scotland. We in the Scottish Government have procured two hybrid ferries from the Clyde, and I think that there is a great deal of synergy between the ability to procure domestic vessels for other purposes-whether coastguard, lighthouse or ferry services-and, although I am not suggesting that they are the same thing, the ability to procure military vessels, in which we have a great deal of expertise.
Q356 Penny Mordaunt: Just looking at the shipbuilding, do you think that your requirements for defence and other domestic things you might need would sustain the industry that exists on the Clyde and its supply chain?
Keith Brown: That industry faces pretty enormous challenges in any event. I think that under the terms of business agreement, there is an agreement that it will reduce from 5,000 plus to 1,500 plus over the coming years anyway. Again, I make the point that we have to take it at the point at which you inherit these obligations, but I have no doubt that, if I may say as much as this, because of the requirements that we believe we would have-as I have mentioned already, maritime patrol craft and other shipbuilding requirements in Scotland-especially with the world-leading expertise, we already have a very viable shipbuilding industry in Scotland.
Q357 Penny Mordaunt: How many ships would you envisage needing to be ordered on the Clyde to retain a sensible drumbeat in the yards, from the defence perspective?
Keith Brown: I am not being evasive here, but, once again, we have to think for a second about the extent to which the situation now is uncertain. We have to think about what we will inherit at that point, for what we can sustain. It partly depends on decisions yet to come from the UK Government, not least in relation to the Type 26.
Q358 Penny Mordaunt: Sorry, I was not asking necessarily about that decision, although it would be interesting to know if your numbers are reliant on Type 26, for example, being built there. Just in terms of sustaining that yard, do you know what needs to be built there throughout a year? What contracts are you relying on the Clyde having?
Keith Brown: The point I am trying to make is that we have a certain situation now, but the future is at least uncertain. Even under current projections-under the terms of business agreement-we are about to see substantial reductions, so what we are sustaining is changing over time. Your question is about what we need to sustain it, but I am saying that the requirements for that will change over time.
Q359 Penny Mordaunt: In terms of sustaining that sovereign capability-not necessarily exact numbers of jobs-basically do you think that you can have a viable shipyard going forward with your orders for the Scottish navy?
Keith Brown: I have never been of the view that the Clyde would rely solely on orders from an independent Scottish Government for their armed forces. The point I have made is that it has world-leading technology there. I have seen some reference in this Committee to the fact that the rest of the UK would have no intention or eagerness to procure from Scottish yards. We talked about the F-35 earlier, and given the massive procurement that the UK undertakes with the United States, I do not agree with the idea that you could not trust an independent Scotland. All the defence equipment at the point of independence, all the defence personnel, all the joint working that goes on and all the history in NATO should lead to a substantial level of trust. I do not see this as a bar to the rest of the UK or other countries wanting to tap into that world-class expertise. For that reason, I think we have a very bright future.
Q360 Penny Mordaunt: One final question on this. I am a Portsmouth MP, and I have never argued that we should be building our ships in Portsmouth from a parochial point of view. I think that as the UK Government, we have to get the best results for our budget and prioritise the kit that we give to our armed forces. Why do you think that as a Member of the remainder of the UK Parliament, I would not want to retain sovereign capability in the remainder of the UK? Why would I be content with, say, Type 26 being built in Scotland?
Keith Brown: First, I do not deny at all the reasons why you would find it an attractive choice to procure from Portsmouth. All I am saying is that, as you mentioned-you are quite right to mention it-it may well be the case that an independent Scotland will want to procure from elsewhere, where it does not have that speciality or cannot achieve that standard.
Q361 Penny Mordaunt: No, but I am concerned that the Clyde will be in difficulties if we do not build the Type 26 there. Clearly, BAE wants to put its eggs in one basket, and I and other Members of Parliament want sovereign capability to be retained in the UK. Do you agree that you need the Type 26 to make the Clyde viable in the future? If that is not the case, we can end this conversation. If you do, why are you confident that the remainder of the UK would still want its frigate fleet to be built in Scotland?
Keith Brown: First, that is a decision for the contractor. My own view, and it is unfortunately not based on direct discussions, is that the balance of probability favours the Clyde in relation to the Type 26 frigates.
Q362 Penny Mordaunt: But only as part of the UK. The point I am getting at, if I am not being clear, is why you think in an independent Scotland you would retain, if you were awarded it-let us assume that you would be-the contract to build the Type 26. My fear is that the huge asset that is the Clyde is in jeopardy if you are not part of that programme. Why are you confident that you will be, in an independent Scotland?
Keith Brown: I suppose the short answer is that I think the Clyde is best for carrying out that contract, but the more relevant point to your question is why would the UK Government do that? I think it would do it, first of all, because it is the best option. I think that is where you will get the best expertise and you will get the contract seen through.
I understand th some of the questions that are raised about the fact that the contract may be awarded, and then we will hope for independence and then they will be built in an independent Scotland. To reiterate, I have challenged and asked the leader of the Labour party in Scotland. We are more than willing to speak to the UK Government and to the contractor to provide the reassurances that they want, if they want reassurances, about being able to place that contract in the full and certain knowledge that it would be delivered in an independent Scotland. I am sure that the UK Government, when they take this decision, will take it based on the need to get the best equipment for their Navy. If that is their decision, we want to try to help them make that decision. I think that the balance of probability lies in favour of awarding that contract to the Clyde, and we will try to make sure that that happens.
Q363 Penny Mordaunt: My concern is where the issue of sovereign capability comes in. There is another option, and there are people like me around to say that there is another option. Can you be reassured that it would still be at the Clyde?
Q364 Ms Gisela Stuart: Still the same thing, but from a slightly different angle. Presumably, an independent Scotland would apply to join the EU.
Keith Brown: No. On an independent Scotland, Scotland is currently a member of the EU. Obviously, there would be negotiations about the terms of that membership, but we do not see ourselves departing from the EU. Indeed, there is no provision within any of the European treaties to expel citizens who are currently EU citizens.
Q365 Ms Stuart: I happen to disagree with the interpretation, but that really is neither here nor there. At some stage you would be an independent member state of the European Union, and in that context you would be liable to EU procurement rules. Would you expect the United Kingdom to be procuring defence capacity from Scotland without having to go for EU competitive tendering?
Keith Brown: We would obviously observe the regulations that applied there. There obviously are derogations-I forget the exact article that allows you to derogate from that. But outside of the obligations that you have to the EU, there is the potential for joint procurement between member states, and Scotland would take advantage of that, as would any other independent member of the EU.
Q366 Ms Stuart: Which other independent member of the EU has taken advantage of those derogations?
Keith Brown: I said that anyone could do that, rather than saying that-
Q367 Ms Stuart: And I am asking: has anyone done it?
Keith Brown: Well, you were a Member of the European Parliament, so perhaps you would know. I am not sure.
Q368 Ms Stuart: I have never been a Member of the European Parliament.
Keith Brown: Sorry-of a European committee, was it?
Q369 Ms Stuart: No, I have never been that. I have negotiated the European constitution, but Europe is a complicated place, you know.
Keith Brown: My mistake. Apologies.
Chair: You know that Europe is a complicated place.
Keith Brown: I think there was one time when you visited the Scottish Parliament and I must have picked that up wrongly.
Q370 Ms Stuart: I gave evidence as part of the European constitution, that is right. But the point remains that the United Kingdom would be subject to procurement rules, so with any kind of further negotiations that could keep the Clyde and all those procurements, you might not be the most competitive bidder. Other people might bid lower, and the United Kingdom, even if they wanted to, would not go to Scotland.
Keith Brown: My belief is that it is possible to do that, and that is another point on which we obviously disagree. It is possible to do that. The scenario I was discussing before was the award of the contract prior to independence, and prior, in fact, to the vote on independence, so obviously in those circumstances it is permissible. My understanding is that it is possible to do that-to do the scenario you described where the rest of the UK would procure from Scotland without going through the competitive tendering process that the European Union sets down. It is possible to do that just now. As to which members do it, I would have to go and check and come back to you.
Q371 Ms Stuart: I assume that your view is based on legal advice you have received. I heard you earlier saying that you do not comment on legal advice, and that is perfectly legitimate. However, can we just establish that you have received legal advice?
Keith Brown: I am not sure that that sentence can make sense. I have just explained to you that we cannot comment on the fact of or the content of legal advice, and that is true of UK Ministers as well.
Q372 Ms Stuart: I am not asking you about the content of the legal advice. I am asking about the evidence that there has been legal advice.
Keith Brown: Or the fact of legal advice.
Q373 Ms Stuart: Why is the fact of legal advice a matter of secrecy?
Keith Brown: That is what the ministerial code says, I’m afraid.
Q374 Chair: Can I just clarify one issue? Scotland, at the moment, as part of the United Kingdom, is a member of NATO, but you accept that you would need to apply to become a member of NATO. Scotland, at the moment, as part of the United Kingdom, is a member of the European Union, but you do not accept that you would need to apply to become a member of the European Union. Is that your position?
Keith Brown: Yes it is. Would you like me to explain it further? I think it is probably readily explicable in terms of the treaties of the European Union and the NATO treaties as well, and the process by which other countries have joined NATO. We accept and understand why we would have to go through that process, but-and this is the point of disagreement between me and Ms Stuart-Scotland, in my view, is de facto a member, or its citizens are members, of the EU. They are EU citizens.
There is no provision within any EU treaty to expel people from the EU, and it is my view that what we would have to do is negotiate, for example, the number of MEPs and various other things that relate to the EU, in the period between a yes vote and the achievement of independence. I do not accept that we would have to join the EU as a new member state.
Q375 Ms Stuart: Has the Commission ever supported you in that view?
Keith Brown: The Commission does not comment on the issues.
Ms Stuart: The Commission has made comments, and the Commission’s preliminary view was that you would have to reapply.
Chair: I want to move on, please.
Sir Bob Russell: Article 346 would preclude preferential treatment by the remaining United Kingdom to Scotland.
Chair: Yes. I want to cover one final question: voter registration for service personnel.
Q376 Thomas Docherty: Mr Brown, as you are aware, my colleagues came to Scotland-I was back in Scotland-and visited a number of establishments. The point was made to us repeatedly that a lot of service personnel are based in Scotland and not currently on the registers, for whatever reason. Could you outline briefly the steps that the Scottish Government will undertake to ensure that all military personnel based in Scotland will be on the register in time for the referendum?
Keith Brown: I speak as a former deputy returning officer. It is important that Governments do not do these things; they should be done by electoral registration officers. Work is being done by electoral registration officers to maximise the awareness of people’s ability to register in time for the referendum; that will apply specifically as well to service personnel.
Q377 Thomas Docherty: You are ex-military yourself, so do you think that it would be helpful if the MOD were highlighting that work and making information available?
Keith Brown: They should do that in conjunction with the Electoral Commission, who are responsible for it. It is very important that it is done in the correct way.
Q378 Thomas Docherty: Absolutely. One final question. You will be aware that there are a number of Scottish-based personnel who are likely to be serving overseas on 18 September 2014-whether that be in the Falklands, Afghanistan or elsewhere. This is a unique circumstance, in that we do not have candidates and we know what the question will be. Will you be taking steps to ensure that those ballot papers are sent-whether to Mount Pleasant or Bastion or Canada-early enough so that those personnel can take part, fill in the ballot papers and send them back?
Keith Brown: Just to say again, the idea that the Government would be involved in that would be very dubious in a democracy. But I think that the point that you make is that we need to make sure that the maximum number of people are entitled to vote. Incidentally, we are not applying any different set of criteria to those which applied to the 1997 referendum.
We are keen to make sure that as many people as possible are entitled to vote. Anybody who is not currently registered, of course, has the ability, between now and then, to register, given the due processes. Yes, everything we can do to help maximise that, but primarily it is the responsibility-for very good reason-of the Electoral Commission.
May I come back to the point made on article 346? It is important to point out that when Malcolm Chalmers gave evidence to your Committee, he also pointed out the ability to award contracts, without the European competition that was mentioned, to other countries. He mentioned that, so perhaps you might want to take that into account as well.
Q379 Chair: Does not that apply only if the contract is awarded within the territorial boundaries of the country that awards the contract?
Keith Brown: I think that the scenario painted by Ms Stuart is: if Scotland was independent and the UK wanted to award a contract to Scotland, would it be prohibited from doing so under the rules that allow you to do it without competition?
Chair: Because Scotland will be a different country.
Keith Brown: Yes, and I am saying that it may be from a newspaper article rather than evidence to the Committee, but Malcolm Chalmers has made the point previously that it is possible to do that.
Q380 Ms Stuart: My point was the other way around. To keep the shipyards going, you are relying on orders coming from outside. The UK would have to choose whether it wanted to derogate, and it might not wish to do that because it might want to protect its own sovereign capability, but Scotland’s sovereign capability is Scotland’s problem. We may be quite happy with competitive tendering, but it would not suit your purposes. That was my point.
Keith Brown: I think that your first question was whether it was possible, and I am saying that it is possible. Of course, these questions-
Ms Stuart: But we would have to apply for it, not you.
Keith Brown: All I am saying is that it is possible to do. It depends on decisions made by the Governments in question-of course it does, and I accept that.
Chair: Mr Brown, and Mr Stronach-silent though you have been-thank you both very much for coming in front of us and helping us with our inquiry. We are most grateful.
We will now have a break until 3.45, which gives us just a bit of time.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Secretary of State for Defence, gave evidence.
Q381 Chair: Secretary of State, welcome to this evidence session on the defence implications of Scottish independence. We understand that there may be a Division shortly, but let’s crack on and see where we get. First, we would like to ask about the contingency plans that the Ministry of Defence is making against the possibility of Scottish independence. What are they?
Mr Hammond: As you will understand, the Ministry of Defence, or the armed forces, make contingency plans on a routine basis. That is at the core of what they do, but it should not be confused with the making of specific contingency plans for the eventuality of a yes vote in the Scottish referendum. As you know, the Government’s position is that we do not expect a yes vote in the referendum. We believe that the people of Scotland are better off in the United Kingdom and will recognise that in the referendum, and therefore we are not making specific contingency plans to deal with the eventuality of a yes vote.
Q382 Chair: Is that a high-risk strategy?
Mr Hammond: I don’t think so. The trick here is to think through what a yes vote would mean. A yes vote, in the unlikely event that it were to happen, would simply be the starting bell for what would be a long and complex process of negotiation between the Scottish Government and the representatives of the remainder of the United Kingdom.
Looking at the hugely complicated issues that would be involved in trying to partition a country that has functioned as an integrated and very effective whole for 300 years, the process would take a significant time. Of course, during that period, appropriate contingency planning would take place. If the situation arose, until we saw the opening negotiating position of a Scottish Government, as opposed to the posture it had taken up during a referendum campaign, we would not actually be clear on what contingency planning we would need to be doing.
Q383 Chair: What engagement or discussions have you had with the Scottish Government so far?
Mr Hammond: My Department, of course, engages with Scottish Government officials on issues where the reserved matter of defence touches devolved matters, and there are such areas-the way veterans are treated in the community after discharge from the services, for example. My own personal dealings with the Scottish Government and their elected Members have generated rather more heat than light in the area of trying to understand what the Scottish Government think their defence posture would be.
Q384 Ms Stuart: In the evidence given to us just before you arrived, Mr Brown suggested that when it comes to the division of assets-if there were a yes vote and an independent Scotland-a population-based division would be a reasonable way of approaching it. Would you agree?
Mr Hammond: It is not for me to decide that. That would clearly have to be looked at on a cross-Government basis. Perhaps I can help you by saying that when I made a speech in Scotland earlier this year, seeking to analyse the Scottish Government’s defence position, in so far as I could understand what it was, I took as my assumption that any division of assets would be population based, giving Scotland about one twelfth of the United Kingdom’s fleets of vehicles, ships and other equipment.
Q385 Ms Stuart: If you look at Whitehall and how it co-operates, do you think that the division of defence assets-what is handed over and what is not-may be simply part of wider negotiations in the case of Scottish independence or would you expect defence to be a discrete unit of negotiations?
Mr Hammond: I can genuinely say that this is not something that we have discussed. This is very hypothetical. I can see no reason why the defence discussion would be ring-fenced from all the other complex areas that would have to be discussed in the unlikely event that this came to pass and this complex negotiation had to get under way.
Q386 Ms Stuart: While we have the luxury of having you here, Mr Brown had a well-thumbed copy of the asset register, so if the Scottish Government have looked carefully at the Scottish assets, presumably the MOD has done something similar at some stage.
Mr Hammond: I do not know what asset register this is, but I would remind you that the MOD’s balance sheet is something like £80 billion,2 so it would be a very thick document indeed that represented an MOD asset register. I do not know what the document was.3
Ms Stuart: It was about 4 inches thick.
Mr Hammond: I am not familiar with or aware of such a document. I do not know what the Scottish Government have generated.
Ms Stuart: Maybe you should ask them to send you one.
Q387 Thomas Docherty: I am going to avoid getting into a debate with Gisela about inches, because it never ends well for any man.
I was struck, Secretary of State, by Mr Brown’s assumption, as I understood it, that you would take the notional total value of equipment, say £100, and Scotland would then get £8.40, rather than Scotland getting 8.4% of each equipment type. If I understood it-I hope I am not distorting his view-his idea was that they would not want Astute-class submarines, because they are going to have non-nuclear, conventional submarines, and they would therefore get more Type 23s or more Typhoons. You are a very accommodating sort of fellow. Is that something that you would be keen to accommodate them on?
Mr Hammond: I am glad that you have noticed how accommodating I try to be, but I am not sure that I would be that accommodating. The starting point would be an assumption of pro rata sharing and then there would obviously be a negotiation. When I made my speech in Scotland that I referred to earlier, I think we concluded that they would get 0.7 of an Astute submarine and 1.6 frigates and destroyers. There is clearly a technical problem and therefore there would have to be some negotiation about how assets were divided. It would a mistake to assume that they could simply cherry-pick the asset register.
It is also of course a huge mistake to think of the UK armed forces as something that can just be divided up. Assets are no use without people to operate them, as many countries around the world have found. It is no good buying a fleet of advanced fighter jets if you do not have the wherewithal to train pilots and to sustain the engineering capability that keeps them in the air. The same is increasingly true of very sophisticated weapons systems, warships, and land vehicles. These are complex, holistic systems and, as part of an overall capability, you need to think of the equipment, the sustainment of it, the training for it and the qualified manpower to use it-the military talk about defence lines of development, and an asset is no use unless you develop simultaneously all the lines of development that are needed to deploy it as military capability.
Q388 Mr Brazier: In the event of independence, would Scots serving in the British armed forces be able to continue? Presumably they would.
Mr Hammond: Yes, absolutely.
Q389 Mr Brazier: Do you imagine that those who had taken their oath of allegiance to the Queen-as soldiers, sailors and airmen do when they sign on-would be allowed the option of transferring to the Scottish armed forces if Scotland became independent?
Mr Hammond: Again, such matters would be for negotiation. There would be hundreds, probably thousands, of such specific requests. I would imagine that they would be dealt with through some massive clearing house arrangement of things that each side in the negotiation wanted to achieve. It does not seem an unreasonable assumption that people who had a connection with Scotland and wanted to be released from their commitment to service in the UK armed forces in order to join some putative Scottish defence force might expect to be allowed to do so. But it would be part of the negotiation.
Q390 Mr Brazier: Presumably we would continue to accept recruits from Scotland, given that we still accept them from Eire. Or would that be a matter for negotiation, too?
Mr Hammond: I think that that would probably be a matter for a unilateral decision about whether we decided it was in our interest to continue to recruit in Scotland. Scots make a tremendous contribution to the UK armed forces-probably a disproportionately important contribution. I can see many reasons why the UK armed forces would wish to continue recruiting in Scotland, as we do in the Republic of Ireland, but we would make that decision based on our perception of our national interest at the time.
Q391 Chair: What would be your approach to the suggestion that the remainder of the United Kingdom should continue to train Scottish officers, for example at Sandhurst or Shrivenham?
Mr Hammond: As you will be well aware, Mr Chairman, we have very significant numbers of overseas students in training at those academies. Subject to its remaining in proportion, we believe that having overseas students in the mix enhances the military training that we can deliver at those academies, so I have no objection in principle to the idea of having overseas students on our terms, on a full cost-recovery basis, and capped and limited in such a way that it enhances the training experience for our own cadets rather than detracts from it.
Q392 Chair: But the difference between the position now and then would surely be that they would become part of the overseas contingent, rather than part of the United Kingdom indigenous force?
Mr Hammond: Yes.
Q393 Thomas Docherty: On the exchange with Mr Brown about training, I am trying not to misrepresent him, but I think that his assumption is that the British Army, Navy and Air Force would shrink by the 8.4%. That then frees up, so to speak, those places back to the Scots, if you follow his logic. Is that a logical assumption to make?
Mr Hammond: I can say with absolute certainty that I could fill any number of places in the three academies and the Royal College of Defence Studies. Every time I set foot in a foreign country, almost the first question I am asked is, "Can you find more places for our cadets?" So we would have no difficulty in filling any places that became vacant. The important thing is that there has to be an appropriate balance between overseas, non-UK students, and UK students. Otherwise, the academy loses the essential character that gives its precise value to those overseas students.
Q394 Thomas Docherty: I don’t want to put words in your mouth, Secretary of State. The answers that previously have been given by the MOD are that, for example, at Sandhurst there are 75 overseas international places. On a ballpark figure for a regular Army of 8,000, you would need 200 Scottish places to generate enough officers. Would you say that that would have a danger of leading to the very thing that you are concerned about?
Mr Hammond: I certainly would not want to guarantee that we could make that number of places available. We would want to manage this looking at the interests of the academy and of our own cadet training programme. Of course, there are military training opportunities available in other countries-other European and NATO countries-which also accept foreign students on their training courses.
Q395 Bob Stewart: Secretary of State, the Scottish National party has said that it wants the speediest transition of nuclear submarines and facilities out of Faslane and Coulport. In rough ballpark terms, how long would it take for us to get out of Faslane and Coulport?
Mr Hammond: I am hesitating, because I have just seen a piece in The Scotsman, I think this morning, where the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that Trident could remain up to two years after independence. That is a slight movement in the SNP’s position.
I think the key words there are "after independence". I have already emphasised that a referendum "yes" vote would simply be the beginning of a process of negotiation, which will be complex in many, many areas. One of the complex areas will be around the nuclear deterrent.
We do not know what the priorities of a Scottish Government would be. They cannot prioritise everything in their negotiation with the remainder of the UK. If they were to decide that removing the nuclear deterrent from Faslane was their No. 1 priority, regardless of the cost impact and the deprioritisation of other issues, so this simply became a question about how quickly it could be done technically, I am not a technical expert, but I would think that we are talking in the order of a decade. Anything involving nuclear activity invariably has a long time cycle attached to it, because of the, quite properly, very stringent safety measures and the checking and certification procedures involved. The process could not begin until the negotiations across the board had been completed and until the financial arrangements for the very substantial cost of such a move had been finalised.
Q396 Bob Stewart: Again, this is a "what if". If we were required to take our independent nuclear deterrent out of its base up in the Clyde-I know that the answer would be, "Yes, we can find another place. We would make another place"-have you any idea, in rough terms, where such a place might be?
Mr Hammond: I don’t think I would want to speculate. It would probably be unhelpful to speculate.
Q397 Bob Stewart: Perhaps the answer is what I have given you, which is, "Yes, we would find a place."
Mr Hammond: Yes, we would certainly. It would be technically possible to do. If you throw enough money at a problem, you can solve most problems. I am confident that we would be able to solve this problem, but it would cost a significant amount of money.
Q398 Bob Stewart: Forgive me for giving you rhetorical questions, which I almost think I know the answers to. We would assume that the Scottish Government would pay some of the cost of decommissioning as well.
Mr Hammond: Do you mean decommissioning at Faslane?
Bob Stewart: Yes.
Mr Hammond: I think there are two issues about decommissioning that are worth mentioning. Clearly, as I have said, there would be a negotiation, and it would cover a vast range of subjects. If we had to include in that negotiation the dismantling of the facilities at Faslane and Coulport and their reconstruction elsewhere, clearly, the cost of that would be a factor in the overall calculation of the settlement between the parties to that negotiation.
The other point worth making about decommissioning is that there are 27 nuclear submarines at Rosyth awaiting decommissioning and break-up. Some of the words I have heard from some of our SNP colleagues have suggested that that is our problem; on the contrary, it is a UK problem, and would become a problem that, between us, we would have to work out how to resolve, as well as working out how to meet its enormous cost, in the event of a such a break-up.
Bob Stewart: You have beaten me: that was my last question and you have already answered it, so I am done. Thank you, Secretary of State.
Q399 Thomas Docherty: Sorry, there are seven, not 27.
Mr Hammond: The figure I have is 27, but I stand to be corrected.4
Q400 Thomas Docherty: Unless I miscounted last week, it is seven.
Mr Hammond: Perhaps some of them are underwater.
Chair: I think you can take his word for it.
Q401 Sir Bob Russell: Secretary of State, in your opinion would an independent Scotland have to apply to join NATO?
Mr Hammond: Oh yes, and I do not think that is simply my opinion: it is the clear advice we are getting from lawyers specialising in international law in this area.
Q402 Sir Bob Russell: What do you think would be the attitude of the Government of the former United Kingdom-that is, the three other nation states?
Mr Hammond: I think the attitude of the Government of the former United Kingdom-or the still United Kingdom, or slightly smaller United Kingdom-would be one of considered self-interest. We would want to look at the defence posture being proposed by the Scottish Government; we would want to look at how much resource they were prepared to commit to the defence of Scotland and a Scottish contribution to NATO; and we would want to look at their attitude to sharing the burden of common defence platforms, including the UK nuclear deterrent, which is 100% declared to NATO as a resource to protect the NATO alliance. We would then reach a decision as to whether having Scotland inside NATO would enhance the UK’s defence or detract from it.
Q403 Sir Bob Russell: Before I come on to my next question, I do not really want to disagree with any Secretary of State, but if Scotland is independent, as it is one of the two kingdoms that make up the United Kingdom, we could hardly be a United Kingdom-we would be the only kingdom left. Anyway, I will move on. What is the view of other member countries on the NATO application, if there is one, of an independent Scotland? Have you had discussions with colleagues?
Mr Hammond: Other countries will have to make their own decisions. I imagine that they would apply broadly the same tests that we would. It is probably worth noting that there are a couple of current disputes going on in Europe where applicants have had their applications blocked or stalled because of what one might think of as slightly extraneous reasons: Montenegro’s application to join NATO is blocked over the dispute with Greece about the name of the country, and I believe that there is an issue over Kosovo as well, which is causing a blockage at the moment.
There are several countries in NATO, and indeed in the EU, which, for reasons of their own domestic politics, are extremely sensitive to the issue of secession and fragmentation. We might expect there to be a discussion with them that was perhaps not entirely based on defence considerations.
Sir Bob Russell: Following on from that one-
Q404 Chair: Before you do, is it Montenegro or is it the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?
Mr Hammond: It is probably Macedonia. Sorry.
Q405 Sir Bob Russell: If an independent Scotland decides that nuclear weapons should not be based there, irrespective of what the lead story in The Scotsman said today, what influence might that have on other NATO countries, particularly bearing in mind the two examples you gave where local difficulties were preventing countries from joining NATO?
Mr Hammond: All NATO countries would find it very strange to be dealing with an applicant who was at one and the same time claiming to understand the benefits of NATO membership and seeking to damage one of NATO’s most important strategic assets. By the way, they would probably also think it very strange to be dealing with an applicant country to a military alliance that appeared to be threatening a naval blockade against other members states’ ships. That would be a factor that would influence the reception that an application might receive.
Sir Bob Russell: I think I will leave it there.
Q406 Penny Mordaunt: We have just heard from our previous witness that, in an independence scenario, the viability of the yards on the Clyde and at Rosyth would be dependent on orders from other nations, including the remainder of the UK. What is the likelihood of our continuing to place orders north of the border?
Mr Hammond: I am interested in what you say the previous witness has said. My understanding is that, until very recently, the position was that the Scottish Government expected to have a naval warship building programme that would keep the Clyde yards busy and maintain employment.
Q407 Chair: I don’t think he quite said that. He said that he did not want to rely entirely on Government-
Thomas Docherty: Scottish Government.
Chair: On Scottish Government warship building to keep those yards busy.
Mr Hammond: To answer the question directly, the UK, except during the two world wars, has never bought complex warships built outside the UK. We have chosen to source our warships in the UK, even though the cost of shipbuilding in the UK is very significantly higher than in countries outside, including other NATO countries. We could buy complex warships built in Spain or Italy at significantly lower cost than we can buy them in the UK, but we choose not to do that because we think it is strategically important to maintain a sovereign capability in this area. Clearly, if Scotland were independent, that capability would no longer be sovereign; it would be subject to the whims of a foreign Government, and we could no longer, in my judgment, justify paying the premium that we do, over and above the base cost of a complex warship, for the sovereign capability to build and maintain it. I should make the point that it is not just about building the ship; it is about having the capability to refit and maintain it over its expected lifetime.
Q408 Penny Mordaunt: How likely is it that there could be co-operation between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK on defence procurement? How might that work in practice?
Mr Hammond: We are not opposed in principle to co-operation on defence procurement, but I suspect, given that the UK’s naval shipbuilding programme is expected over the next 20-odd years to just about sustain one shipyard in the UK and that any putative Scottish Government’s naval procurement programme could be expected to be probably a twelfth of that and would therefore not sustain any shipyards, we would be under very strong pressure from other shipbuilding locations across the UK to source in the UK any complex warships that we chose to build.
Q409 Penny Mordaunt: Portsmouth, for example?
Mr Hammond: It had crossed my mind that you might have thought of that possibility. We would surely come under significant pressure to source warships within the United Kingdom, as it is then defined.
Q410 Thomas Docherty: I am always sensitive that we talk about shipbuilding, but we also fix them after the naval reservists drive them around a bit. On the maintenance side, in the same way that you wouldn’t build on the Clyde in an independent Scotland, am I right in saying that you would not expect to maintain the surface fleet in an independent Scotland? Would you take that back within the UK?
Mr Hammond: It would be unlikely. I should make a distinction between routine maintenance and periodic refits. Clearly, if you have a skilled work force that has built a class of ship, the yard would be in a very strong position to bid for refitting work. That does not necessarily mean they would always get that work, but they would be in a strong position.
Q411 Penny Mordaunt: Would an independent Scotland be able to maintain the same degree of security access-to intelligence sources, for example-to allow it to deliver military projects in conjunction with the remainder of the UK?
Mr Hammond: I would be surprised. I think the starting position would be that any new applicant to an intelligence community would first have to demonstrate its integrity, trustworthiness and ability to maintain very high levels of security. That is not to impugn the motives of the Scottish Government, but they would have to demonstrate their ability to manage their people, documents and IT systems in a way that maintained their integrity. They would also have to demonstrate that they were bringing something to the table. Intelligence sharing works on the principle that everybody gains from pooling sources, information, techniques and trade craft. A putative independent Scotland would be starting pretty much from scratch on this.
Q412 Penny Mordaunt: What impact would EU procurement rules have on defence contractors in an independent Scotland? Could it continue to attract a derogation for UK Government contracts, or would it have to compete at an EU level if contracts were openly tendered? What is your understanding?
Mr Hammond: My understanding is that the default position in the EU is that public contracts should be tendered on a level-playing-field basis across all EU member states. There is a derogation-I think it is article 146-which, where warlike goods are concerned, allows contracts to be placed without a tender where the national security interest requires it. We have that exception, which we use to buy complex military products in the UK in order to sustain UK sovereign capability.
As I have already explained in relation to warship building, that is a very expensive decision. We are deciding to build things at far higher cost than we could buy them for elsewhere in the world in order to maintain our strategic fighting edge and our sovereign industrial capability. It would clearly be a contradiction in terms to pay a premium for sovereign capability and then let the contract outside your sovereign control. I think that the Scottish defence industry would find itself in the position of being able, and being limited, to bidding for contracts that were open to EU competition-in other words, the contracts that we had decided did not form part of our essential sovereign industrial capability. There are a number of significant UK defence contractors in Scotland who would be affected by this, quite apart from those in the shipbuilding business-Selex, for example, a major provider of radars and electronic systems.
Q413 Penny Mordaunt: One final question: our previous witness was not able to confirm whether the Scottish Government had received legal advice on EU procurement rules. Have you taken legal advice on that?
Mr Hammond: Yes, I have, from our own internal legal services. We have internal legal services, and they in turn have taken advice on this point from external procurement lawyers. You may remember that when I was Secretary of State for Transport I had a particularly tricky case involving EU procurement law. I had more legal advice than I will probably need for the rest of my life around EU procurement law on that occasion.
Q414 Chair: So there is no bar on your announcing whether you have or have not received legal advice?
Mr Hammond: I don’t believe so.
Q415 Chair: This may be the final question about the European Union. Mr Brown’s evidence to us was that although Scotland as part of the UK was a member of NATO, Scotland on its independence would no longer be a member, and would have to apply to join NATO. He also said that although Scotland as part of the UK was a member of the European Union, it would continue to be a member of the European Union. Do the Government have a position on whether that is an accurate description of events or not?
Mr Hammond: The question is: if the UK were to be broken up, do I believe that both Scotland and the residual UK would remain members of the European Union?
Chair: No. Would Scotland remain a member of the European Union?
Mr Hammond: By default?
Mr Hammond: My understanding of the position is that it would not. It would have to apply.
Q416 Chair: I see. So there is a disagreement between the British Government and the Scottish Government about whether an independent Scotland would automatically-
Mr Hammond: You asked me my understanding. There is a disagreement between my understanding and what you tell me is Mr Brown’s understanding.
Q417 Chair: Okay. Do you happen to know what the remainder of the UK’s attitude would be to an application by Scotland to join the European Union?
Mr Hammond: We would take a pragmatic approach. We are in principle in favour of the expansion of the European Union, as the Prime Minister has just asserted again-not an hour or so ago in the Chamber-but there are other candidate countries, and there are member states with views about secession and the risks that it presents. I think that an applicant Scotland would have to go through the same hoops that any other applicant country would have to go through. My understanding is that the rules of the European Union would require Scotland to accept certain conditions that the United Kingdom is not bound by because of its grandfathered position.
Q418 Chair: Would that require a vote in the United Kingdom, in a referendum?
Mr Hammond: It would not necessarily require a vote in the United Kingdom; we have agreed to the accession of Croatia without a referendum in the United Kingdom, so I do not think that it would necessarily trigger the requirement for a referendum. If I get advice that that is wrong, I will write to you and tell you.
Chair: Thank you very much.
Q419 Thomas Docherty: Mr Brown was keen to emphasise co-operation. Apparently, we will all get on better when we break away. In that vein of co-operation, would you expect Five Eyes to become Six Eyes automatically?
Mr Hammond: No.
Q420 Thomas Docherty: That was a very precise answer. Do you want to elaborate slightly?
Mr Hammond: This is very clearly not in our gift. Any expansion of the Five Eyes community could only be achieved if it was agreed by all five members of that community, and there is a very strong view among certain members of that community that it is a something-for-something arrangement. An applicant seeking to join the Five Eyes group would have to show that it could add significant intelligence or analysis value to what the group already had. Bearing in mind who the members of the group are, that might be challenging for a fledgling state that had no great tradition of intelligence gathering or analysis.
Q421 Thomas Docherty: On that issue of intelligence gathering, again Mr Brown has asserted, as have his colleagues-Ms Sturgeon in particular-that there would be a natural intelligence sharing from rUK to Scotland and vice versa. Would that be rUK’s decision to take alone, to share intelligence that it held, or would that require a degree of buy-in from, say, the United States or the other key partners?
Mr Hammond: There are certain things that we could share on a bilateral basis if we chose to do so. There are other things that we would need to obtain agreement on from our Five Eyes allies to share, because they had been obtained through Five Eyes arrangements.
Chair: Thank you. There are no further questions.
 Note from witness: The letter was sent on 13 June 2013.
 Note by witness: According to last year’s accounts the MOD’s figure for plant, property and equipment assets was just over £92Bn
 Note by witness: Most likely the document in question was the National Asset Register, last published in January 2007, based on 2005 data.
 Note by witness: The Submarine Dismantling Project scope includes past and current classes of nuclear submarines, 27 in all, 18 of which are already out of service and safely stored afloat at Rosyth Dockyard or at Devonport. Seven submarines are stored at Rosyth.