Scotland – A Naval Nation
Last year when I learned HMS Montrose was soon to be decommissioned, after sailing almost half a million miles over 31 years of service since she was built on the Clyde, I contacted the Naval Commander for Scotland at HMS Caledonia near Rosyth and met with him to seek assurance that as part of her decommissioning tour she would definitely call into Montrose Port in my Angus constituency. I was pleased to receive this assurance. For the time being, this is our Navy too and we should be proud of Scotland’s abilities in generating platforms and people. We must maintain the utmost confidence in being ready to do not just the same, but better for an Independent Scotland’s maritime defence.
As SNP spokesperson for defence, it’s my role to ensure my party’s input to defence debates, while we remain in the UK, is cogent and professional such that when open the tap fully on the next independence poll our narrative on this most central element of statehood is off to a flying start. I am acutely aware that for many in Scotland, the litany of UK defence cuts in our communities to both estate and headcount means that defence feels increasingly remote from here, something that happens somewhere else. Accordingly, I work to ensure that we in Scotland, especially in the independence movement, can embrace defence and the role Scotland plays in delivering it already and especially so after independence.
I spend time aboard HMS Montrose while in active service in 2022 and learned of her capability and that of her extraordinary crew of sailors and officers. HMS Montrose has for decades delivered in combat and in many missions intercepting drug traffickers, frustrating piracy operations and escorting less friendly vessels past Scottish and English waters. During this time, I chatted with sailors on board, some of them Scottish, many of whom wanted to discuss their future under independence. I was pleased to discuss our ambitious plans for our Scotland navy, a navy fielding the latest frigates, offshore patrol vessels and smaller craft operating in defence of Scotland’s Exclusive Economic Zone and when required, beyond.
The UK employs many foreign nationals within its armed forces as do many other tier two defence forces. Accordingly, the answer to the question what happens with armed forces personnel from Scotland serving in the UK armed forces after independence is simply that they will have a choice. A choice of whether to remain in the UK regime and pursue the career they always would have, or transfer to a clean sheet Scottish force and play their role in generating and forming Scotland’s defence forces in the land, sea, air and hybrid domains. There will be pros and cons to either option depending on individual circumstance, profession, career stage and ambition but having choice, options and agency is always better that not.
Some argue we should be like Ireland after independence and maintain an extremely minimal defence posture based on a notional neutrality. With great respect to Ireland, who are in fact reviewing their unsustainable position, we in Scotland are very different within the defence dynamic; historically, economically, geopolitically and industrially. Scotland has a vital role to play in defending our interests unilaterally and the collective defence of our neighbours and allies. I believe this is consistent with the ambitions of the vast majority of people in today’s Scotland and I do not believe this was adequately set out in 2014.
When HMS Montrose tied up alongside in Montrose on 12th March fully 5000 people came to visit her being looked after superbly by her crew and the Royal Marines who were also on hand to assist in an exceptionally well organised event. Such was the interest long queues were the order of the blustery, chilly day but it was dry thankfully and spirits were high – this was obviously a very proud day for the town with visitors coming from near and far.
From Scotland’s point of view, where one outstanding old Scottish ship retires, she will be replaced soon by a new chapter of outstanding Scottish naval engineering. Just down the coast in Rosyth, Babcock are building five incredible new Type 31 Arrowhead frigates to replace Type 23 in the General Purpose role while, across in Govan, BAE are building eight world class Type 26 frigates to relieve the 23s of their anti-submarine duties. These are the same yards that will furnish Scotland with the new vessels of the Scottish Navy.
Scotland was central to generating the Type 23 fleet back in the 90s and remains so in designing and building her replacements today. There existed a justifiable pride in Montrose when her namesake visited to say goodbye, and there remains pride across Scotland at our enduring role in Naval enterprise. In Scotland, defence matters.
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