Given the vote share Labour has accrued in England under Jeremy Corbyn, ideas from Britain’s mid- to late-twentieth century are once again mainstream — and they pose an ideological challenge to the liberal consensus that is in many ways deeper than last year’s vote to leave the EU. Read more
The polls are closed but that doesn’t mean an end to the Scottish referendum in the news. Even by tomorrow night, there will be plenty more to say (and repeat) on the issue which, either way, will change the United Kingdom — either destroying it or keeping it together with new expectations of devolution among its constituent countries.
All eyes, it seems, both north, south and abroad, are watching with some dog in the race, either culturally (in the case of the millions of Scots descendants who still claim to be Scottish) or politically. Politicians in Madrid, for example, are no doubt observing with particular interest and wondering how this will all knock on for Spain’s own issues with the Catalans and the Basques.
Opinions on the matter are as divided in England as they are in Scotland, not just including the Scots living south of the border who have been unable to vote (like Andy Murray, who tweeted his support for independence) but also among the English. Some Conservatives see it as a wonderful opportunity to reduce the voters of the opposition; Scotland was for years a Labour bastion until many Scots felt underwhelmed and even outright betrayed by the policies of New Labour. With a reduced leftist population in a rump United Kingdom, the right-wing Conservatives and United Kingdom Independence Party would gain a larger relative portion of the vote. You’d think David Cameron would be pleased about that at least but credit where it is due — he does seem to genuinely want the union to continue despite the potential opportunities for his own party.
Meanwhile some Englanders feel they’re burdened by the Scots, whose net contribution to the British government has largely been thought of as in the red. Having a referendum on the matter south of the border was even suggested by some wags, so that “England” could tell “Scotland” that it wasn’t going to subsidize it any more. Others are a little more optimistic, even in England, welcoming the idea of an independent Scotland as a step forward in self-determination and the beginning of a potentially new partnership which suits both parties better.
In the past, I’ve been fairly dismissive of the independence movement as a hangover of eighteenth-century romanticized nationalism built on dreams and shortbread. But despite trying to ignore it, the referendum has proved interesting and thought-provoking, with arguments from all sides providing something to mull over, even if it’s not founded on the economic “safe bet.”
The possibilities of an independent Scotland straining terribly to establish replacement institutions to those lost in secession are, from what I can tell, very high but the philosophical argument about which the “yes” campaign at least seems to employ, is a worthy one — should a “nation” not be given full sovereignty in the form of a state? It’s a question many people don’t even wish to consider 2014, considering the idea of the nation station to be an anachronism when institutions like the European Union seem to be bringing multiple nations into ever-closer state-like entities.
It is worth thinking how things got to this point. The Acts of Union of 1707 were a relatively peaceful amalgamation of the crowns of England and Scotland, not universally enjoyed but accepted without significant enough opposition or anything like the conflicts which had occurred between the two countries in their past.
That is indeed another important point: the United Kingdom is exactly that, not a nation but a state consisting of multiple nations. England itself is the successor state of multiple Anglo-Saxon kingdoms unified part by part over a number of years, as are Scotland and Wales. The Scots, a people originally of Irish descent, are relative latecomers to the story of settlement in Britain while the Welsh, a group of original Britons, continue as a part of the United Kingdom with arguably less desire for independence, Plaid Cymru accepted.
Cardiff is another city whose politicos will be observing with interest, as either way Scotland votes, the Welsh Assembly will likely be bolstered in their desires for devolution and more powers, perhaps even toward Welsh independence.
Likewise Northern Ireland, a special case in its own right, could demand more funding and powers based on a threat to leave the union. But whether the majority of Northern Irish, still largely Protestant and pro-Unionist, would take the line is another matter. Even in Northern England, the call for regional government has been made and strengthened by the Scottish referendum.
Robert Gates served both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as America’s defense secretary. He is a man well versed in defense, considered perhaps even the best Pentagon chief since 1945. Clearly then, here is a man worth listening to when he says that defense spending cuts, taken by the British government, undermine the United Kingdom’s ability to be, in his words, a “full partner” of the United States’.
He did not say, however, that the relationship between the two countries was at an end, nor that it had even been fundamentally altered, as the BBC’s Jonathan Beale claims. Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, has pointed out while witnessing some locomotives, his country retains the fourth largest defense expenditure in the world. Nor does it have a constitutional limitation imposed on its use of armed force, such as Japan, or a history of shirking NATO commitments, like France — two other American allies.
Over the past twenty years or so, British armed forces have been seen alongside their American counterparts very often — most recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Gates said that the United States have been able to count on a British support and that its military capabilities cover the “full spectrum” of conflict.
However, the economic times being what they are have led to a reduction in British defense spending, even if it still surpasses the minimum required by NATO by 25 percent. Personnel across the three services is being reduced. This has led to a number of senior servicemen warning about “hollowed out” forces, meaning a lack of manpower compared to equipment.
This is a reasonable fear. The war in Afghanistan showed that if the United Kingdom were to undertake more operations of that kind in the future, it would be desirable to have more men under arms, allowing increased rotations of units and so reducing the strain on individual servicemen. Instead, the number of British Army servicemen is being cut by 20,000. The Air Force and Navy, less manpower intensive to begin with, are facing small yet no less significant reductions.
A number of large platform projects have been embarked upon despite these savings, including the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier and the necessary airframes needed to throw off it, all of which cost a lot of money. The Royal Navy will also be receiving more of the new T-45 destroyers. New frigates wll also be on the way, as will a replacement submarine to carry the nuclear deterrent.
Former defense chief General Sir David Richards was skeptical of these investments and said, to anyone who would listen, that what was needed was more helicopters and soldiers. However, he was saying that at a time when the world was just a little different. The campaign in Afghanistan seemed more pressing and years more of tedious counterinsurgency operations looked likely; not, as Libya turned out to be, a return to the 1990s style of coercive air campaigns.
Afghanistan and Iraq taught the United Kingdom as well as the United States the unpopularity of putting soldiers and the required kit into the field for a length of time. It now seems unlikely, evidenced by last year’s parliamentary vote against intervention in Syria, that Britain will soon consider a repeat of the last decade’s wars. David Cameron is not likely to go out of his way to need a force the size of the one that went to Afghanistan under the Union flag. He will most likely be avoiding anything resembling such an undertaking and so will his immediate successors.
So is Gates right? Of course he is. A reduction in military spending and manpower does lead to a reduction in capability. But what does that mean in turn? The British public, for the most part, welcomes a reduction in armed forces rather than hospitals. Many also still resent the form American-British relations took during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The notion that Britain will no longer be “America’s poodle” is a popular one, especially on the left.
Still, a fundamental break is unlikely. Britain continues to at least try to uphold its commitments and, barring Syria, get involved. It will no doubt continue to do so up to and after the regaining of hefty seapower in the form of the Queen Elizabeth class carrier. It still spends 2.5 percent of its annual economic output on defense. The British armed forces’ role has not changed fundamentally since 1945, even if they have less men and equipment. They retain, in theory, a global remit, particularly at sea; involvement with NATO in the defense of Europe; and general support for the main ally, the United States.
Ideally (although depending on one’s view of the armed forces), there wouldn’t be cuts at all but that is politically untenable. Few British voters would accept defense being exempt from cuts when other other departments are forced to make reductions. So while Gates’ concern of a reduced variety of ability in the British forces is accurate, the alternative is not realistic. The order and method of the cuts taken by the government, that is keeping costly and time consuming projects over personnel, will at least give much greater opportunity to regain what is lost than doing it the other way around and avoiding investment in long life but high cost assets.
Britain’s defense secretary, Philip Hammond, made light of Scottish plans for an independent defense on Thursday, arguing in an interview with The Daily Telegraph, “Taking random units and putting them together does not make an army. Half a destroyer would be no use to anyone, neither would be one frigate.” If crude, it is a fair assessment.
The Scots will vote in a referendum next year about whether they wish to secede from Britain. Opinion polls show there isn’t majority support for independence although the separatist Scottish National Party is by far the dominant political force in the region. It promises to commit £2.5 billion per year to defense if Scottish voters decide to break away from the United Kingdom.
Paul Cornish, a professor in strategic studies at the University of Exeter, writes in The Daily Telegraph that that’s significantly less than the £3.3 billion that Scotland currently contributes to British defense spending, totaling some £35 billion — which is hardly enough to finance the country’s defense needs as is.
What could Scotland’s taxpayers get for their money? They are very unlikely to be in the market for large warships, modern combat aircraft and so on, because of the considerable costs — plus, it is difficult to see what contribution two or three frigates, or half a dozen combat aircraft, could usefully make to the security of Scotland’s land mass and interests.
A desire to keep some of the famous Scottish regiments of the British Army in a separate Scottish defense organization has been expressed, although their large numbers of non-Scottish recruits may not be allowed to continue. Which would suit the lower budget requirements.
Seeking a free lunch, Scottish claims could be made for a handful of legacy pieces from the former joint armed forces, perhaps even a large surface ship which Philip Hammond claims is about all Scotland’s contribution to the budget can afford.
Cornish suggests that a fleet of small vessels could be bought and maintained for a “brown water” navy. Some rotary wing and transport aircraft as well as a small gendarmerie or land force, perhaps a few thousand, could be added. That compares to over 200,000 active duty personnel currently in the armed forces.
There’s also the question of buildings, facilities and equipment that a rump British state wouldn’t be likely to simply give away. The vast majority of assets, personnel and institutions would naturally progress into English control should Scotland gain independence, due to the divisions in funding and the areas where they are based.
The River Clyde running through Glasgow holds a sizable portion of Britain’s military shipbuilding, or rather BAE Systems Surface Ships, part of the defense contractor that provides most of British military materiel, does. Whether these will be maintained in an independent Scotland is debatable. Past attempts to regenerate shipyards outside Scotland have not proved wholly successful but the Royal Navy does not, indeed, cannot order its larger warships from foreign yards for security and employment reasons (although supply tankers may soon be built in South Korea and cold weather patrol vessels have been purchased from Norway). There is no reason why this should not continue and production transferred to somewhere south of the border if Scotland secedes.
Nuclear powered vessels will also require new facilities as the deterrent must have a safe port at home suitable to their needs. Currently based at Naval Base Clyde, the Vanguard class submarines and their planned replacements will have to be controlled from some other port which may lead to the refurbishment of disused facilities or even making new ones, as Devonport and Portsmouth, Britain’s two other operating naval bases, are busy and do not enjoy some of the features of the Clyde locale: access to the North Atlantic and deep waterways removed from busy civilian shipping lanes.
Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister and nationalist party leader, is reluctant to embrace the atom maintaining it would be “inconceivable that an independent nation of 5,250,000 people would tolerate the continued presence of weapons of mass destruction on its soil.” This removes the possibility of the Royal Navy borrowing the Clyde base.
The anti-nuclear line is one towed by the party generally and it would seem the Scottish population at large. The facilities, including the Faslane base nearby, are subject to a permanent “peace camp” of activists. This raises questions as to what may happen to Scotland’s defense in other ways.
Seeking to have NATO membership, Scottish lawmakers will have to accept the nuclear aspects of that body and the potential of hosting American armed forces which may or may not include nuclear assets, depending on how NATO continues to persist as an alliance.
England, forced to pay for the relocation of millions of pounds worth of nuclear related assets and shipbuilding, the loss of Scottish recruits and so on, will probably be disinclined for much positive military diplomacy with Scotland and therefore unlikely to throw many contract bones or enter happily into defense arrangements apart from those Scottish leaders wrangle with NATO.
Moreover, Salmond’s vision that Scotland only use military force when the United Nations permit it and his desire that it be covered by NATO at the same time could flag it as an unreliable security partner before it is even independent.
Yet such arrangements with other states will be necessary for the security of the remainder of Britain. The point in acquiring Scotland in the first place was to remove any threat to England from the north, allowing efforts to be focused elsewhere. Scotland has since served as a shield, housing advanced air and sensor stations that secure the island from air attack (although one wonders who from); stations that will have to be relocated if Scotland votes to become independent, leaving the rest of Britain to depend on the competency of an air force worth less than £2.5 billion.
An arrangement similar to American and Canadian cooperation in defending North American airspace might be found although it would mean basing English personnel in Scotland which the nationalists there seem wary of.
As Britain looks more to cooperation with France in military activities and may find it even more desirable to do so after splintering with Scotland, the old French ally L’Écosse would likely be left out, unable to make any such ties. Not liking American nuclear weapons or English servicemen enough to host any and not offering anything useful for international efforts, Scottish defense diplomacy could end up being equal to possible conflict fighting capabilities — which may be very little indeed.
Given the prospects for Scottish international relations capital, needs, assets and interests, however, that little may be just about right to suit requirements.
In part of its ongoing dispute with the Spanish government over the sovereignty status of Gibraltar, Spain’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Federico Trillo-Figueroa, was summoned to the Foreign Office before the weekend for what was undoubtedly a heated exchange.
The redress was in reaction to a recent naval incident wherein a civilian vessel from Gibraltar was almost seized by the Armada Española and Spanish customs officials, were it not for the intervention of the Royal Gibraltar Police.
Europe Minister David Lidington explained on Thursday that Britain had “repeatedly made diplomatic protests to Spain over attempts by Spanish state authorities to exercise jurisdiction in British Gibraltar territorial waters.” He condemned Spain’s “provocative incursions” and urged its government “to ensure that they are not repeated.”
The minister furnished other details of the latest incident, reporting that a Spanish “warship” took a tour of Gibraltar’s territorial waters for some time, followed by the arrival of Spanish customs vessels seeking to intercept the civilian boat.
While this particular encounter may have been a genuine anti-smuggling operation on the part of the Spanish authorities, it is difficult to imagine that the Royal Gibraltar Police and subsequently the Foreign Office would be so involved if that were so, considering the potential humiliation of having backed a gang of smugglers.
(Quite a concern in the region. Gibraltar, according to some Spanish sources, is a veritable twenty-first-century Tortuga.)
In any case, the arrival of Spanish navy craft in British territorial waters makes it an audacious but interesting indicator of the mood of the Spanish government, which has already been established as one of somewhat belligerent disinterest into what the elected government of Gibraltar has to say on the issue, abandoning tripartite talks earlier in the year.
Such a foray, from what is on paper a NATO ally and fellow European Union member state, into British sovereign waters and the intimidation of citizens of a overseas territory, should probably receive a sterner rejoiner than the Foreign Office wallahs are likely to issue. The assignment of a Type 45 or Daring class destroyer to the Gibraltar Squadron of the Royal Navy may be a clearer statement of the British position on “Gib,” something the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has previously requested from his British counterpart, William Hague, even if gunboat diplomacy is out of favor these days.
The attempted seizure shortly follows what many Britons and Gibraltans perceived as another example of unjust harassment, including six-hour detained customs lines, by Spanish border authorities as they attempted to enter the tiny peninsular, which has been a point of very sour diplomatic grapes between the three parties involved.
Foreign Policy reported in February that Gibraltar could become the subject of even greater tension. It would seem that has come to pass with Fabian Picardo, head of Gibraltar’s government, making demands that London protest this kind of interference most formally, joined by British politicos who have expressed consternation, including a senior Foreign Office official, to the Spanish ambassador at what they see as Spanish interference.
Ambassador Trillo, apparently a shrewd legal mind and former defense minister, is, in the opinion of this commentator, unlikely to be an easy nut to crack in any setting.
Given the string of incidents of late and the state of diplomatic bad will between Britain, Gibraltar and Spain, this fresh intrusion into the affairs of what are practically in law British nationals and into British territorial waters to boot, will do nothing to win Madrid over to the inhabitants of “The Rock.”
Not that that would seem to be a concern of the Spanish Foreign Office, customs officials or indeed, navy.
Much like the Argentinian claim on the Falkland Islands, the Spanish claim and interferences are most unwelcome by the people who live there, a view they have expressed (in the case of Gibraltar) in two referendums. These displays, intrusions and other belligerent mistakes only serve to reinforce the feeling of futility in Britain and her overseas territories of dealing with such states.
Of late, the Argentinian government has objected to continued Royal Naval deployments to the British overseas territory of the Falkland Islands which are situated some three hundred miles from Argentina’s coast in the South Atlantic.
Buenos Aires under President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has since the end of last year made demands and claims over the islands, seeking to take Britain to international arbitration in hopes of gaining support for its case.
It has, from celebrities including musician Morrissey and the American actor Sean Penn. They have made statements supporting Kirchner’s policy and damning Britain’s possession of the islands as an anachronism.
Accusations have been made of Britain “militarizing” the issue via deploying “more” naval forces and prominent people, though how the dispatching of the Duke of Cambridge to the islands to learn air-sea rescue methods, or rotating a T45 destroyer through the Falklands station simply because it was its turn, is “militarizing the issue” does not make sense to anyone aware of the concept of training deployments.
Indeed, it seems more like an excuse from the Argentinians to raise the issue. Héctor Timerman, the country’s foreign minister, even claimed that his government had information that, within the framework of the recent British deployment in the Falklands, a nuclear submarine with the capacity to transport atomic weapons to the South Atlantic, was dispatched.
This is most odd, considering it is British policy to not reveal the presence of Royal Navy subs. So is Timerman lying? Or has he been spying?
It is quite likely that a British nuclear submarine passes through the area on a regular basis, owing to the method of British deterrence — to have the boats out at sea constantly moving. So this seems another excuse to cry foul when no foul has been committed.
It also ignores the fact that, should it be deemed necessary, a nuclear weapon fired from a British vessel could hit Buenos Aires with equal damage and accuracy regardless of being launched from Port Stanley in the Falklands or Port Ellen in Scotland.
The official British stance has been fairly solid since the end of the 1982 conflict. The islanders, it is believed via public demonstration of the Falklands inhabitants and their observable content, wish to retain their British citizenship and their homes on the islands. As the only inhabitants since settlement in 1840 other than penguins (the previous human settlement being in turn a naval station and an Argentinian penal colony lost in a mutiny), it could not be considered too brazen that it should be the current inhabitants and their wishes which should be the deciding will over the issue.
The islanders, who number British, with some French, Chilean, Scandinavian and Gibraltan stock, have raised multiple generations on the isles and received British citizenship in 1983.
What is more, their interests should be safeguarded by international convention. The United Nations Charter states clearly that the purpose of the organization is “to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace.” Not, as Argentina would will it, the defiance of such respectable convention and the wishes of the people who have lived on the Falklands for generations.
That the question of the islanders’ right to live there and their wishes should be questioned by Argentina, a state mostly made up of Spanish settlers which is barely older than the British claim over the islands, is downright absurd.
With the prospecting of fossil fuels in the waters surrounding the islands, it is likely that an ever desperate Argentina, whose economic affairs are in poor shape, will continue demands and claims but what is worse, under the false flag of justice, it may win the day while the rights and wishes of the people who have lived on the islands as their great grandparents did, will be swept aside to conform with some calculated misunderstanding and misrepresentation of “innocent” Argentina and the false allegations of imperial conquest propagated by whining celebrities.
The only conquerors in this tableau were the Argentinian forces in 1982, which incidentally was probably the longest period of Argentine presence on the island since human settlement began there.
The only just course of action for Her Majesty’s Government is to continue the wall of silence to all comers, Argentine or the inevitable United Nations committee they wrangle, until the rights of the inhabitants are to be respected and then there will be no need for talks.
Perhaps when the majority of Argentina’s population returns to Spain, the Falkland Islands can be given back to the penguins?
In Foreign Policy this month, it was hinted that, along with the Falkland Islands, the tiny peninsular of Gibraltar, located on the southernmost tip of the Iberian Peninsula, may become a high-profile case for sovereignty discussion between Britain and a foreign power, in this case, Spain. This comes in tandem with a recent increase in tension concerning the aforementioned Falklands and the bid by the Argentine government to take the matter of their sovereignty to the United Nations.
Gibraltar, nicknamed “The Rock” after the imposing mountain which overlooks its Mediterranean and Atlantic bays, was captured in the early eighteenth century by an Anglo-Dutch force and has been a British naval base ever since. Its position was further codified in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht which ended British involvement in the War of the Spanish Succession, along with formally declaring that a number of territories be ceded to Britain, including several French colonies in North America along with Gibraltar.
The import of “Gib” in British strategic history was of high order, allowing a base from which to exercise command of the mid Atlantic, plague France and Spain and control the Western Mediterranean. It was a vital post during Britain’s expansion and later dominance of world affairs in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The recently elected Spanish conservative government under Mariano Rajoy has made an official stance to the effect of a new vitality in the Spanish claim to Gibraltar, stating that it will abandon tripartite talks and ignore Gibraltan input on the issue. Instead, Madrid seeks only to deal with the British government directly, perhaps hoping for a more favorable course.
With Spain’s economic position looking poor, it may serve as a healthy distraction, or so Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, reckons. “The Spanish government are playing to their constituency of support and concentrating more on the theory of their claim, rather than the realities on the ground,” he said. “And with five million or so people unemployed, it seems to me the Spanish have other more important priorities than historic claims over my people.”
I am also sure David Cameron would much sooner be concentrating on his own busy schedule of Olympics, economy and Falkland Islands, should the Argentinians press the issue further.
The people of Gibraltar are mostly of Genoese, Portuguese, British or Maltese stock, along with the natural migrations of peoples since the days of the imperial expansion. Few of them recognize themselves as Spaniards nor do they wish to be. With the current economic climate in Southern Europe, with the problems in Greece potentially causing more trouble, can anyone blame them? Especially given Gibraltar’s fairly stable relative position and of development and growth. The Spanish claim seems to smack more of jealousy than of sorting out some kind of issue.
The Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, has been particularly belligerent, writing to his British counterpart William Hague for a clue on the British stance regarding The Rock though the official line seems to continue, as it now does with the Falkland Islands, that it is the will of the people living in the territory which decides their future. Much like in the Falklands, the people of Gibraltar see themselves as British and they are legally seen as such by the 1981 Nationality Act. They’ve also voted on it, twice, once in the 1970s and once in 2002, in sovereignty referendums.
Therefore, by the will of the people and by extension the British position, the people of Gibraltar shall remain a British Overseas Territory as is their wish.
Any counterclaim should be a moot point and yet even British governments have wavered on similar issues before. Former prime minister Tony Blaire apparently showed an interest in power-sharing with Spain and, before the 1982 invasion, there was a strong message from Whitehall that Argentina would gain some kind of power over the Falklands.
The issue boils down, as all international interactions do, to the Thucydidian trinity of fear, honor and interest. It would be dishonorable, by the standards now held by the British establishment vis-à-vis the right of the populace to determine their own future, to ignore their say in any discussion, regardless of the demands of the Spanish prime minister or any number of his ministers, the European Union or the United Nations if it comes to it. The only decision to be made should rest in the hands of the people of The Rock and as subjects of the Crown, should be backed to the hilt whatever their decision be.
The interest and fear parts are less clear. In the days of Franco it was a welcome fact for many that Gibraltar, commanding the vital straits of its namesake, the gateway to the Mediterranean, was in the hands of a solid NATO ally which did not have the ups, downs and extremes of Spanish politics. For the interest of the West, captained by the United States, the security of the straits are of prime importance, a duty which cannot truly be entrusted to a state which has recently seen thousands of its citizens attend anti-NATO protests and could be considered more Eurocentric than the traditionally more transatlantic Britain.
That is not to say that it is likely that a return of Gibraltar to Spanish rule would result in some kind of blockade of the Mediterranean but in strategic affairs it is often prudent to be more safe than sorry, a fact which demands stable, friendly command of The Rock more than the particular color of any given flag and right now it is Britain which provides that, there is no pressing strategic need for external but potentially concerned parties, to see a change in that status quo.
On the face of things it seems unlikely that The Rock will shift, politically so to speak, to be under Spanish control and the argument will hopefully be settled swiftly, again (this is not the first, nor will it be the last). The people’s wishes will be respected despite any amount of hand gestures and banner waving from their immediate neighbor to the north.