The Scottish government had a good week last week considering Alex Salmond's declaration that he would take the Scottish regiments from HM Forces should Scotland vote for independence. He managed to escape too much criticism, which is unfortunate because without a professional defence force no nation survives.
I agree with Angus Robertson when he said: '...normal countries decide whether they are going to maintain the military in a format they feel appropriate' but one naval base, one air base and one mobile armed brigade of around 6,000 isn't a format, it's a skeleton.
The SNP has always been weak in military policy, understandably so and they are no better or worse than the other Scottish political parties in this regard. Until the last few years they had no need to develop one, but now they do need to come up with a detailed policy.
What needs to be decided is the type of defence force Scotland needs. We could look to Finland for an example but you will note, as with some other western countries, it relies heavily on conscription. I cannot see Scots agreeing to conscription even though I can see the benefits it could provide both economically and socially. Therefore a Scottish defence force will most probably have to rely heavily on reservists.
We may have the infrastructure in place, but the power of a defence force lies with its personnel and the recruitment of personnel could prove to be a difficult and lengthy process. Not every Scot serving in HM Forces will want to rush back home to join a Scottish defence force. Although Alex Salmond accused Richard Dannatt of 'talking Scotland down' Dannatt had a point when he says that most British military interventions have been opposed by the SNP, so what would would they do? Many join up for adventure and salary comes well behind.
However I disagree with critics who say that not being a member of NATO will restrict a defence force from joining with others in military deployments. Finland manages fine - it has an excellent reputation - and does not belong to NATO, which I feel is well past its sell-by date and should be disbanded.
Once a firm structure is decided the system of recruitment has to be considered. In recent days I've heard some talk about difficulties recruiting support services such as communications, intelligence, logistics, special services - the backbone of any defence force. In today's world many countries share specific services but they also strongly support their own. Modern militaries are are not composed of 'hired killers running around with guns' (as I have oft heard said) but staffed by people highly skilled in their specific areas and the difficulty arises in attracting Scots from the larger HM Forces.
One way to do this would be to 'grow our own'. That would take time, but it would be worthwhile. There are already buildings which could be transformed into a military academy that does not necessarily need to be confined to officer training. We could also, very easily, provide a military college for educational training and liaise with industry as happens at present. Cranfield has taken years to achieve its present status and I see no problem in a Scottish military college/university achieving similar results. Such a centre of excellence may help curtail the present brain drain, when our best brains move because of a lack of opportunity and poor conditions of employment.
"What about the immediate term?" some ask. My response is that I would expect the London government to respect the wish of the Scots if the answer is Yes in the referendum and make allowances while we build our own defence force. Another question asked is, "Do we need defence?" Of course we do. Every country has to defend its people and its assets. Scotland has many assets, some of which are poorly defended at present - such as our coastlines - because of ill-advised cuts from a series of Westminster governments.
When the Scandinavian countries became independent one by one they managed to form their own excellent armed services. We too can do that but it is important the best key personnel are recruited. The recent UK defence cuts have disillusioned many highly skilled HM Forces personnel and more than a few are considering their positions because they know they could receive far greater financial rewards in civilian life. Some of them may consider joining a Scottish defence force if they are offered a suitable package.
The question of packages is one for defence economists to undertake. That and equipping a military forces are subjects for another time. In the meantime our politicians must ensure they receive the best advice available and from people who want the best for Scotland and not those with hidden agendas.