Liam Fox is MP for Woodspring and a former Defence Secretary
weekend sees the celebration of Trafalgar Day. Two hundred and seven
years ago this week, Nelson finally managed to engage the French and
Spanish fleets decisively in battle. That victory off the Cape of
Trafalgar would ensure British dominance of the world’s oceans for a
century and, in securing our trade routes, the rise of Britain to the
global power it is today with the world’s fourth largest defence budget.
100 years after the Act of Union, Nelson’s fleet was a British fleet
with sailors drawn from all corners of the United Kingdom. Amongst them
was Scotsman, Captain George Duff, a celebrated commander within
Nelson’s Navy and entrusted with a key part in Nelson’s plan to finally
force the Combined Fleet in to battle.
Duff’s HMS Mars was positioned close in to Cadiz so that he could
forewarn Nelson of any enemy movement and thus allow him to out
manoeuvre the French and Spanish as they tried to get back in to the
Mediterranean. Duff’s role was vital and his success in performing it
laid the foundations for the great victory that followed.
and the lesson in Naval history ends here – Duff was killed in the
opening minutes of Trafalgar as he sailed amongst the lead ships
straight in to the heart of the French and Spanish fleet.
week we are marking the Battle of Trafalgar so I highlight the
contribution of Captain Duff but if I were writing next week I know that
I’d find another anniversary of another Scottish contribution to this
great union of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I could
carry out the same exercise in relation to any other part of the United
Kingdom with equal ease.
The history of the United Kingdom is
striking. In many ways we have been able to achieve a historic synergy:
the intellectual vibrancy of the Scottish Enlightenment combined with
the economic energy of the industrial revolution in England, enabled our
respective populations to achieve hitherto unimaginable global
influence, still palpable and visible in many parts of the world today.
role that Scotland and Scots were able to play in the influence of
Empire, both material and intellectual, was only possible because of the
tremendous foresight of our forefathers who recognised that we brought
complementary skills, and who gave birth to the union that is the United
Kingdom today. Perhaps nowhere is our shared heritage and achievement
more brilliant than in our armed forces.
For 300 years we have
recruited soldiers, sailors, marines and, more recently, airmen in all
parts of the United Kingdom. These men and women have stood shoulder to
shoulder on battlefields across the globe against our nation’s
enemies. Under Marlborough, Wellington and Nelson; in India and the
Crimea; in two World Wars, Korea, the Falklands, the Gulf and
Afghanistan; English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish soldiers have fought
with courage, determination and great loyalty to their Ship or Regiment
and to the United Kingdom.
In the Army there are, indeed,
regiments that are raised and recruited just in Scotland but from the
earliest days of these fine regiments, their artillery support could
have been Welsh, their engineers Irish and their cavalry English. These
regiments are proudly Scottish and a proud part of the British Army
too. A team that has been forged under fire and that lives on today in
Afghanistan where the Scots Guards and 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment
of Scotland are fighting alongside cavalry and infantry from Yorkshire,
Lancashire, Cheshire, the East Midlands, Northern Ireland and Nepal!
the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force there has never been such a
distinction. There are ships that carry Scottish names and airbases on
Scottish soil but the people who fight these ships and fly those jets
are from all corners of the UK and, indeed, the Commonwealth. Their
shared identity is not English, Scottish, or even British but as the
custodians of the finest traditions of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air
How wrong it is, in the light of their joint sacrifices,
to attach labels and to seek to introduce division for petty and
regressive political motives. Alex Salmond is a political opportunist
not a Commander-in-Chief.
Working together over 300 years, our
forces have forged a relationship that can’t just be split down
proportionately based on GDP. This is not about the Royal Navy ceding to
Scotland a couple of frigates; or a few Typhoon fighter jets from the
Air Force; or a regiment’s worth of tanks, artillery, weapons and
ammunition. Our armed forces are a human organisation and it is our
service men and women who make all these battle winning pieces of
equipment amount to something far greater than the sum of their parts.
SNP are looking at our armed forces as though they were at a Pick ‘n’
Mix counter in a sweet shop. Angus Robertson dips his hand in to the
Army and grabs the Scottish infantry and cavalry regiments; then the RAF
to pluck a couple of fighter jets and their crews; then the Navy for
some ocean going war ships and some coastal vessels too. But like a
child with his pocket money he is thinking purely of what looks most
attractive for the money, and ignoring the savouries he needs to balance
his diet! He’s chosen an Army without any supporting arms; an Air Force
without any transport aircraft or tankers; and a Navy without a fleet
The SNP would deny that their proposed forces are so
unbalanced. In his Defence Policy Update published in July, Robertson
talks generally about support units, helicopters, transport aircraft and
air defence but the numbers just don’t add up. Whilst in the last few
days, he seems to have abandoned his own policy and pinned his hopes on a
new RUSI study by former SNP politician Stuart Crawford instead.
study makes a Scottish military look much more affordable but it also
changes Robertson’s strategic reach in a way that I don’t think he’s yet
grasped. Typhoon Fighter jets are replaced by the Hawk jets currently
used by the RAF for pilot training. Submarines disappear altogether as
do heavy armoured fighting vehicles and precision artillery.
what? Well, the UK has neighbours in Norway and Denmark who are busily
equipping their navies and air forces with the state of the art
equipment needed to protect their interests in the High North and
Arctic. They are not warmongers but they can see that as the ice cap
retreats, there are resources that will need to be protected and
potentially a shipping lane from the North Pacific to the North Atlantic
that will need to be policed. Hawks are great aircraft but NATO
currently enjoys the contribution of the UK’s Typhoons in the region and
the difference in capability is stark. The same can be said for the
loss of the UK’s Astute Class submarines too.
though is the very simplistic view that Crawford has taken of defence
budgeting – Missing are the costs for new infrastructure; the pensions
of those who have served before; munitions; an intelligence and cyber
warfare service; the cost of housing the military and their families;
and the countless other expenses that must be considered when you’re no
longer planning a defence budget with Monopoly money.
know how closely Angus Robertson has studied the RUSI paper but it
contradicts the motion he’s putting to his party conference, and the
people of Scotland should be forgiven for wanting to know which defence
policy the SNP is now endorsing. Is it still the one that wants NATO
membership without accepting that NATO is a nuclear alliance?
Salmond’s unilateral reinterpretation of the NATO treaties and his
defence spokesman’s willingness to abandon his own defence policy, on a
whim, in favour of an only marginally more credible study by someone
else, will be a concern to many Scots serving with distinction in the
UK’s armed forces and to our NATO allies.
To undermine our
collective security – to fail to understand the deep bonds that our
shared sacrifices have produced or the proud history we have developed
together – is not only irresponsible but shows how little those who
argue for Scottish Independence really understand the indispensable role
of Scotland in the defence of the interests of the whole United
Nelson knew it in 1805 when he was urging Captain Duff
forward in to the vanguard of his division and we know it today –– the
Scottish are a tenacious and bloody minded warrior nation who have
contributed immeasurably to the defence of this country over the last
three hundred years. But they have done so as part of a mighty British
military and, whilst the numbers may not be what they were, that
military is still one of the largest and most technologically advanced
in the world.
As he sailed in to battle alongside sailors from
all over the British Isles, I suspect George Duff knew only too well
that we are stronger, better and safer together. I agree with him and
whilst I’m hopeful of not losing my head in the cannon fire, I think
that we have a responsibility to put ourselves in the vanguard of
celebrating all that is great about the union.
campaign that started on Monday is not just about picking holes in the
SNP’s plans. It means that those of us – both north and south of the
border – who believe in the United Kingdom must make the case for
keeping our great union exactly as it is – A United Kingdom of a united
people with a shared and glorious history, and a bright and prosperous
This article is based on a speech made by Dr Fox at a Trafalgar Day dinner earlier this week