When does a ‘Right Honourable’ man’s scaremongering cross a line to dishonour?

Tory MP references Game of Thrones as he threatens to chop off Michael  Gove's penis - Mirror Online
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (left) in 2016 when he threatened to cut off Michael’s Gove’s penis https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/tory-mp-references-game-thrones-8326587

By stewartb

‘The oldest and simplest justification for government is as protector: protecting citizens from violence. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and from foreign foes.’

Source: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/02/government-responsibility-to-citizens-anne-marie-slaughter/

So when a UK government defence minister is reported by the BBC asserting the following (see below), arguably he has plumbed new depths. The Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP (former captain in the Scots Guards, former member of the Scottish Parliament) is reported stating this:

“… I think it would be very, very difficult for an independent Scotland to maintain any armed forces of any type of armed forces of any credible size or capability.”

Source:  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-57756205

When scares are perpetrated by a British Nationalist government minister it’s tempting just to yawn: it’s all become so familiar. When they are amplified by the state broadcaster without even basic context or challenge, it comes as no surprise .

However, this is a serious ramping up of scaremongering by Wallace: it relates to the most fundamental capacity and capability of a nation state. That in terms of the prospects for an independent Scotland Wallace’s claim is frankly ridiculous takes nothing away from the baseness of the political tactic he deploys. In my view it crosses a line!

What do we already pay?

In the Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland (GERS) report for 2019-20 (Table 3.1) the share of the UK defence budget apportioned to Scotland in that year was set at c.£3.4 billion. Keep that figure in mind when reading what follows.

What are taxpayers in the present, ‘dependent’ Scotland actually paying towards as a result of our lack of agency? Well, we pay a share of defence expenditure on what many in Scotland believe we neither want or need. I mean of course spend on nuclear weapons. Similar arguments could be made for our share of expenditure on aircraft carriers; on permanent UK military bases across the globe; and on illegal wars!

Financial cost of nuclear weapons

Getting a handle on the full costs of the UK’s weapons of mass destruction programme – historic, present and forecast – is non-trivial. An attempt has recently been made by researchers in the House of Commons Library (HoCL).

Source: House of Commons Library (2021) The cost of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Briefing Paper 8166 (updated 2 March 2021)

Since 1980 when the Westminster government decided to replace Polaris with the Trident system and since Trident became operational in 1994, the HoCL briefing estimates costs as follows:

  • total acquisition expenditure on the current Trident system = c. £18.7 billion in 2019-20 prices
  • annual in-service costs (currently estimated at 6% of the defence budget) = c. £2.5 billion  per annum presently.

The briefing also notes that the UK pays the US Department of Defense an annual contribution towards the overall cost of the Strategic Weapons Facility at Kings Bay. This contribution, which includes maintenance work on missiles, is based on the UK’s share of the overall Trident II D5 missile inventory and historically has equated to £12 million per annum.

(I understand that a common pool of missiles is maintained at the US Strategic Weapons facility at Kings Bay, Georgia, from which the US itself and the UK draw serviced missiles as required. Moreover the missiles deployed by the UK are manufactured by Lockheed Martin in the US. Independent deterrent system?)

Turning to Trident replacement, the Dreadnought programme, from the HoCL we learn:

  • the estimated cost of the design and manufacture of a class of four submarines (for the submarine-launched ballistic missiles system) = £31 billion, including inflation over the life of the programme
    • a £10 billion contingency has also been set aside
    • as of 31 March 2020, £8.5 billion had been spent on the concept, assessment and delivery phases of the programme.

We learn from the briefing that the years of peak expenditure on the replacement programme are expected to be 2018 through to the mid/late 2030s, as the programme moves into full production. Dreadnought is due to enter service in the early 2030s and will have a lifespan of at least 30 years.

However, the briefing offers this caution on cost estimates: “An April 2019 study by the Nuclear Information Service suggested that the MOD’s cost analysis for the replacement programme is vastly under-estimated and that the total cost of the UKs nuclear weapons programme, to 2070, is in the region of £172 billion. A similar assessment by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament suggests that the real cost will be more in the region of £205 billion.

Acknowledging the difficulty in estimating future expenditure and also rehearsing different methods of calculation, the HoCL briefing notes this specifically on OPEX:

“If one assumes that the defence budget will remain relatively static to 2061 and assumes that the in-service costs will continue to represent 6 per cent of that budget, then total in-service costs for the Dreadnought class between 2031 and 2061 could be estimated at approximately £81 billion.

(The HoCL briefing also recognises that other related, necessary cost elements fall outside of its main estimate for Trident replacement: “Investment in HM Naval Base Clyde, the Trident II D5 Service-life Extension programme, infrastructure projects related to the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) and the Core Production Capability facilities at Rolls Royce, and work on the options for replacing the nuclear warhead, are not part of the Dreadnought programme spend.”)

International perspective

Comparing overall defence spend by NATO countries offers some additional perspective on the scale of government expenditure required for credible nation-state defence. (For the avoidance of doubt, this use of NATO examples is not to advocate NATO membership: its data do provide useful comparators!)

Below are two graphics extracted from this NATO publication:

https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2021/6/pdf/210611-pr-2021-094-en.pdf

Table 2 in the same NATO document provides defence spend in cash terms by member country, in US$.

Defence expenditure Million US dollars  (NATO 2021)

There are lots of interesting and useful information in this NATO report to provide perspective when faced with remarks such as those from the UK Defence Secretary about Scotland. Here are just a few reflections.

Firstly, note how many NATO members spend less than 2% of GDP on defence, less than the NATO ‘guideline’ – the majority.

Secondly, to select just one country (for illustration) with similarities to Scotland, Denmark spends 1.41% of its GDP on defence.  In 2021 in cash terms this will amount to c.$5.5 billion US (or c. £3.99 billion). Recall, the UK government’s contingency fund for Trident replacement alone is £10 billion! The annual recurring costs of operating the Trident system is c. c. £2.5 billion.  And recall, in GERS Scotland is allocated a share of UK defence costs amounting to £3.4 billion.

(The defence budget of non-NATO countries like Ireland and Switzerland is even smaller as a proportion of GDP (presently 0.3% and 0.8% respectively). See data on military expenditure by all countries published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI- https://www.sipri.org/databases/milex )

And for important additional context: we need to remember that the share of UK costs apportioned to Scotland in GERS includes a share of: (i) the costs of weapons of mass destruction; (ii) aircraft carriers; and (iii) permanent overseas military bases, none of which an independent Scotland – just like an independent (and credibly defended) Denmark – needs nor want to have!

End note

So is the Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP misinformed – unaware of any of the foregoing? Or is he knowingly scaremongering – or, candidly, just lying – when stating “… it would be very, very difficult for an independent Scotland to maintain any armed forces of any type of armed forces of any credible size or capability.”?

Is it possible to conceive of this as a Right Honourable politician conducting politics honourably? I think the answer is only too obvious!

14 thoughts on “When does a ‘Right Honourable’ man’s scaremongering cross a line to dishonour?

  1. An excellent piece and it expresses well my feelings when I watched the ‘interview’ on MisReporting Scotland. Mr Wallace was asked no challenging questions. The ‘interviewer’ simply fed Mr Wallace his cues. The ‘interview’ was preceded by a piece by the BBC Scotland Westminster correspondent, Mr David Porter, who just summarised everything Mr Wallace was going to say.

    It reminded me of the time in 2014, when former Labour MP, the thuggish Mr Ian Davidson and a few of his crony trade union officials at BAe Systems in Govan and Scotstoun said that Mr Cameron should make clear that if Scotland voted for independence that the order for frigates and other naval vessels would be cancelled immediately. They further added that Britain’ (sic) did not place military orders with ‘foreign countries’ (as Scotland would be in their one-eyed view) and so there would be massive unemployment. It was real Project Fear stuff.

    Of course, Glasgow voted strongly for YES, with very large numbers of former Labour voting men amongst them. Since then, Labour has had very few MPs and MSPs in Glasgow and has significantly reduced numbers of Councillors. Party membership has dwindled. Yet, still, Scottish Labour opposes the right of Scots to self – determination and disparages “100 000 old men suffering from a mass delusion”. (Former Lord Provost Michael Kelly). That has really changed my mind, Michael!!!!

    What Davidson and his clique and Wallace are demonstrating is their colonialist mindset. This was exemplified by Mr Gary Smith of the GMB union, who described Glasgow as ‘the filthiest city in the world’ and that COP26 should be taken away and moved somewhere else. This is the leader of one of the unions who, along with cronies amongst Labour Councillors systematically and sleekitly denied thousands of women Council employees in Glasgow equal wages to male employees. During the 15 years or so of this outrageous betrayal, a cumulative loss of £1BILLION was inflicted on their female ‘comrades’.

    With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies?

    Liked by 7 people

    1. “This is the leader of one of the unions who, along with cronies amongst Labour Councillors systematically and sleekitly denied thousands of women Council employees in Glasgow equal wages to male employees. During the 15 years or so of this outrageous betrayal, a cumulative loss of £1BILLION was inflicted on their female ‘comrades’. ”

      Indeed, and let’s make no mistake here, the Labour Party were acutely aware of it – Something which need repeated every time a a Labour MSP opens their mouth…

      Like

  2. Absolutely.
    A Scottish state would shape it’s DEFENCE policy in a very different way to the imperial one still pursued by Westminster.
    When you continue to have aspirations of global power,that comes at a price,of which Scotland pays a share.
    As far as some of these Westminster creeps continuing to refer to themselves
    as the Rt, Hon blah-blah,in the case of the Tories it should be the Far Rt. blah-blah.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Great article. The international defence budget data is easy to find as is the U.K. GERS recharge to us. They lie, they cheat, they are quite simple a***holes as that is where there brains are.

    ‘Oh Ben, your chance to lie to those bloody jocks’.
    ‘Ok! what do I know nothing about?’
    ‘What job do you have?’
    ‘Emm defence I think’
    ‘That’s a great scary subject, go for it Ben…..em Wallace’

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Why does this Tory just come out and say what he thinks we are not able or capable to have our Independence just following Joan Lamont, remember this.

    This is the start of the scare stories from a former English LIST tory in the SP.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. NO Defence ?
    But Mr Wallace hasn’t mentioned the most potent threat . According to Lord Robertson , former Labour MP , former big-wig in NATO , in 2014 it was the ALIEN threat that was uppermost in his mind .
    Scotland was wide-open to attack from the stars , unlike the UK which could defend itself against alien invasion .
    Though when you look at some of the Cabinet it appears that , like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers , we are too late !
    ”They’re here !

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Indeed, needed said… That the BBC continues to platform the likes of Wallace without any interrogation of the facts comes as no surprise whatsoever, but as many have recognised and vocalised it’s 2014 Mk2.

    Doubtless Wallace would laugh off similarly small country-capabilities as “pathetic”, but the reality is these countries build what they NEED by way of military capability, just as Scotland will assess and do once independent.

    Scotland however will join the vast array of normal countries who have no need to willy-wave to the rest of the world (or should that be wallace-wave), but consider the real threat. Which attack lines an Independent Scotland might defend against ?

    -England – Alister Jack, Fluffy and mini-fluffy drones could be deployed across the border boring the arse off any approaching the Scotland, with a second phase of DRoss drones waving red flags and spouting unintelligible bullshit, before the third phase of the JRM inspired salvo of deep fried Mars-bars inflicts the equivalent of the boiling oil tactics of days gone by.
    From anywhere else – Midgies – Scotland’s Viet-Cong
    Outer space – MacFeegles
    Simple really…

    Like

    1. “”Midgies – Scotland’s Viet-Cong”.
      Love it!
      Fly out of the bush,attack and then back into the bush before you can do anything about it.
      Smidge is the Scottish equivalent of Agent Orange!

      Like

  7. The Tories have increased the Defence (attack) fund £5Billion. Brexit puts up Defence costs. Shared EU Defence costs saves £Billions.

    UK Illegal wars cost £Trillions.

    The Tories are cutting pensions and universal credit.

    Like

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