It must be disheartening work learning a musical instrument. You would think that Society, for its own sake, would do all it could to assist a man to acquire the art of playing a musical instrument. But it doesn’t!
I knew a young fellow once, who was studying to play the bagpipes, and you would be surprised at the amount of opposition he had to contend with. Why, not even from the members of his own family did he receive what you could call active encouragement. His father was dead against the business from the beginning, and spoke quite unfeelingly on the subject.
My friend used to get up early in the morning to practise, but he had to give that plan up, because of his sister. She was somewhat religiously inclined, and she said it seemed such an awful thing to begin the day like that.
So he sat up at night instead, and played after the family had gone to bed, but that did not do, as it got the house such a bad name. People, going home late, would stop outside to listen, and then put it about all over the town, the next morning, that a fearful murder had been committed at Mr. Jefferson’s the night before; and would describe how they had heard the victim’s shrieks and the brutal oaths and curses of the murderer, followed by the prayer for mercy, and the last dying gurgle of the corpse.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog), 1889.
July 19, 2014
June 23, 2014
While the England team may not need to worry about what to do in the elimination round (because they’re not going to get that far), James Delingpole claims that this is the greatest World Cup ever, and offers five reasons he’s right:
1. Filthy, cheating foreigners are conforming satisfyingly to stereotype.
The reason England are already out of the competition, claimed Wayne Rooney over the weekend, is that we are far too nice. If ever we wish to win again at the game we invented, he suggested, then we will have to learn to cheat like all the filthy foreigners with their effeminate hairstyles, their casual fouling and their extravagant diving.
But obviously we can’t do that sort of thing because then we’d look like the kind of people who still live with their mothers and eat garlic on toast and ride around piazzas on mopeds.
Which is why we prefer to lose because it shows our national superiority. Anyway, football is fixed now — so really it’s not up to the players who wins any more anyway, it’s decided by the betting syndicates in India and Pakistan and Ghana.
3. It has given the Scots something not to grumble about
Nothing — not a warming draught of deep fried Irn Bru (copyright Michael Deacon) nor the skirl of pipes nor the reassuring “pit” of the latest welfare cheque landing on the floor of your council flat — gladdens a Scotsman’s heart quite so much as the sight of England losing in a major (or indeed minor) sporting event.
It’s quite possible that, had England won this World Cup, the backlash would have driven the whole of Scotland into voting “Yes” in the forthcoming referendum. Those of us who love the Scots and dearly wish them to remain part of the Union, therefore, should rejoice in Britain’s tactical defeat in the World Cup.
5. Nazi Pope Reefer Man
Do I really need to explain?
My favourite Twitter post from the start of the World Cup now seems prescient:
The England team visited an orphanage in Brazil today. ‘It's heartbreaking to see their sad little faces with no hope,"’ said Jose, age 6.
— Peter Nurse (@PeterNurse1) June 11, 2014
June 10, 2014
BBC News Magazine has expatriot Scot Jon Kelly wondering where all the traditional pro-England hype has gone, compared to previous World Cup campaigns:
The flags are missing from the cars. British newspapers aren’t heralding imminent victory. In pubs from Penrith to Plymouth there’s a distinct lack of gaiety, optimism and hope.
I for one couldn’t be happier.
As a Scotsman resident in London, I’ve come to dread the wildly delusional over-confidence that grips my adopted homeland every time an international football tournament is staged.
The certainty of victory. The talk of a “golden generation”. The interminable references to 1966. And the inevitable splutterings of anguish when it’s eventually confirmed on the pitch that, actually, Germany or Argentina or Portugal are superior teams after all.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like all things Anglo very much. While Scotland will always be the national side I support, in spite of our dependable rubbishness, I’ve always felt the Anyone-But-England tendency among some of my fellow Scots diminishes our status as a self-confident, modern nation.
1966 – it seems like only yesterday to many England fans
But the bellicose hysteria that envelops many in England — not to mention the irritating assumption by certain broadcasters, newspapers and advertisers that their audiences are comprised entirely of England fans — makes the team in white a difficult one for non-English folk to like, never mind cheer on.
And I say all this as someone who takes an interest in football. For those who dislike the game, it must be excruciating.
This year it’s different, however. No-one with more than a cursory knowledge of the international game seriously believes England will win.
That much is true: if they stick to the traditional formula, they’ll go out on penalties in the quarter-finals.
Invariably, a motley crew of psychologists, positive-thinking gurus and snake-oil sellers will be forming a queue outside FA headquarters, offering cures for the English penalty curse. I think there’s a simpler solution. Let’s campaign for spot kicks to be scrapped. We should use whatever arguments we think might work. I’d play the inclusion card. Penalty kicks clearly discriminate against the mentally frail. The English, who suffer from a collective, penalty-induced trauma, will always get a raw deal. How can that be fair? If FIFA wants a truly level playing field, the answer is to get rid of the pseudo-lottery of spot kicks. What we need is a proper lottery. We don’t want skill or nerve to play any part. Tossing a coin, rolling dice, drawing straws, a game of scissor-paper-stone — anything is better than a shootout. Come on Mr Blatter, give us chokers a chance.
Still one of my favourite World Cup comments (and I’m flying the English flag for the tournament):
— pheadtony (@pheadtony) June 1, 2010
June 1, 2014
These days your host might offer you a malt whisky almost any time. If he’s mad enough to offer you ice, or better still, drop it in unasked, you get bonus points for the way you manage to restrain your horror at the fellow’s barbarism. When you finally taste the stuff, say, “Ah, the old Glencluskie. Magnificent, but not what it was. It’s this damned Canadian barley. Too much starch, not enough protein and fat. Thank heaven there’s still some peat in the kilning.” All very well today, but on present trends there’ll soon be whisky snobs fit to compare with any wine snobs of yesteryear.
Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.
May 20, 2014
Last year, the Scottish government introduced legislative proposals to nominate state guardians for all Scottish children, to be called “named persons” and to exercise rather Orwellian powers over the child and the child’s parents. The legislation is now in force, and Stuart Waiton explains why it’s such an intrusive step:
The children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has been dismissive of those people who have criticised the act as state snooping, or, as many Christian groups have put it, an ‘attack on the family’. For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to help families in trouble and further ensure that children are protected in society. Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not instantly celebrated. The claims of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, are simply ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘misrepresentations’ of the new law. When someone raised the point that this act undermined the role of parents in child-rearing, Campbell, somewhat comically, replied, ‘we recognise that parents also have a role’.
However, given the increasing ways in which all children are being categorised as ‘vulnerable’, the way in which all professionals are being educated to put child safety at the top of their agenda, and at time in which ‘early intervention’ is promoted as the only rational approach to solving social problems, there is a serious risk that the relationship between the ‘named person’ and parents will become one predicated on suspicion. Given that the red line for when it is appropriate to intervene in a child’s life is also being downgraded, from the child being seen as at serious risk of harm to mere concerns about their ‘wellbeing’, the potential for unnecessary and potentially destructive state intrusion into family life with this law is significant.
[...] There is also a great danger here that by incorporating every single child in the child-safety rubric, the few children who need state intervention in their lives will get lost in this vast system and not get the support they need. As one concerned parent has noted, when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger?
April 20, 2014
Patrick West believes that Scotland should include Northern Ireland in its new country if the separation vote succeeds:
[A union] between England and Wales could, possibly [succeed]. Despite the wishes of Welsh (and indeed English) nationalists, the two countries are physically and economically linked – just have a look at the commercial relationship between Bristol and Cardiff or Liverpool and north Wales. But Northern Ireland would resemble a very odd third partner in this hypothetical, slimmed-down UK, cut off by the sea and by culture (there are no peace walls in England and only Southport has annual Orange Order parades).
So, I have a better suggestion: if Scotland declares independence, shouldn’t Northern Ireland go with it? No, let me rephrase that: if Scotland becomes independent, it has a moral obligation to take Northern Ireland with it. Ulster is, after all, far more of a Scottish colony than an English one, demographically speaking. From the reign of King James VI of Scotland (who also became James I of England in 1603), Ulster was disproportionately colonised by Scots (many of whom later left for America to become ‘Scotch-Irish’), which explains why Presbyterianism was always a more popular denomination in Ulster than the Church of Ireland. The Scottish legacy is also reflected in efforts in recent decades among Protestants to cement an ‘Ulster-Scots’ culture and language. While you will see the Scottish saltire at Orange Order marches, you won’t see an empty-handed Cross of St George.
The two lands are united in their love of and hatred of Glasgow’s two football teams and by simmering sectarianism. The Scottish National Party (SNP) was very keen to jump on the Braveheart bandwagon. Why not go even further back in time? Parts of Ulster and Scotland were once united in the sixth and seventh century in the kingdom of Dalriada. The revival of this ancient kingdom, should Scotland vote ‘Yes’, would make much more sense than Northern Ireland’s continued bondage to England. After all, most English people are notoriously ignorant about Ulster. During the Troubles, the English regarded the province with a mixture of irritation and indifference, which is why the IRA in the 1970s knew that England would only take notice if there were bombs on the mainland. ‘They’re both as bad as each other’ and ‘fancy fighting about religion’ were the two common reactions. To the English, the Northern Irish are a foreign people, which is why they found the grating, mangled accents of John Cole and Ian Paisley so amusing – so otherish, so strange.
There has been little love in the opposite direction. To Irish republicans, England was always the occupier, and most Ulster Catholics had good reason to come to dislike the English after 1969. It was with English accents that they heard their houses raided, their husbands and brothers interned and shot. Meanwhile, Ulster Protestants have always – with fair reason – suspected that London wanted to rid itself of the Six Counties, hence the actions of 1974 and 1985 (even 1912), when ‘loyalists’ rebelled against a perceived perfidious London government.
April 3, 2014
If Scotland votes in favour of separation from the United Kingdom this September, it will kick off a period of vast political uncertainty on both sides of the border:
The potential negotiations are all frighteningly close. In just six months time difficult discussions between the Scottish government and Whitehall could be getting under way. David Cameron would lead for the Rest of UK, but only as a weakened Prime Minister contemplating a legacy centred on the loss of the Union. His Westminster opponent Ed Miliband would have to contemplate the loss of many Labour MPs from north of the border. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage would presumably be jumping up and down shouting “bye-bye Scotland, close the door behind you” and stressing that England should be for the English. That view would, I suspect, be very popular after the Scots had raised two fingers at the English in the referendum.
In Scotland, once the Nationalists had woken up with a massive collective hangover, there would be bedlam too, with Salmond the victor and head of government demanding to lead for the Scots in negotiations on oil and so on. But should one man be allowed to create a separate state and dictate its constitution? Shouldn’t a wider group of founding fathers and mothers come up with a plan that Scottish voters can then be asked to approve? To help, the better Scottish MPs and peers at Westminster would very quickly have to go home to try and prevent Salmond turning the whole exercise into a massive vanity project. They would also have to stand for seats in the next Scottish parliament elections, or retire and pipe down.
All this would be taking place against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and intense emotional turbulence.
In such extraordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that English, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would put up with Scottish MPs trying to carry on as normal and then standing for election in 2015 as though nothing had happened. The Members of the Scottish Parliament would say that they now spoke for Scotland. The English, Welsh and Northern Irish at Westminster would be justified in saying later this year to those MPs from Scottish seats: what are you still doing here?
February 24, 2014
I rarely find much of interest in Paul Krugman’s blog, but he’s pretty good in this brief analysis of Scotland’s monetary future in a post-independence scenario:
Whether it’s overall a good idea or not, however, independence would have to rest on a sound monetary foundation. And the independence movement has me worried, because what it has said on that that crucial subject seems deeply muddle-headed.
What the independence movement says is that there’s no problem — Scotland will simply stay on the pound. That is, however, much more problematic than they seem to realize.
In fact, Scotland-on-the-pound would be in even worse shape than the euro countries, because the Bank of England would be under no obligation to act as lender of last resort to Scottish banks — that is, it would arguably take even less responsibility for local financial stability than the pre-Draghi ECB. And it would fall very far short of the post-Draghi ECB, which has in effect taken on the role of lender of last resort to eurozone governments, too.
Add to this the lack of fiscal integration. The question isn’t whether Scotland would on average pay more or less in taxes if independent; probably a bit less, depending on how you handle the oil revenues. Instead, the question is what would happen if something goes wrong, if there’s a slump in Scotland’s economy. As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland would receive large de facto aid, just like a U.S. state (or Wales); if it were on its own, it would be on its own, like Portugal.
As Stephen Gordon points out, this is “another analysis where you can substitute Qc/RoC for Scotland/UK”.
February 21, 2014
He spends just about as much time trying to persuade Scots to stay as he does in winding them up:
Anyway, here are my ten reasons why I think Scotland and England are much better together than apart.
3. Deep Fried Mars Bars.
As every Englishman knows, these are the staple diet of inner city Scotland*, usually served with a side order of deep fried pizza, washed down with Irn Bru, and followed with a heroin chaser, which makes them vomit it all up again, as seen in Irvine Welsh’s hard-hitting documentary Trainspotting. (*Although we of course are aware that outside the cities, you subsist on haggis and whisky)
Some Scots like to claim that this a grotesque caricature which is typical of the contempt in which they are held by the snide, ignorant, condescending English. But then, the feeling’s mutual, isn’t it? In any international sporting event, the Scots will always support whichever foreign team is playing England.
And isn’t that exactly what’s so wonderful about our relationship? All the best marriages are based on partial loathing: look at Anthony & Cleo; Taylor and Burton; Petruchio and Katherina. It’s the spark that keeps it all alive.
4. The Pound.
As Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has made perfectly clear, an independent Scotland is not going to keep the pound. Why not? Well look at what Greece did when — with a little book-balancing sleight of hand from its friends at Goldman Sachs — it snuck into membership of the Euro.
So if you want a future where you travel abroad, my Scottish friends, or indeed where you want to be able to be able to import anything at all, it’s very much in your interests to maintain the Union. Otherwise you’ll have to find a currency more in keeping with your new global status: the Albanian Lek, perhaps, or the West African CFA franc, as used by your economic soul-mate Burkina Faso.
5. The economy.
Let’s be blunt: apart from the whisky industry, and what’s left of the tourist industry that hasn’t been wiped out by Alex Salmond’s wind-farm building programme, Scotland doesn’t really have one. It is a welfare-dependent basket case, with near Soviet levels of government spending and a workforce who’d mostly be out of jobs if they weren’t sucking on the teat of state employment.
For various historical and emotional reasons, the English taxpayers who bankroll most of this welfarism — e.g. through the iniquitous Barnett Formula, whereby around £1000 more per annum is spent by the government on Scottish citizens than English ones — have decided generally to be cool about this.
But when we hear about Scotland’s plans to go it alone economically, we’re about as convinced as the parents of stroppy teenage kids are when they threaten to leave home right this minute. The difference is that when in ten minutes’ time we get the phone call “D-a-a-d. Will you come and pick me up? I’ve run out of pizza money” we’re not going to come running.
February 1, 2014
David Boaz rounds up a few human moments to illustrate the “Great Fact”:
In Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World, economic historian Deirdre McCloskey writes about the “Great Fact” — the enormous and unprecedented growth in living standards that began in the western world around 1700. She calls it “a factor of sixteen”: we moderns consume at least 16 times the food, clothing, housing, and education that our ancestors did in London in the 18th century.
And finally, I note an older book on my own Scottish ancestors, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History by James G. Leyburn:
The squalor and meanness of [lowland Scottish] life around 1600 [or 1700] can hardly be conceived by a person of the twentieth century. A cluster of hovels housed the tenants and their helpers….A home was likely to be little more than a shanty, constructed of stones, banked with turf, without mortar, and with straw, heather, or moss stuffed in the holes to keep out the blasts….The fire, usually in the middle of the house floor, often filled the whole hut with malodorous clouds, since the smoke-clotted roof gradually stopped the vent-hole. Cattle were tethered at night at one end of the room, while the family lay at the other end on heather piled upon the floor….Vermin abounded…skin diseases…Infectious diseases were propagated readily.
According to scholars such as Angus Maddison and Brad DeLong, GDP per capita hardly rose for thousands, or tens of thousands, of years before the emergence of capitalism. And then after 100,000 years of stagnation (by DeLong’s estimates), around 1750 capitalism and growth began, first in Northern Europe and the American seaboard, and spreading ever since to more parts of the world. That is, the existence of relatively free markets is the reason we don’t live like my Scottish ancestors. This is indeed the Great Fact of the modern world. We should celebrate it, even as we work to extend the benefits of markets to people and nations who don’t yet enjoy as much capitalism as they should.
January 14, 2014
A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:
Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.
10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.
And again, on the 17th of December:
Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.
And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:
Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. 
Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.
January 13, 2014
Robert Peston examines the question of whether a post-referendum Scotland would be debt-free or would have a share in the existing debt obligations of the United Kingdom:
This morning’s statement from the Treasury that the UK will stand behind all its sovereign debts, whether or not Scotland’s people vote for independence, is in a way a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.
That debt, all £1.4 trillion of it, is an obligation of the National Loans Fund.
And nothing can change that — whether Scotland were to decide to secede (or, to pick an unlikely corollary, in the event that the People’s Liberation Army of West Sussex, miffed about fracking, were to declare UDI).
So why has the Treasury chosen to say that the UK will honour its debts, whatever Scotland does?
Well, it is because investors — whom we may think of as sophisticated and informed (ahem) — have been increasingly asking the Treasury and the Debt Management Office for clarification of the status of the UK’s financial obligations in the event of a fracturing of the United Kingdom.
Who would not vote for independence if an autonomous, separate Scotland would be set free from the burden of UK debts currently equivalent to 76% of GDP or national income (on the latest estimates by the Office for Budget Responsibility)?
Except that even Alex Salmond and the Scot Nats don’t believe that an independent Scotland could, in practice, walk away from its fair share of the UK’s debts — even if they would have the legal ability to do so.
January 5, 2014
If you’ve ever visited Edinburgh, you’ll probably have heard about the sinister pairing of Burke and Hare, the bodysnatchers who murdered 16 people and sold the bodies to medical students for dissection. In 2012, five skeletons were uncovered during a townhouse renovation in the Haymarket district, and it’s speculated that the four adults and a child were previously unknown victims:
Archaeologists have only now determined that the five date back to the early 19th century following studies by Historic Scotland and consultants Guard Archaeology.
Altogether around 60 bones were found, including four adult jawbones and others believed to be from a child.
The bodies are thought to be those of criminals or dwellers of the poor houses. Those that were not claimed were frequently used for either dissection, to be anatomical skeletons, or both.
Irish immigrants William Burke and William Hare murdered 16 people in Edinburgh in 1828 and sold the bodies as dissection material, but it is thought unlikely that the pair were responsible for the five found in Grove Street as the notoriety of their crimes means that all their victims are believed to have been accounted for.
John Lawson, from the Edinburgh City Council Archaeology Service, was the first to examine the remains on site.
He said: “At the end of the Enlightenment period there was significant demand for cadavers and which indeed outstripped supply, and that led to a thriving illegal trade, with Burke and Hare clearly the most infamous of those who supplied bodies to medical schools.
“We can’t rule out that those found on Grove Street were sold by the resurrectionists, as they were called, although it might be a stretch to say it was Burke and Hare themselves, given their crimes are well-documented.”
He said that most would be used for dissection, with the skeletons of others used to teach anatomy to students.
But Lawson said it was still unclear why they would have been buried in the garden.
This is a good example of the division of work in the newsroom: the headline says the bodies are linked to Burke and Hare, while the article itself quotes an expert saying it’s “a stretch” to say that. Headlines are usually written by editors, rather than the journalists who put the stories together.
December 6, 2013
Sir Humphrey is back with the next part of his series assessing the needs of an independent Scottish military organization:
Despite the ability to talk to each other being so vital, there seems to be no mention [in the Scottish white paper] of any form of IT infrastructure beyond a vague reference to ‘communication units’ in the paper. This is a real concern — good secure IT able to provide secure communications of classified material and not fall prey to hackers or cyber attack is very expensive and requires specialist skills. It is probably highly unlikely that the UK Government would be willing to allow the new Scottish Government to use its national defence IT system (and arguably would a Scottish Government want to?). This means that in the run up to independence the SDF is going to have to work out how to install an entire communications network from scratch. Don’t forget that provision of IT is contracted out to various different companies for the MOD, so its not as if one can simply divvy up the assets and black boxes.
The paper commits the SDF to retaining in existence all current MOD sites in Scotland, and possibly restoring RAF LEUCHARS to flying status. One of the challenges facing the MOD at the moment is the dilemma between having a broad footprint across a range of areas, often made up of aged buildings with heavy maintenance requirements, or condensing this into smaller but more modern sites.
The SDF will find itself inheriting a very large footprint of sites, many of which are quite old, quite remote and in need of a lot of work. It will need to decide whether to invest in them, or rationalise and save money for better facilities elsewhere. At a most basic level, is the SDF going to provide housing to their personnel? After all the MOD housing isn’t actually owned by the MOD, but by Annington Homes — this means that at independence there will not actually be any housing for the SDF personnel. It may sound a small thing, but the new SDF will need to quickly work out a complicated contract to house people in married quarters.
At a most basic level, one must ask about how the recruitment and selection process is going to work. To grow a force of some 15000 over 10 years and then retain it will prove to be a real challenge for any military when you consider the small resource base open to it (barely 5 million people). At present recruitment for the UK armed forces is able to draw from a much larger pool, and even then it is a struggle to get the right recruits at the right time. When you look at the potential sets of skills required — Typhoon pilots, Infanteers, Naval Officers etc, and consider that these all have very different selection and training procedures, you quickly realise how challenging its going to be to recruit for the SDF.
Finding the money to pay the troops will be one thing, but actually finding the troops willing to join will be another. The key worry is that barring wholesale transfer of troops against their wishes, it seems that very few personnel would willingly wish to transfer over to the SDF on independence. Given that the current ORBAT calls for very specialist personnel and skills, one can foresee a situation where the SDF may inherit the kit, but if the operators and maintainers choose not to come over, and if the training pipeline cannot cope, then this equipment is likely to stand empty for quite some time to come, and also calls into question the ability of the SDF to effectively defend Scottish interests.
November 30, 2013
We looked at the problems of setting up a Scottish naval organization last week, and now Sir Humphrey turns his attention to the proposed air force for a post-independence Scotland. The proposed air force equipment from the white paper included “a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) squadron incorporating a minimum of 12 Typhoon jets based at Lossiemouth” and “a tactical air transport squadron, including around six Hercules C130J aircraft, and a helicopter squadron”:
The first challenge is the Typhoon fleet and how it can be operated to best effect. QRA is a very expensive thing to do properly — it’s not just about having pilots based in a cockpit ready to take off. Setting up QRA is about having a Recognised Air Picture, a means of sharing information and communicating it to the airbase. It is about having the C2 links in place so that in the event of a scramble, the means exist for the senior decision taking Minister to be able to authorise a shoot down decision and then for the pilot to carry it out in an appropriate manner. This ability needs to be available 24/7/365 and is an onerous task on aircrew and support teams.
In the SDF the reality is that with only 12 jets available, their entire effort will be taken up doing QRA — assuming two training aircraft come over, this gives a squadron of 10 aircraft to generate 2 airframes on a constant basis. Take two out of the equation for servicing, two on the flight line and two being prepared to take over, and this leaves you with a flex of four aircraft to conduct all training and flying for the fleet.
The MOD currently estimates that Typhoon costs £70k per hour to fly (full costs), so assuming that it flies for 30 hours per airframe per month over a year (an averaged figure as there will be peaks and troughs), you suddenly realise that it would cost £2.1 million per month, £25 million per year to keep each aircraft going, or a total of nearly £300 million per year to ensure that two jets were constantly available for QRA. This is well over 10% of the putative budget. Add to this the operating costs of RAF Lossiemouth currently exceed £100m per year, and you realise that nearly 20% of the SDF budget is going to be taken up just to run QRA.
As Sir Humphrey pointed out in an earlier post on the naval question, there’s no guarantee that lopping off a “fair share” of the UK’s existing equipment inventory makes any sense for the quite different needs of an independent Scotland. Again, the right approach is to ignore the equipment question at first and instead analyze the actual needs — what does Scotland need their air force to do — rather than building a wish list of impressive machinery that almost certainly won’t provide value for the money. An independent nation needs to protect their own airspace (or be involved in alliances to provide that protection communally), but that requires identification of actual or potential threats to Scottish interests.
Another problem with automatically adopting the same equipment as the UK is that the supporting organizations and infrastructure will also have to be created to utilize the equipment:
The other problem is who actually supports the aircraft — a lot of deep level RAF servicing has been contracted out now, and these contracts will be null and void for the SDF airframes. The SDF will either have to spend a lot of money to introduce servicing facilities (which are not cheap) or it will have to enter into all manner of very expensive commercial arrangements with UK companies to get them to support Typhoon in Scottish service. This sort of arrangement cannot be skimped either — if you don’t service your aircraft, then you quickly lose the ability to fly them. As such a newly independent Scotland may find itself hamstrung by a need to pay a great deal of money in support contracts and servicing contracts and not capital investment in new technology.
The proposal to acquire C130s seems similarly expensive. There is not, and has never been a C130 basing presence in Scotland. This means that the SDF would need to pay out from the start to set up a C130 support facility and hangar in Lossiemouth. They would also need to find sufficiently trained crews and groundstaff – a small point, but the C130 fleet has been based at Lyneham and Brize Norton for nearly 50 years. Finding a sufficient pool of operators and support staff to uproot from their home to go to a newly independent Scotland is going to be a major challenge in itself.