The ‘pro-indy’ party’s defence spokesman worships Brexit Britain’s new warships
The biggest naval deployment by Britain since the Falklands War began with massive multinational war games off the north-west coast of Scotland. Soon the Carrier Strike Group will reach the hotly contested South China Sea. Its transit through traditional international shipping lanes – now being claimed as territorial waters by Beijing – will doubtless be hailed by the White Commonwealth Press as a sign that Britannia rules the waves again. Especially since this armada – made up of nine ships, 32 aircraft and 3,700 personnel – is being led by the largest and most powerful vessel in the Royal Navy’s history. A warship that was named HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth on 4 July 2014 – barely two months before the independence referendum, would you believe?
Big Lizzie is what this 65,000-ton aircraft carrier was instantly dubbed by the Daily Mail. Monarchy and military is always a delicious combo for the daily Bible of Middle England. Equally so for the BBC. Expect one of Auntie’s dish monkeys to be dancing on Big Lizzie’s deck with great excitement when it enters Asia’s cauldron. Like a BBC correspondent just happened to be aboard HMS Defender when it detached from this daunting strike force to enter waters off the coast of Crimea now claimed by the Kremlin. Poking the Russian bear then tweaking the Chinese dragon’s tail. Who can still doubt that post-Brexit Britain is brave and buccaneering?
There is, of course, no grand geopolitical strategy beneath the surface bravado. He might have rattled off a book about Britain’s wartime titan, but blundering Boris is no Winston Churchill. This is far more about desperately chasing commercial deals than countering any serious threats to our national security. A bit of proxy naval posturing on behalf of the American Empire cannot harm Downing Street’s hopes of swinging a favourable trade deal with Washington. But the real economic driver behind this Far East power display is to shore up one of the few surviving fortresses of British manufacturing – the military-industrial complex. Hailed by the defence secretary as “a floating piece of sovereign territory that can sail over 70% of the world’s surface”, HMS Queen Elizabeth’s primary purpose for now is to serve as a massive floating arms fair. Something about which the government Minister overseeing it was not apologetic when challenged in the Commons to justify the MoD’s ‘Indo-Pacific tilt’:
I am not ashamed at all that this deployment will also be linked to trade. I am proud of standing on British-made equipment, made by Scottish hands, and English, Welsh and Northern Irish hands…We should be really proud that we will be showing that off to the world.
The UK defence secretary Ben Wallace was reminding the SNP’s defence spokesman Stewart McDonald that this gargantuan flagship – which will interact with over 40 different countries during its 26,000-nautical-mile global tour – was assembled in Scotland (along with HMS Prince of Wales). The member for Glasgow South – whom I have characterised in a previous post as Clydeside’s New Cold Warrior (see link below) – just felt these two giant carriers should be dispatched in the first instance to address “the threat we have in our own backyard”. By that he did not mean the toxic soup that has been flowing from Polmadie Burn into the Clyde for some time but the Russian navy’s occupation of Crimean ports on the Black Sea:
The Defence Secretary knows that that is the kind of tilt that I and my party want to see. What assurances can he give us that we will not be left open closer to home?
Probably none. There is absolutely nothing, I suspect, Ben Wallace, Big Lizzie (or anybody else) could do to convince Stewart McDonald that the Russians aren’t coming. His mind seems to have been permanently altered since he went on a shady junket to Ukraine. “Delusional” is how Mr McDonald was branded by the UK defence secretary recently when he demanded that the MoD should be “permanently basing surface warships within Scottish waters”.
For supporters of independence, that should trigger some alarm. Last September Mr McDonald assured SNP conference delegates that he had “spent a lot of time since 2014” getting to know how other small countries manage to defend their own coastal waters:
While I’m not going to give anything away on that front, it seems uncontroversial to say that Scotland is – and will long be – a maritime nation. With a sea area of around 470,000km² and around 60% of current UK waters, Scotland has a longer coastline than France and would have the fourth largest core waters of any European state.
How the Sturgeon regime could suddenly assemble a Scottish naval fleet to police and defend all of that – after struggling for several years to build two ferries – is something Mr McDonald will certainly keep to himself for as long as possible. The task is totally beyond their mental capabilities, of course, which is why Mr McDonald is not in a position to share any serious blueprint for separate Scottish defence forces of any sort with party members. But even the minor hypothetical danger of Scotland’s naval dockyards not being able – because of the break-up of Britain – to complete any orders picked up in the Indo-Pacific region could be a very real commercial handicap, particularly for Rosyth.
Just over two years ago, it was reported that an Indian delegation had visited this construction facility on the Forth to explore the possibility of a ‘copycat supercarrier’ being assembled in the same place as HMS Queen Elizabeth II and HMS Prince of Wales.The Indian Naval Service has been apparently eager for some time to acquire another such vessel to counter China’s expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic the decision to commission has been delayed until this September. But that crunch deadline is now just two months away. Unless, of course, New Delhi’s doctrinal commitment to a three-carrier navy is shelved indefinitely. The INS Vishal (Hindi for immense) might be deemed an immense extravagance. In his first major interview, in February 2020, India’s first chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat stated:
One (new) aircraft carrier will be on the seas next year. You look at when do you really need a third one. If you get a third one, how many years will it take for it to develop? Even if you place the order for 2022 or 2023, it is not coming before 2033. Also, aircraft carrier is not just a carrier. Along with it will have to come the aircraft. Where are the aircraft coming from? Along with that we will need the armada protection for that aircraft carrier. It does not happen overnight.
It takes a helluva long time to happen in Whitehall – even after sinking £6bn into such a ‘great power’ vanity project. Log onto the official HMS Queen Elizabeth Twitter site and you’ll find them tweeting about how it is “absolutely awe inspiring to watch, hear and feel!” The truth about this awesome carrier is that Britain does not possess enough fighter aircraft for it to carry. It may have the capacity for 36 F-35B lightning jets, but on its flight desk at present as it roars towards the South China Sea is half that number – operated not just by joint RAF and Royal Navy 617 squadron but also by the US Marine corp.
In June last year, the National Audit Office also spotlighted ongoing problems in developing the airborne early warning radar – and building the logistics ships – needed to support this flagship vessel. As if all that wasn’t enough to worry about, the watchdog body raised serious questions about future funding, warning:
The MoD also needs to get a firmer grip on the future costs of carrier strike. By failing to understand their full extent, it risks adding to the financial strain on a defence budget that is already unaffordable.
That warning has never been forcefully echoed by the SNP’s defence spokesman. Instead, Stewart McDonald – and, doubtless, a few other armchair admirals in our dominant ‘pro-indy’ party – just want to see Big Lizzie being sent thundering from Scotland to the Black Sea.
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