This week's most important defence-related story has been this morning's announcement that Scotland has voted in favour of remaining part of the union following a referendum held on Thursday. With over 3.6 million votes cast – a turnout of 84.6 per cent – the ‘No’ campaign prevailed by a double-digit margin of 55.3 per cent to 44.7 per cent. The margin of victory was much higher than expected, especially given the surge towards ‘Yes’ in opinion polls in the run up to the referendum. Prime Minister David Cameron gave a statement shortly after the outcome was declared, in which he announced that plans were to be drawn up for a greater devolution of powers to all four nations in the UK. However, even if such reforms are enacted, the management of UK defence and foreign policy will remain exclusively with Westminster.
Much of the defence news coverage in the media over the last week has been dedicated to examining the consequences of independence. Now we know that it isn’t going to happen, these stories are obsolete. As a result, this week’s monitoring will be slightly shorter than usual.
The other main defence news this week has concerned the ongoing crisis with the Islamic State. Monday brought news of the execution of Scottish aid worker and former RAF member David Haines. Whilst this act has further galvanised those calling for the UK to take offensive action against the Islamic State, it is only now that the Scottish referendum has past that the UK government will turn its attention towards what role to take in the fight against the extremist movement in Iraq and Syria. Australia has already announced the deployment to the UAE of eight fighter aircraft, an early warning and control aircraft, and an aerial refuelling aircraft. In addition, France has declared its willingness to join the US-led air campaign. There is currently some speculation in Westminster that the Prime Minister will order a recall of the House of Commons during the party conference season in order for MPs to vote on the UK taking part in military action, but there are no firm developments yet.
In other news, it emerged that RAF C-130J aircraft may remain in service beyond their current 2022 out of service date in a Special Forces support role. It was revealed that a shortage of engineers is confining a number of Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to port. And the Netherlands announced that it was to increase defence spending after years of cuts.
The House of Commons rose again for party conference season on 12th September, with conferences taking place on the following dates:
• Labour: 21st to 24th September
• Conservative: 28th September to 1st October
• Liberal Democrat: 4th to 8th October
Both the House of Commons and the House of Lords will return on 13th October.
Labour publish pre-manifesto
Last week saw the Lib Dems publish their pre-manifesto. Whilst almost inevitable light on defence issues, it reaffirmed the previously stated plan by the Lib Dems to retain Trident and its successor only in a “Contingency Posture”, which means that the current and future Trident-carrying fleet would be cut to two or three submarines that, except in a crisis, would only be deployed on a non-continuous basis and without nuclear warheads. Although clearly the Lib Dems will not win the next election outright, the status of Trident may be an issue the party chooses to pursue should it once again enter into a coalition government.
Invictus Games for injured veterans closes
The BBC reports that the Invictus games has held its closing ceremony, with the Queen telling its participants in a statement read out by event organiser Prince Harry that she was “deeply moved by your courage, determination and talent”. The prince added that those who had taken part had shown their “unconquerable” character. The closing ceremony concert, in front of a sell-out crowd of 26,000, featured acts including rock bands Foo Fighters and Kaiser Chiefs. Prince Harry told the crowd the games had shown “the very best of the human spirit”.
The games featured more than 400 competitors in track and field events and disciplines including cycling and indoor rowing. Teams have travelled from the US, Afghanistan, New Zealand and across Europe to take part in events at the Olympic Park and Lee Valley Athletics Centre in London.
Former senior MoD Police officer found not guilty of fraud
It has been reported in the legal press that former detective chief inspector in the Ministry of Defence Police has been acquitted of 30 counts of fraud after a four-week trial at Chelmsford Crown Court. HHJ Dodd QC said in discharging the defendant that he left the court without a stain on his character.