“Scottish independence is a security problem for the United States. President Biden should use his voice to persuade Scots to stay with the United Kingdom” – Foreign Policy Magazine, March 8, 2021.


The article was written by a pro-Unionist Scot, not an American academic. It literally claims an independent Scotland would be run by either Moscow or Beijing. Crivens! Jings! Help ma Boab!


Foreign Policy (FP) is a liberal American news magazine focused on global affairs. On March 8, 2021, the FP website published a short opinion piece by Azeem Ibrahim headlined “Scottish Independence Is a Security Problem for the United States”. Glasgow-born Ibrahim is a research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College. He is the author of Radical Origins: Why We Are Losing the Battle Against Islamic Extremism.

The National:

Ibrahim is also associated with The Scotland Institute, a think tank which he funds personally. The Scotland Institute was launched in June 2012 in the run-up to the independence referendum, claiming to “support an intelligent debate on Scotland's constitutional future”. Alistair Darling appeared at the opening presentation. The last publication listed on the institute’s website is dated 2016. The institute’s list of “advisors” is mysteriously empty of names.

We should note therefore that the FP article is not by a US analyst looking at Scottish independence from an American perspective. Rather it is a sceptical, pro-Unionist Scottish observer appealing to US public opinion.


First, Ibrahim claims that “were Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, the UK would find its nuclear deterrent in disarray” because the SNP “is committed to decommissioning” the submarine base at Faslane and “there is no location along the coast of England that is as well suited for a replacement”.

This argument is specious on several grounds. First it implies that the US needs or even wants the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Strategically, the UK deterrent is wholly dependent on US support for its missiles, warheads and targeting information. The UK does not actually own its Trident missiles but leases them from the US. British subs must regularly visit the US Navy’s base at King’s Bay, Georgia, for maintenance or re-arming.

There seems no practical reason why the Royal Navy could not relocate its nuclear subs to America if the latter were anxious to keep the British deterrent. Or to English ports such as Devonport – except that would put missiles and nuclear warheads near a city of quarter a million people. Ibrahim seems to be arguing that Scotland should remain in the Union just because it avoids locating the nuclear deterrent near English population centres.

The National:


Next Ibrahim claims that “the UK heartland on the island of Great Britain would become contestable territory should Scotland find alliances with powers that are hostile to the UK and the United States … small, desperate countries can have surprisingly radical politics, as Scotland has already shown.”

Ibrahim fails to tell his American readers that in October 2012, the SNP annual conference in Perth voted by 426-332 to support Scottish membership of Nato after independence. Also, the SNP is in support of re-joining the EU and therefore of its Common Security and Defence Policy. We might also note that the SNP’s defence spokesperson, Stewart McDonald, is something of a Nato hawk and an outspoken critic of Russian pressure on the Baltic States and Ukraine. Ibrahim conveniently ignores these facts.


Ibrahim claims that as a result of Scottish independence “the UK’s role and position in the global institutional order would be questioned”. In particular he says “the UK’s permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council could be fiercely and credibly challenged by hostile incumbent members like Russia or emergent powers like India”.

But the UK’s seat on the Security Council is already under threat regardless of Scotland. For instance, there have been suggestions that a recent ruling by the International Court of Justice – to the effect that Britain illegally occupied the Chagos Islands and forcibly removed their population – could lead to the UN general assembly stripping Britain of its Security Council place. Again, after Brexit there have been suggestions that the EU as a bloc may seek Britain’s Security Council position.

The point is that the UK needs to justify why it should have a permanent seat on the Security Council when other significant powers such as India do not. In this context, Ibrahim seems to be arguing that Scotland has to remain part of the UK as a means to ensuring India’s 1.3 billion people are kept from a seat on the council. American strategic interests may actual lie with supporting Indian conclusion. But Ibrahim is blind to these nuances.


Finally, Ibrahim claims that post-independence Scotland’s financial “vulnerability” would “serve as an opportunity for countries hostile to the United Kingdom and the United States, such as China and Russia, to come in and purchase influence”. He goes on: “This is not merely academic speculation. The SNP already has uncomfortably close ties to the Kremlin; former leader of the SNP Alex Salmond … has long had a political TV show air on RT, one of Moscow’s main propaganda outlets.”

The National: It is possible to understand why Alex Salmond wishes to go to court while also accepting the First Minister’s position on the matter

Ibrahim makes no attempt to justify Scotland’s alleged financial vulnerability nor why it would sell itself to the highest bidder as an ally. Scotland’s GDP equates well with richer industrial countries such as Finland and New Zealand, who can hardly be called globally poor or outside the Western axis. As for Moscow subsidising Scotland, Russia’s battered economy is smaller than that of South Korea. Scotland’s GDP is nearly a fifth of that of Russia with only 3.5% of the population.

Note: Ibrahim’s reference to Alex Salmond fails to tell his American readers that Alex Salmond is no longer a member of the SNP.


Ibrahim sums up his argument: “Scottish independence would effectively neutralize the UK’s military and diplomatic power on the global arena and deprive the United States of one of its most pivotal allies.” If true, it would suggest that the UK is on its last legs. But if it is, the exit of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is hardly going to make a difference.


Something for the White House wastepaper basket.

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