By Mark McNaught
In the United States, think tanks litter the post-apocalyptic political landscape. For every policy debate, there is some group of 'experts' with 'institute' or 'foundation' in their name ready with a statistic tailor-made to sway public opinion.
While some of these conduct valid empirical research, many others are funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers who seek to apply an academic veneer to their fascist neoliberal ideology.
Those who conduct 'research' and write 'reports' for these think tanks are already aware what their conclusions must be. For example, for any 'study', a CATO Institute 'scholar' will invariably reach the conclusion that government is bad and the free market is good. If he doesn't, he's out of a job.
Scotland … welcome to the world of millionaire-funded think tanks. You've made it…baby!
The 'Scotland Institute' was launched by Alistair Darling a year ago, and funded by multi-millionaire Azeem Ibrahim. Fortunately, 'Better Together' campaign manager Blair McDougall has reassured us that "It's not our vehicle, we are not owners of it, but it's helpful to the cause."
But to what extent could a 'report' conducted by the 'Scotland Institute' be objective and thereby helpful to 'Better Together', rather than a scare-story howitzer which will backfire. I invite you to read for yourself Defence and Security in an Independent Scotland.
While the number of false assumptions could fill a tipper truck, the equestrian faeces contained within plops into at least three broad thematic heaps.
The first is that if Scotland becomes independent, they will no longer be able to play the global role the UK has played in military affairs. Scotland is way too weak, too wee, and too poor to project their military might throughout the world as the UK has.
What the report fails to consider is whether an independent Scotland actually wants to play the UK role of 'airstrip one' (Orwell's 1984), sycophantically aiding the US to invade countries around the world, exploit its resources, or simply knock off governments they don't like. After all, the US learned from the master, who is now their servant.
Maybe Scots would like to carve out a more benevolent strategic niche commensurate with their values.
The second is that NATO would not forgive Scotland for leaving the UK, to the point where they would not allow Scotland to join, even though they are already members as part of the UK.
The idea that an independent Scotland would be excluded from NATO, as if it were akin to the former Soviet bloc, is preposterous. Even if it did, Scotland could simply not seek to join, which would enjoy significant Scottish support. What relevance does NATO have in this day and age, anyway?
Although there is stiff competition, perhaps the most outlandish claim is that Scotland would lose out on billions in military contracts, and that there is "no reason to think that independence would be good for Scotland's defence industry".
Independence has the strong potential to redefine and reinvigorate its defence industry, and allow Scotland to focus on producing the conventional equipment necessary to assure its new military posture: a non-nuclear responsible global citizen. Clyde ship building could see a renaissance, not only to supply ships for Scotland's navy but also to pursue contracts with other nations.
In addition, Scotland could redefine military procurement rules and contracts to eliminate the horrendous fraud and cost overruns which are endemic within the UK, i.e. US, defence industry. Scotland can begin with a blank slate, exert much greater oversight over the procurement process, and have strict anti-corruption rules which will prevent the emergence of a dominant military industrial complex.
Cringingly, the author of the foreword asserts that "Scots are indeed a warrior race". Yes, Scots have historically been impressed as cannon fodder for British imperial ambitions, but this caricature is hard to square with the most delightful and empathetic people I have ever known.
This 'Scotland Institute' obsession with lobbing scare-stories clearly demonstrate that it is unequipped to meaningfully contribute to an objective debate over independence defence issues.
But that is not its purpose. Rather, the 'Scotland Institute' seeks to lend military might to the 'Better Together' campaign, well aware that politicians and media outlets like the Scotsman and the BBC will parrot their findings without scrutiny.
'Better Together' and its backers know that few reporters, politicians, or citizens will ever take the trouble to actually read it and judge for themselves. Calling it a 'leading think tank' confers about as much credibility as the advertising slogan 'as seen on TV'.
Bear this in mind as the 'Scotland Institute' and other hastily contrived think tanks attempt to influence the independence debate. Shield yourself by knowing exactly what think tanks are, who funds them, and how they operate.
Scots deserve a well-informed debate over its military future post-independence, rather than shills from a scare-story howitzer.
Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.