Independent Scotland: Naked and alone as UK counter-terrorist and crime fighting assets withdrawn

Chris Hobbs /   June 29, 2015 at 8:39 PM 914 views

In the great debate on Scottish independence, little has been said by either side as to how a ‘yes’ vote would impact on all aspects of law and order North of the border. The ramifications would be significant yet the lack of discussion is likely to be due to sheer ineptitude on the part of the ‘better together’ campaign and shrewd campaigning by Alex Salmond  and his cohorts who would rather the subject remain off the agenda. One fact that has become obvious over the past few months is that a yes vote would inevitably lead to a messy and acrimonious divorce but has anyone throughout this debate considered how exposed Scotland would be when it loses its access to the UK’s terrorist and crime fighting assets? All sides of the debate will be aware that the UK potentially faces the greatest threat to its internal security since the second world in that just a handful of the thousands of trained Islamist terrorists resident in the UK would be sufficient to bring death and destruction to towns and cities throughout the British Isles. Acting as a protective umbrella against a massacre of the innocents are the security services, primarily MI5, Mi6 and GCHQ, backed up by counter terrorist police operating from hubs all over the country including Scotland. This umbrella, post 7/7, has frustrated numerous terrorist outrages yet arguably has its biggest challenges ahead thanks to the growth of ISIS. In addition to the technical expertise developed over the years MI5 have access to well placed human sources of intelligence and its officers are embedded with police in the effective counter-terrorist hubs. Those who think independence may make Scotland safer from attack should think again. The 2007 Glasgow Airport bombing showed that Scotland is as vulnerable as anywhere else in the UK while, despite his opposition to Faslane, Salmond’s desire to join NATO would ensure that Scotland is likely to continue to be a target for Islamist fanatics. It is not just Islamist terrorists that are a threat; dissident republicans are still active in Northern Ireland and continue to pose a threat to the mainland. Sectarianism is still rife in Scotland with significant elements retaining close links to both Irish republican and Unionist groups. This periodically manifests itself in disorder on Scottish city streets as indeed was seen last weekend. It is the British Security Services, using decades of expertise, who closely monitor those who would cause chaos and carnage yet at a stroke this protective umbrella that is as effective over Scotland as it is over the rest of the UK, will be withdrawn. Scotland would be, quite simply, a foreign country and the British Security Services answer to the British government not that of Scotland. Upon independence or perhaps even immediately after a ‘Yes’ victory, MI5 officers would leave the Scottish Counter Terrorist hubs taking with them their technical equipment and access to databases. The intelligence flow to the Scottish Counter Terrorist officers would dry up and routine checks carried out by those officers of MI5 databases would cease or involve time consuming bureaucracy which would not be helped by the enmity which would unquestionably exist between the governments. The close working relationship between police and the security service would cease. The only British security service presence in Scotland is likely to be the MI6 officer in Edinburgh’s British Embassy!! As with any European country, there would still be some intelligence that will be shared but the raison d’etre of all branches of the British security services is the protection of the realm and that would no longer apply to Scotland. Make no mistake; in the absence of a properly functioning, technically equipped and adept security service, Scotland would be exposed. This exposure would be exacerbated still further by the withdrawal of Police Scotland’s access to the crucial NSBIS (National Special Branch Intelligence System) which is a comprehensive database available only to highly vetted Special Branch and Counter Terrorist officers and contains intelligence on all aspects of terrorism and extremism stretching back many years. Expecting Police Scotland to combat terrorism without access to NSBIS will effectively tie both hands behind the organisation’s back. Police Scotland is an established section of any future Scottish infrastructure which has proven to be both effective and efficient. However in  addition to the implications referred to above in respect of counter terrorism, its officers will be concerned as to how a ‘yes’ vote will impact upon their day to day operations. It is very likely that as a foreign force, Police Scotland will be denied access to the PNC (Police National Computer) database. Whilst the Scottish force will unquestionably have database details of its own criminals, the PNC is the most comprehensive tool that exists in UK policing. It contains details of all criminals convicted in the UK including Northern Ireland and indeed abroad. Within those nine million plus records is valuable intelligence and any police enquiry or stop in the street commences with a PNC check. Also contained on the PNC are details of very British registered vehicle and driver. The loss of instant access to the PNC would be catastrophic and any potential agreement to transfer some data to Police Scotland databases would be likely to stall due to the above mentioned enmity between the respective governments. Another increasingly valuable tool against terrorism and criminality is the much troubled eBorders system administered by National Border Targeting Centre (NBTC). Whilst the system hasn’t delivered in respect of UK immigration being able count foreign nationals in and out of the country, it has proved invaluable to the police and security services in that virtually every passenger entering and leaving the UK is screened. Persons who travel by air or sea and shown as wanted by police on the PNC are arrested as their details are matched against passenger details on manifests. In addition, the travel of individuals who may be of interest to police and security services can be closely monitored by means of an alert system which ‘pings’ when those individuals travel. Police Scotland make full use of a system which has resulted in many hundreds of arrests but, as a foreign power, it is hard to see how they could be permitted to continue to have access to a British government asset which would severely hamper their fight against crime, terrorism  and control of their own borders. Another chink in the armour of Scottish law enforcement upon independence is the increasing threat of cyber crime which has the potential to inflict colossal damage upon the infrastructure and economy of any country. GCHQ is currently the focal point of the fight back against cyber crime but GCHQ stands for Government Communications Headquarters and there is no reason why they should share their expertise and those of other government departments with a ‘foreign’ power. Scotland will have their own individual experts in cyber crime but not the depth of expertise or technical ability to prevent a determined attack. Finally, whilst Police Scotland would form a key cornerstone of a fledgling country, independence would mean that they would not be able to call on other British police forces for assistance in the aid of serious public disorder. Another question that nobody has yet asked is how extreme unionists in both Scotland and Ireland would react in the event of a yes vote. The Orange Order in both Scotland and Northern Ireland may not be the force it was yet they will stage a major ‘no’ protest days before the vote where they hope to attract 15,000 ‘No’ supporters including contingents from Northern Ireland. Although all who vote ‘No’ are of course unionists, Scottish unionists, like their Northern Irish cousins, generally are, in the view of the English, perhaps best typified by Glasgow Rangers FC and the plethora of Union Jacks that can be seen at home matches. Ominously Northern Ireland’s Progressive Unionist Party, the political wing of the allegedly disbanded and notorious Ulster Volunteer Force have reportedly held meetings with Glasgow Rangers supporters in Glasgow. On Saturday, serious disorder took place in Rutherglen on the edge of Glasgow when a republican march was attacked and halted by gangs of Scottish ‘loyalists’ despite a huge police presence. Linking this with the September the 18th vote, Broxy Bear tweeted, Rutherglen will be the first of many more of these parades in support of British hating terrorists if the yes vote win.’ Other reports stated that loyalists attacked a bar in Rutherglen chanting anti-independence slogans. In 2008 Greater Manchester Police were overwhelmed when between 200,000 and 300,000 Glasgow Rangers fans descended upon the city for the UEFA final between Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg. Rioting, far more serious than that which occurred in 2011, took place throughout Manchester City Centre and large numbers of police were injured after being attacked. It may be a quantum leap to suggest that a ‘Yes’ vote would provoke a similar reaction from violent ‘loyalist’ elements within the Scottish Unionist camp supported perhaps by their Northern Irish compatriots who might also see the writing on the wall in respect of their own position. It could be an even more extreme statement to suggest that there could be an orchestrated terror campaign by extreme unionists as the country becomes polarised or indeed the economy of the ‘new kid on the block’ implodes. It is likely that Police Scotland will have planned for both possible civil disorder in the days and months after the vote in the knowledge that even in the interim months before the formal declaration of independence, they will not be receiving assistance from their colleagues south of the border in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Like so many Scottish institutions they will be on their own. Chris Hobbs is a retired Metropolitan Police Special Branch officer who spent one third of his career working at border controls in both the UK and Jamaica. Courtesy of Chris Hobbs

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