Ruth Davidson on Trident and nuclear weapons (about 55 minutes into last nights ‘Yes or No – The Debate’, on STV):
“…We now have half the number that we had in Britain, because of Tony Blair. There’s two-thirds less in Russia, because of the work he did. And there’s three-quarters less in the United States – because of working with other people.
The SNP’s plans for kicking Trident submarines 400 miles down the road do nothing to make the world a safer place, or to bring down nuclear weapons. And I think that what you need to do, is work with those partners.
And, I want to say, and put in context for people, what the cost of Trident is: it is 0.1% of the budget.
ZERO POINT ONE PER CENT of a UK budget.
So, I believe that you do have to defend a country. I believe you don’t encourage other people to give up their weapons by just giving your up and saying ‘You do what you want’. You work with other countries around the world, and that’s how you reduce nuclear stockpiles, and that’s what Britain has done.”
I’m going to skip right past the fact that Davidson believes that Blair getting rid of a far smaller proportion of nukes than either Russia or the USA was fantastic.
I’ll also skip past her suggestion that if Scotland rids itself of nukes, it won’t have any impact on rUK’s ability or desire to continue having them.
Instead, I want to talk about the figure she so generously offered us, to “put in context for people, what the cost of Trident is” – that “0.1% of a UK budget” that she was so adamant about asserting.
0.1% of the UK budget, or 1/1000th? That seemed odd to me. So I thought I’d check it out…
For 2013, the UK Treasury raised £612 billion, and the government had a total expenditure of £720 billion (increasing the deficit by £108 billion – nowt to worry about there…).
The defence budget for 2013 was £34.3 billion – either 5th or 6th highest in the world, depending whose figures you use.
Figures regarding the exact running costs of Trident and our nuclear ‘deterrent’ seem not too easy to come across, but here’s what David Cameron said on 4th April 2013, to The Telegraph:
“Of course, the deterrent is not cheap – no major equipment programme is. But our current nuclear weapons capability costs on average around 5-6 per cent of the current defence budget. That is less than 1.5 per cent of our annual benefits bill. And the successor submarines are, on average, expected to cost the same once they have entered service.”
[Let’s ignore that sly little dig at the benefits system, for now]
Note that Cameron doesn’t stipulate whether or not this “5-6%” covers the cost of the crews, the cost of refits, the cost of refuelling, etc. I don’t know if it does or not – it might be easier to figure out if we had slightly more transparent government.
Anyway, the £34.3 billion spent on defence in 2013, is 4.76% of the £720 billion total spent by the government.
Assuming that Cameron knows the figures better than Davidson – who has absolutely nothing to do with either defence or the budget allocated to it – and also assuming that he’s playing it safe by saying “5-6%”, let’s go with his own upper estimate of 6%.
6% of 34.3 billion is 2,058,000,000, or just a smidgen under £2.06 billion, per year.
Now let’s look at how that £2.06 billion relates to “the budget… a UK budget”.
100 x (2.058 ÷ 720) gives us the cost of “our current nuclear weapons capability”, as a percentage of the total UK budget, according to David Cameron.
Oddly enough, that figure is not “ZERO POINT ONE PER CENT”, as insisted upon by Davidson.
It’s not 0.15%.
It’s not 0.2%
It’s not even 0.25%.
What it is, is 0.286%.
“Oh, that’s still hardly anything!”, you might say – but it’s almost TREBLE what Davidson claimed in last night’s debate. And it’s still £2,058 million a year. £2,058,000,000 which could, myself and many others would argue, be put to much better use.
And that’s the running costs of the system we have now – it doesn’t include the purchasing of the upcoming Trident replacement, which is estimated by the UK Government to be £15-20 billion – a figure much debated by others (£34 billion estimated by Greenpeace).
So… where did Ruth pick her figure from? Was it the thin air that she breathes, way up there on her particularly long-legged horse?
I had a theory that what she should have said, was ‘0.1% of GDP‘, as that would have at least been nearer the ballpark. Even then, 0.1% of the UK’s 2013 GDP would only be around £1.49 billion, so still way out, going by Cameron’s own figure of “5-6%”.
But she didn’t. She clearly and repeatedly said “0.1% of the budget“. I’m sure that anyone reading this will know that GDP and budget are two very different things. They don’t even sound or look alike.
But who knows… Perhaps Ruth Davidson knows what she was on about? Or, perhaps the Tooth Fairy’s less well known cousin, ‘Random Number Generating Fairy’ – so often consulted by the No camp – has an inkling.