Ruthless Facts… or Factless Ruths?

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.


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.”

Bit angry there...

Bit angry there…

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]

The one who SHOULD know the figures...

The one who SHOULD know the figures…

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.


6 thoughts on “Ruthless Facts… or Factless Ruths?

  1. Why let the truth get in the way of a good argument? The man in the street will never know!
    Personally if it comes out of the mouth of a Tory (or Labour politician – no difference anyway!) I tend to disregard it. We’ll be so busy watching Dr who and Come Dancing we’ll never notice!

  2. it was all getting a bit desparate and Putin poised to invade Scotland was frankly just mental. As it happens I was speaking today to someone who lives in Moscow and the whole referendum issue is not on the radar at all there – they have their own things to think about. Why does the UK always assume it’s the centre of world attention?

  3. Talking about “facts” and figures, you Yes voting numpties listen to Nicola Sturgeon instead. She stated on the Tuesday night STV debate: “Norway has an oil fund of £500bn – enough to make every Norwegian a millionaire.”
    Well, by my maths, with a population of 5 million I make that £100k each. She was out by a factor of 10.
    If she can state such basic mistakes as that with such conviction what else are the Yes campaign economic novices getting wrong???

    Excluding setup and renewal costs, the Annual running costs of trident currently makes up app 0.1% of the total budget so at least there is some validity in RD’s chat. None whatsoever is NS’s!

    • You’re making the error of thinking in British pounds. Sturgeon reported that they are all millionaires now -and they are, in Norwegian Krone. That’s how all of the news agencies reported it earlier in the year – everyone from Reuters and Russia Today to unionist favorite, the Daily Mail.

      • I didn’t make an error, it was the way it was stated by Sturgeon: “Norway has an oil fund of 500,000,000,000 POUNDS, enough to make every Norwegian a millionaire.”

        A millionaire to people in the UK means they’ve got a million pounds.especially if it’s used in the context next to a Pounds valuation.

        You’d need about £65 to be a millionaire in Indonesia. Now you can’t say that’s a very accurate comparison unless you mention the currency.

        She was either a) trying to mislead people by mixing the currencies she was reporting in to try to make an impact or b) crap at maths.

        I suspect it was the former but that in itself is damning evidence that no statistic the Yes campaign has used should be trusted. If she wanted to use the word “millionaire” why didn’t she say “a fund of 5 trillion Norwegian Krone”? Manipulating stats, that’s why.

        And by the way, they’re not “all millionaires now”. They haven’t liquidated the funds and handed it out to the people.

      • As I said, that’s the way that all of the media reported the story too – if you’re willing to criticise Sturgeon for that, criticise the media and all other politicians who mentioned it.

        Would you say that an American millionaire wasn’t one if they had a million $US, but not in £GBP? I doubt it very much.

Comments are closed.