THE year 2016 saw the UK overtake Putin’s Russia in the defence spending top 10, according to Jane’s Defence Weekly by way of Bloomberg Markets.

The British military commentariat have for years punted the mantra that we, the UK, punch above our weight. In truth, as the latest Jane’s analysis shows, the opposite is the case: austerity Britain pays dearly and it’s getting more expensive despite claims that we are/should be “ living within our means”.

Readers of The National need no explanation as to why this is the case. Equally interesting in my view is why another fact, that Russia has slipped to number six in the military spending charts, isn’t news either. This is because it is not in the perceived interests of Nato or the Russian Government to trumpet the fact.

The claim that we “punch above our weight” is, unless Jane’s is fibbing, not true. On the other hand, in the “punching above our weight” stakes, 2016 has illustrated graphically and to an extent bloodily, that Russia is the real article. Of course, the foundation of this “real article” is Russia’s huge nuclear stockpile. It’s very expensive, it’s economically crippling, and because it hammers the standard of living of ordinary Russians, it’s why Putin’s regime has to manufacture consent for that spending.

In this particular project, Putin is enthusiastically assisted by our own Government in particular, and most Nato members most of the time. It’s certainly also true that Russia will bang on about Nato. A good illustration of this we are all familiar with is the Russian flights down the North Sea, always near but never in UK airspace, using very big, photogenic but almost obsolete kit as the central prop.

Nato militaries wary of potential cuts to their budgets enthusiastically open the second act in what is essentially a very expensive theatrical production by sidling up to the Russian bombers (Nato’s identification tag for the last generation was, wait for it, Bear, no doubt to make the lives of the photo editors of Cold War red-tops that bit easier) with equally photogenic and increasingly ruinously expensive fighters. The soon-to-be standard F35 comes in at £70 million for the basic model. We are to have 140, but when Brexit kicks in that will come down.

Of course, these set-piece events over the North Sea have nothing to do with anyone’s national security. They are, first and last, fundraising exercises for two military institutions – the Royal Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces. Expect a Russian “bomber intrusion” soon – after all we are in the slow-news holiday period.

The rest of the 2016 military spenders’ top-10 chart makes interesting reading for other reasons. China is number two with $192 billion. However, when compared to the USA’s $622bn it isn’t in the same league. The fact is that the USA is in a league of its own, though so too is China as the UK’s $53.8bn is way behind.

In fourth place is the Russian Bear on $50.67bn, closely followed by every arms manufacturers’ sucker Saudi Arabia on $48.7bn.

Rising India is on $48bn followed by France on $44.3bn, then Japan with $41.6bn. This despite the fact that there is, we are told, a pacifist clause in Japan’s constitution. Way down in ninth place is Germany on $35.7bn, though, of course, it has replaced its historically renowned general staff institutions with the board of the Bundesbank who run the European Central Bank. Germany’s tanks – thankfully in my view, –have been replaced by the Deutschmark/euro, surely the ultimate example of not quite soft power projection. South Korea, which manages to secure UK Ministry of Defence work at the expense of UK yards, is in 10th place.
Bill Ramsay
Address supplied

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with Common Weal’s proposal that a Citizens’ Assembly be set up at Holyrood (Citizens’ Assembly should act as Holyrood second chamber, says think tank, The National, December 28).

The success of such a panel would depend on those who are selected to sit on it, avoiding “a narrow group of people” being able to dominate the country’s most important positions in arts, academia and other areas.

But such a suggestion will be met with strong opposition from those currently wielding that power and I include members of the current Scottish Government among them because, as Kevin McKenna says (A Humble servant of Her Majesty swears to uphold British Values, The National, December 28), they object to people asking “impertinent questions” and will certainly try to block them from joining a second chamber.

No. They’ll encourage people like Donalda MacKinnon (My Mission is to restore trust in BBC, The National, December 28) who might accept a “significant number” of people have lost trust in the BBC but does not accept there is any validity to their claims. The power-wielders will only want people who will play lip service to addressing the lack of democracy in Scottish institutions but will actually do little or nothing.

Finding people strong enough and with enough integrity genuinely to scrutinise the high and mighty will be a Herculean task. What makes me very optimistic about 2017 – and yes, I realise that this makes me one of a tiny minority – is that Common Weal exists and puts forward exciting proposals which the power-wielders can’t really ignore if they call themselves democrats as opposed to the autocrats they actually are.

So bring on 2017, I say. Hopefully it will sweep aside condescending and controlling “leaders of society” and make room for genuinely “empowered citizens”.
Lovina Roe

I SEE the idea of an upper chamber for the Scottish Parliament is being raised again. It seems to me that, in a legislature elected by proportional representation, this is a scarcely required expensive luxury. Certainly, New Zealand found that and accordingly abolished its upper house.

What might be more useful is a relatively small, perhaps 20-strong, unelected legislative council to appraise and comment on legislation before the Parliament votes on it. Such a council would be advisory only, but if its members were of sufficient stature and reputation, and Scotland has no lack of judicial and constitutional experts, it would be a bold government that would ignore its recommendations for the improvement of Bills.

Even the best of legal draftsmen can overlook unintended consequences in the hurly-burly of political argument and a cool, objective appraisal might be valuable.
Peter Craigie

I WAS interested to read the interview with Donalda MacKinnon, the new BBC head in Scotland. In 2014, I was disgusted with its coverage of the referendum and have not watched or listened to the BBC since. The fact MacKinnon concludes the referendum coverage was not biased damages her credibility.

I was unfortunate enough to see a BBC news bulletin last week: it came over as blatant propaganda. I hope MacKinnon watches the programme London Calling and reassesses her views. In the meantime I will continue to avoid the BBC.
Peter Johnsen
Address supplied

IN response to Derek Stewart MacPherson’s letter (The National, December 28) on the need for a strong stance to be taken on the security of EU nationals in our country in the face of rUK deep eu-phobia, I concur. Our Scottish Government must show we do not see EU nationals living here as bargaining chips but as part of our communities.

In any coming independence referendum, EU nationals will no longer be scared by the Unionists into voting No, by being told lies that independence means having to leave Scotland. This time it will be clear voting Yes means stay and be welcomed as part of our country going forward!
Crìsdean Mac Fhearghais
Dùn Eideann