By a Newsnet reporter
Scotland has suffered yet another defence blow after it emerged that aircraft thought to have been earmarked for the RAF base at Lossiemouth will instead be heading to England.
In a shock announcement by the UK Ministry of Defence, the department confirmed its intention to renege on a previous commitment to station the RAF’s newest aircraft at the Morayshire base.
The ministry had originally promised to base up to 150 Joint Strike aircraft at Lossiemouth. However the MoD has now said that the aircraft will instead be based at RAF Marham in Norfolk even though defence experts had previously judged Lossiemouth to be the optimal site.
The commitment to base the aircraft at Lossiemouth was originally made in 2005 under the then Labour government.
The news that Lossiemouth is to lose out is the latest blow to military bases in Scotland, after the decision in 2010 to close RAF Kinloss in Morayshire as an air base, and RAF Leuchars in Fife. The announcement will raise suspicions that the UK government is stripping Scotland of defence assets in the run-up to 2014’s independence referendum.
In a separate announcement on Monday, the MoD also revealed that 30 highly skilled jobs are to be lost following the closure of the RAF base at Prestwick. Local MSP Chic Brodie of the SNP reacted angrily to the announcement, saying:
“This update shows Prestwick is a pure and simple cut. Scotland will lose 30 vital and high-skilled jobs because Westminster is hell-bent on betraying our communities.
“The RAF air traffic control centre at Prestwick is vital in ensuring the increasingly busy skies over Scotland and its surrounding waters remain safe. How can this be done when it is closing?
“What ultimatum has been given to the workers at RAF Prestwick?
“All the MoD’s defence review did was inform us that fewer troops are coming to Scotland than promised just a short time ago.
“This decision has shown decisions about how to defend Scotland cannot be left to Westminster. They cannot be trusted.
“In contrast, the SNP has a positive vision of defence services in an independent Scotland. We would have 15,000 serving personnel in defence forces and would rid Scotland of Westminster’s obscene weapons of mass destruction.
“Westminster’s betrayals show once and for all that Scotland defence needs are simply not met by Westminster politicians, and only a Yes vote in 2014 will make our defence fit for purpose in an independent Scotland.”
The Ministry of Defence also said that RAF Lossiemouth would now be getting new Typhoon interceptor aircraft in the summer of 2014, about six months later than had been expected.
Two Typhoon squadrons are being transferred from RAF Leuchars in Fife. The Leuchars base is due to close and instead will be used as an army base, however the number of soldiers who will be stationed at the base is only a few hundred, considerably fewer than the several thousand which was originally promised.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster defence spokesperson, said that the latest reversal from the MoD was proof that Scots should be “entirely sceptical” about statements made by the UK government on Scottish defence.
Mr Robertson added:
“That the MoD have decided to base their new Joint Strike Fighters at Marham in Norfolk rather than Lossiemouth, once described as the optimal location for the aircraft, is just the latest blow to the beleaguered defence establishment in Scotland from the Westminster system – once again Scotland hasn’t got fair treatment.
“This follows a three year review, and we also learn today that there is to be a delay in the deployment of the new Typhoon aircraft to Lossiemouth until the summer of 2014 – it all starts to look like another Westminster omnishambles.
“When Defence Secretary Philip Hammond came to Edinburgh recently to tell us how much the coalition cared about Scotland, there was widespread scepticism. Today we are proved right to be entirely sceptical about anything this Westminster government says about defence in Scotland.”