By Martin Kelly
UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been accused making misleading statements after claiming figures that showed Scotland had suffered a disproportionate share of defence cuts, were inaccurate.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, the Conservative Minister said figures provided by his own party colleague and former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, were “simply not right” and insisted that Scotland will get more than its population share of armed forces personnel.
Mr Hammond’s comments came as he visited Scotland in order to promote the Westminster Government’s latest attack on independence. The Conservative MP’s visit coincided with a report from Whitehall that cast doubt on job security and defence capabilities of an independent Scotland.
However doubt has been cast on claims by Mr Hammond who disputed allegations that Scotland has already suffered deeper defence cuts than the rest of the UK.
In June 2011, former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox told the Scottish Affairs Select Committee: “…between 2000 and 2010, the total reduction [in service jobs] was 11.6% but the reduction in Scotland was 27.9%, so over the decade there were bigger reductions made in personnel as a proportion than in other parts of the UK.”
Mr Hammond recently told the House of Commons that Mr Fox’s projection for Scotland was inaccurate and had been based on a 94,000 strong army operating in the UK by 2020. The Minister told MPs the cut in numbers north of the border had been necessary as the UK number had actually dropped to 82,000.
However a Parliamentary answer from 2011 revealed that Mr Fox’s calculations were in fact correct and had been based on a UK army of 82,000. The revelation prompted the SNP to accuse Mr Hammond of misleading the House and of a “betrayal”.
Quizzed today on Mr Fox’s figures, the Tory MP told Radio Scotland: “Well, I would question those figures. They are simply not right.
“We are increasing the number of armed forces personnel based in Scotland, and when we have completed that process, Scotland will, co-incidentally, because we didn’t design it this way, co-incidentally we will have just slightly more than its population proportionate share of the UK’s armed forces based in Scotland.”
In July 2011, Liam Fox promised that between 6,500 and 7,000 personnel would return to Scotland to be part of a new multi-role brigade. He also pledged new barracks would be built at Kirknewton in West Lothian and a new training area would be established in the Borders.
The previous Defence Secretary had pledged the return of army personnel from Germany would help offset the loss of jobs at RAF bases and increase the defence footprint in Scotland.
However in March this year Mr Hammond announced that only ten per cent of the original pledged numbers would be redeployed north of the border. The increase, bringing Scottish based troop numbers to around 3800, was well short of the 10,000 many believed would result from the redeployment.
The Scottish National Party has now seized on what it insisted were the Defence Secretary’s errors in rejecting the figures from his predecessor and called on Mr Hammond to apologise and stay and debate the issue.
SNP Defence Spokesperson and Westminster leader Angus Robertson MP said:
“Philip Hammond misled the House of Commons in trying to explain away why Westminster broke its promise to Scotland about troop numbers in the defence review, and now he is trying to mislead the people of Scotland about the reality of Westminster’s defence cuts and closures north of the Border. In doing so, he has rejected figures given by his own predecessor.
“He needs to apologise for his mistake and correct the record before he leaves.
“Mr Hammond was also forced to row back from the MoD’s absurd claims at the weekend that Westminster could annex Scotland’s army units – just like the UK Government had to disown the threat to annex Faslane.
“Instead of coming to Scotland to peddle the No campaign’s Project Fear, he should stay and debate the reality of Scotland’s defence abilities as an independent country – and Westminster’s woeful record.
“Westminster’s record is cutting personnel numbers to an historic low, closing bases despite promises to invest here, and sacking troops by posting out p45s.
“An independent Scotland will have the defence capabilities and requirements for the 21st Century and won’t spend billions on immoral and useless weapons of mass destruction like Trident – we will have a defence force suited to Scotland’s needs.”
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