Doubts cast over Westminster commitment to Scotland as defence footprint shrinks

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By a Newsnet reporter

Promises by the UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to substantially increase the defence footprint in Scotland are “not worth the paper they are written on” the SNP said today as official figures revealed that the level of military personnel based in Scotland is at its lowest in memory.

Figures published by the MoD show the numbers of personnel, both Service and civilian, have been cut by 660 over the last three months – bringing the total number of defence job losses in Scotland over the last decade at more than 11,000.

The changes show that Scotland has suffered disproportionately from UK defence cuts with four per cent fewer jobs compared to a decrease of 1.8 per cent in England.

SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said the losses are in addition to a £5.6bn Scottish underspend.

Commenting, the SNP MP said:

“Promises by the Defence Secretary of a substantial increase in Scotland’s defence footprint are clearly not worth the paper they are written on.  The MoD’s own figures show that, over the last three months alone, a further 660 defence jobs have been lost in Scotland.

“The loss of these Service and civilian jobs take the total number defence job losses in Scotland over the last decade to more than 11,000 – on top of a £5.6bn underspend which has seen the closure of bases and the creation of mammoth capability gaps.

“It shows that the UK Government has continued the disproportionate decline in Scotland’s defence footprint at a time when we were promised an increased conventional presence.

“With the ongoing uncertainty over the future of our historic recruited units, it seems the UK Government’s cuts just keep coming.”

The latest Ministry of Defence statistics were published as retired senior officers, reported in The Scotsman, warned a row over regimental names in Scotland has been “a smoke screen” for dangerous cuts to army numbers.

Mr Robertson added:

“This time last year the MoD said Scotland would be benefiting from the return of up to 7,000 personnel currently based in Germany, and investment in new purpose-built barracks at Kirknewton, near Edinburgh.  

“We now know defence jobs have been cut by almost 700, and construction of the Kirknewton facility has been abandoned.”

“Far from Scotland benefiting from a Union dividend, we have been hit again and again by a UK defence downturn.  It’s no wonder the people in Scotland cannot trust a word the UK Government say on defence.”

The claim is the latest in a series of statements by Unionists and Nationalists as defence dominates the constitutional debate.  It also follows the row over whether an independent Scotland would be prevented from applying for shipbuilding contracts offered by the rest of the UK.

Downing Street has threatened to prevent a ‘foreign’ Scotland from obtaining any navy shipbuilding contracts.  However critics have pointed out the UK already awards army, navy and RAF contracts to foreign countries and Scottish skills and experience would ensure that some of these contracts would come north of the border.

Earlier this week a defence expert claimed that an independent Scotland would be able to equip its armed forces for £1.3 billion less than the MoD currently claims it spends on Scottish defence.