MoD must answer on defence capabilities as well as cap badges

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has called for the Defence Secretary to end the uncertainty and personally respond to a debate this week, secured by the SNP, on the future of Scottish recruited units.

The debate, secured by Perth and North Perthshire MP, Pete Wishart, who represents the home of the Black Watch, will be the first opportunity for the MoD to respond to concerns over the future of Scottish regiments.

Reports over the weekend suggest Prime Minister David Cameron has ordered the Defence Secretary to perform a u-turn on further amalgamation or disbandment out of fear that it will boost support for independence.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had suggested that formal unit titles would replace traditional Scottish regimental names permanently.  Speaking to the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Mr Hammond said:

“The ancient cap badges have largely gone – they are attached in brackets to some unit names.  I can’t say to you that there will be no loss of battalions in the infantry as we downsize the army.  We are looking at the options.”

MPs from all parties have criticised the proposals, and a campaign launched in the Commons on 16 May, as well as rumoured support from Mr Cameron, is thought to have led to a partial U-turn.  Scottish regiments and battalions which survive forthcoming cuts to the British Army will keep their traditional names and existing cap badges, it has been confirmed.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Mr Wishart called for answers over the future of capabilities as well names and cap badges, and highlighted official figures showing that less than 3 per cent of regular army units are now stationed in Scotland.

A parliamentary answer secured by the SNP shows that Scotland has only 4 of 148 major regular army units based in its territory, representing only 2.7% of the entire British Army.  Despite this, Scotland has 8.4% of the UK’s population and makes up 32% of the UK’s landmass.

There are 36 units permanently based overseas – these units are not on operations.  There are 9 times as many units based overseas than there are permanently based in Scotland.  Operational units such as those in Afghanistan are not included in the figures.  Of the total of 112 units based in the UK, 99 are based in England, 3 in Wales and 6 in Northern Ireland.

According to recent figures from the MoD, obtained as a Freedom of Information request, Scots make up approximately 11% of the Army’s personnel, significantly higher than the percentage of the UK population which is Scottish.  The percentage of RAF and Royal Navy personnel who are Scottish is approximately the same as the percentage of Scots in the UK population as a whole.

The figures demonstrate that the UK armed forces, especially the Army, preferentially recruit from Scotland, but that MoD expenditure and resources are disproportionately deployed elsewhere – largely in the South and South East of England.   

Mr Wishart said:

“The UK Government is creating real uncertainty for Scotland’s defence communities, and the Defence Secretary must personally respond to this week’s debate.

“After refusing to rule-out cuts to our historic units last week, the Defence Secretary has now, apparently, been overruled by the Prime Minister because of fears these cuts will boost support for independence.

“David Cameron’s demands demonstrate the positive impact of support for the SNP. The Prime Minister has recognised the people of Scotland will not accept Westminster running-down this country’s defence capabilities.

“The Defence Secretary has serious questions to answer – particularly given the promises by the Tories when they were in opposition that they would reinstate Scottish army units.

“As the MoD have just confirmed, less than 3 per cent of regular army units are now stationed in Scotland – that is just 4 of 148 major regular army units.

“The decimation of Scotland’s conventional defence capacity under successive Westminster governments cannot go unchallenged – enough is enough.

“In contrast to the need for a well funded conventional defence presence in Scotland, the reality is completely the opposite. For over a decade Scotland has been short changed, losing more than 11,000 defence jobs and enduring a £5.6billion underspend.

“Given the disproportionate personnel cuts and the defence underspend that Scotland has already endured, the UK Government must abandon any plans that would threaten the future of our historic units.”