By Bob Duncan
The UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is set to backtrack on promises on troop redeployment given just two years ago to families and communities across Scotland, say the SNP.
In what the nationalists have described as “another blow” to the Better Together campaign, in an announcement to the House of Commons scheduled for today it is expected Mr Hammond will confirm that troop numbers in Scotland will be nowhere near those previously pledged by the UK government.
In July 2011, then Defence Secretary Liam Fox promised that between 6,500 and 7,000 personnel would return to Scotland and 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, in a move that was designed to partially compensate for recent disproportionate cuts in manpower, spending and basing in Scotland.
He told MPs: “It is impossible to give an exact number, but I would imagine that between 6,500 and 7,000, or something of that order, of the 20,000 personnel we currently have in Germany will be coming back to the multi-role brigades in Scotland.”
Bolstering SNP predictions, the Scotsman newspaper yesterday revealed that, rather than the promised increase of 200%, there will be a “modest increase” of just 20%, taking the total size of the army in Scotland to just 3,800.
Quoting a source close to Mr Hammond who said the announcement would be “good news” for Scotland, the newspaper revealed that less than five per cent of UK troops would now be stationed north of the border.
The U-turn is yet another blow to the Better Together campaign which last month highlighted as a reason for rejecting independence the tens of thousands of Scottish communities that rely on armed forces bases for their livelihoods.
At present, there are no regular Army units based in Scotland in the following categories: Artillery, Armour, Signals, Logistics, Air Corps, Intelligence or Special Forces.
There are also no military Training Establishments in Scotland. This means there is no Military Academy, Engineering School, Army Training Regiments or Infantry Training Centres.
And there is no senior strategic military command in Scotland.
It is also reported that plans for a new super-base at Kirknewton, near Edinburgh, have been scrapped, while proposals to use HMS Caledonia in Fife as an army base are also in doubt, as is the future of the Arbroath base when the Royal Marines leave in 2016.
Westminster SNP Leader and Defence Spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:
“Less than two years have passed since promises were made to the Westminster parliament that up to 7,000 personnel would return to Scotland, and that there would be new barracks for them as well as a new training area. These promises were being made to partially make good on recent disproportionate cuts to personnel, spending and basing in Scotland.
“Add to that we know what we suspected, that in the last ten years alone the defence underspend in Scotland amounts to over £7 billion pounds.”
“Communities in Scotland will be appalled that these assurance are now shown to be not worth the paper they were written on, and that Scotland is once again going to be let down by the MoD. We know there are ferocious rows going on at the moment in the coalition to decide where to slash next, but for the coalition to behave like this while still committing to spend up to £100 billion on Trident nuclear weapon of mass destruction to be dumped on the Clyde is simply unacceptable.
“The UK government is going back on its recent defence promises to Scotland. This is totally unacceptable, and underlines why better defence decisions should be made in Scotland with independence.”
The SNP said today’s announcement would show the UK government could not be trusted on its commitments to Scotland.
Last weekend SNP Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon published a letter to Mr Hammond demanding clarification on the plans and the future of other bases.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Scotland has already been disproportionately affected by the defence cuts, and we now hear any increase may be limited to only a few hundred army personnel.”