Recruitment centre closures may signal fewer troops coming to Scotland

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  By Bob Duncan
 
The UK government is to close all but 5 of Scotland’s 19 army recruitment offices in a move which has raised questions over its promise to substantially increase the number of troops stationed in Scotland.
 
The MoD cuts mean that only recruitment offices in Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow will remain.

The other 14 high street recruitment offices in Perth, Dunfermline, Dumfries, Kirkcaldy, Bathgate, Galashiels, Dumbarton, Hamilton, Irvine, Paisley, Stirling, Wick, Elgin and Greenock will be closed by the end of March this year.

Closures will take place South of the border, but cuts will be proportionally less severe with 69 offices due to close from the current total of 137.

This means three quarters of Scotland’s recruitment offices will be axed, compared with less than half of those in the rest of the UK, with no English region seeing as high a proportion of closures as those planned for Scotland.

The announcement follows concerns that the basing review – which is expected to be completed within the next few weeks – will confirm that former defence secretary Liam Fox’s commitment to double the size of the army in Scotland will be ditched.

Last July, then Defence Secretary Liam Fox told MPs 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”.
 
Under Mr Fox’s proposal, five brigades returning from Germany would have been re-located to central Scotland.  This was then reduced to three last summer by new Defence Minister Philip Hammond.
 
However, as reported by Newsnet Scotland in December, the MoD is now urging the UK government to instead re-locate the troops to Salisbury Plain in southern England.

Last month General Sir Peter Wall told the defence Select Committee that while the size of the army will grow in Scotland it is due to go up by 500 at most to around 3,800 – well short of the 6,500 to 7,000 extra troops promised by Dr Fox.

Plans to build a new super barracks in Kirknewton near Edinburgh have also been abandoned according to sources but the MoD has denied rumours that RAF Leuchars, which is supposed to become the home of an army unit, could also close.

As well as cuts in the number of personnel stationed in Scotland, North Sea reconnaissance aircraft have been scrapped and Scotland’s oil and gas installations have been further left unguarded as appropriate naval vessels have been more than a day’s sailing away.  Coastguard stations are facing closure and even the emergency tugs and helicopter services are under threat.

Stuart Crawford, former colonel in charge of the Black Watch, told the Scotsman newspaper that closing recruitment offices would be a blow to raising army numbers in Scotland.

He said: “If I was a conspiracy theorist I would say this was part of a plan to demilitarise Scotland ahead of the referendum, except I think the people at the MoD think Scotland will vote no to independence.”

He went on: “This is much more about saving money. But unfortunately removing high street recruitment offices will mean that it will become even harder to find Scottish recruits. The army was already struggling.

“The review of the battalions showed that there was a problem which is why the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was effectively disbanded and made into a small ceremonial company. The five battalions were at the time of that review around 500 men short.

“Online forms of recruitment may be another way to do it, but if you get rid of your high street presence you may as well give up.”

The SNP claimed that the disproportionate hit for Scotland was the latest example of the MoD giving Scotland a bad deal.

Angus Robertson MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader and Defence spokesman said:
 
“This news confirms that disproportionate defence cuts are continuing in Scotland. Effectively three-quarters  of all Army offices in Scotland will be closed by the end of next month.
 
“Only recently the Ministry of Defence confirmed that military personnel cuts in Scotland have run at three times the rate of the rest of the UK, while a massive defence underspend has opened up in Scotland totalling at least £7.4 billion in the last ten years.
 
“These disproportionate cuts come within weeks of the long delayed armed forces basing review, when we expect the UK Government to break its promise to return up to 7,000 troops to Scotland from Germany, station them in new barracks at Kirknewton and open a new training area in the Borders.
 
“It is clear for all to see that Westminster is making damaging decisions about defence in Scotland. Only after a ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum will we have a government that delivers appropriate conventional defence decisions for Scotland”