Scottish soldier U-turn ‘will never be forgotten’

DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond insisted yesterday that Scotland will have more than its fair share of armed forces personnel after revealing a major shake-up of military bases.

DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond insisted yesterday that Scotland will have more than its fair share of armed forces personnel after revealing a major shake-up of military bases.

• Total number of troops in Scotland to be 4000, well short of initial promises to double the army

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• 45 Commando Royal Marines to stay at RM Condor in Arbroath

• Leuchars to receive £60 million out of £100 million spent on upgrading Scottish bases

But last night the SNP accused Mr Hammond of failing to deliver on the promise made by his predecessor Liam Fox to base 7,000 troops in Scotland and develop a new “superbarracks” at Kirknewton, on the outskirts of Edinburgh – a proposal that has also been ditched.

Angus Robertson, the party’s defence spokesman, said the coalition government had performed a “raft of U-turns” and betrayed communities. In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hammond confirmed that 4,000 troops will be based in Scotland under the shake-up.

He said that the country had secured a “very good outcome” and would still have “a little bit more than its fair share” of military personnel based on the size of its population.

He acknowledged that yesterday’s announcement meant a smaller army presence in Scotland than was outlined by former defence secretary Dr Fox in 2011, but said that review had been based on planned changes to the role of brigades and that the government’s thinking had “changed considerably”.

Among the moves announced in parliament yesterday was a surprise decision to relocate the Royal Scots Borderers from Edinburgh to Belfast.

Other moves, some previously reported, included the general headquarters at Craigiehall in Edinburgh being shut down, 45 Commando Royal Marines remaining at RM Condor in Arbroath and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards returning to the former Royal Air Force base at Leuchars.

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Fort George near Inverness will remain the home of the Black Watch, while the 3rd Battalion The Rifles will be moved from Redford to Dreghorn in Edinburgh to replace the Borderers.

Redford will become the new army headquarters in Scotland, which will still be headed by a two-star general. It will also become home to an expanded 51st infantry brigade and the remnants of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which are being moved from Canterbury.

In July 2011 Dr Fox told MPs that “between 6,500 and 7,000,” troops in Germany would be coming back to Scotland, but this was later corrected to say total troop numbers in Scotland would be between 6,500 and 7,000.

But yesterday Mr Hammond said that overall armed forces personnel in Scotland would rise by 637 in the coming years, from 11,910 to 12,547 by 2020.

But his announcement, which is designed to save £240 million a year in running costs by bringing back troops from Germany, was overshadowed last night by the growing political row.

Labour’s shadow defence secretary, Jim Murphy, attacked the coalition government for changing the increase “from thousands to hundreds”. He said: “The armed forces remain crucial to Scotland’s future, but the government has reneged on its promise. It is a real blow to Scotland and will not be forgotten.”

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “This announcement falls far, far short of the commitments given to Scotland by Liam Fox in 2011.

“It represents a breach of trust and failure to work together to meet the principles the UK government set out in its covenant with the armed forces.”

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Ms Sturgeon claimed that Scotland had previously borne the brunt of disproportionate defence cuts. “The increase in army personnel announced today, if it’s fulfilled, would simply return us to the numbers here in 2008,” she said.

Defence minister Mark Francois, speaking at Edinburgh Castle after the Commons statement, said: “This announcement will provide certainty and security for armed forces personnel, their families, for the defence of Scotland and for the wider defence of the United Kingdom.”

On the overall figures, Mr Francois said: “I don’t believe it’s a broken promise. I think if overall army figures in Scotland had been going down after these changes, I’m sure you would have some more to say about that. But actually the overall army numbers are going up and overall numbers of armed forces personnel are going up as well.”

Scotland Office minister David Mundell, who was also at the castle, defended the announcement.

He attacked what he called the SNP’s “fantasy” plans for a Scottish defence force, assuming a Yes vote in the independence referendum next year.

“No detail has been produced as to what the alternative to the security the British army presents to the people of Scotland would be,” he said.

“These are substantive proposals which deliver the detail on where the armed forces will be based and don’t include the fact that by 2022 there will be 1,500 additional personnel at Faslane.”

The announcement made by Mr Hammond is part of wider plans to bring British troops home from Germany. About 70 per cent of the army will be brought back by the end of 2015 and the final 4,300 will return by the end of 2019.

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The latest shake-up is expected to save £240m a year, according to the coalition government. About £100m will be spent refurbishing the defence estate in Scotland.

The biggest centre and main training area will be on Salisbury Plains, where 15,000 personnel will be based.

Along with Edinburgh and Leuchars, the other main centres will be Catterick in Yorkshire, Aldershot, Colchester, Stafford and the East Midlands.

Of the seven bases being shut in the UK three are Scottish.

The Highlanders, 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, is to be moved to Catterrick in Yorkshire replacing the Scots Guards who are being sent to Aldershot.

Overall there will also be an investment of £1.8bn in bases and new living accommodation.

General Sir Peter Wall, Chief of General Staff, said: “This announcement is very welcome news for the army.

“The plan provides an excellent springboard for operations overseas and it affords welcome certainty over where people will live.”

Last night, Mike Crockart, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, said he was “saddened” by the decision to shut Craigiehall in his constituency ,but welcomed the decision to protect most of the historic army estate in Edinburgh.