COALITION ministers are to confirm that hundreds of British troops stationed in Germany will be moved to Scotland this week, although they will come under fire for scaling back dramatically the numbers originally planned to be stationed north of the Border.
Defence sources have revealed there is to be a 20 per cent increase in army personnel in Scotland – there are currently 3,200 soldiers – as a result of the closure of Britain’s two barracks in Germany.
MoD sources confirmed last night that a share of the 17,000 troops in Germany would be located at the refurbished former RAF base at Leuchars in Fife, giving “security” to the future of the armed forces in Scotland.
However, the total number is certain to be far short of what was set out by former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who proposed a near-doubling of the size of the army north of the Border following the closures in Germany. The SNP accused the coalition last night of reneging on guarantees to Scotland.
The details of the basing plan are to be announced this week as Defence Secretary Philip Hammond attempts to stave off yet more cuts to Britain’s military. Yesterday, he warned that any further cuts to the defence budget would lead to a “loss of capability”.
Under existing plans, the army is to be reduced to 82,000 regular solders and 30,000 reserves by the end of the decade. The restructuring will mean that the 17,000 troops who have been based on the Rhine since 1945 are to be repatriated.
A defence source said: “The new basing plan brings certainty and security to our armed forces and to Scotland. It will give the UK economy a £1.8 billion boost, with Scotland receiving a share of this investment to spend on new and improved accommodation and facilities for its soldiers and their families.”
However, that increase in troop numbers is well short of the number suggested in 2011 by Fox. He told Parliament then that “between 6,500 and 7,000” of the troops in Germany could be coming back to Scotland.
There are also serious fears that another of Fox’s plans, to build a new barracks at Kirknewton, west of Edinburgh, will never come to fruition. MoD sources last night refused to comment on the outcome of the proposal.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and defence spokesman, said: “The UK government is likely to go back on its recent defence commitments to Scotland. This would be totally unacceptable and underlines why better defence decisions should be made in Scotland with independence.”
He added: “Less than two years have passed since promises were made to the Westminster parliament that up to 7,000 personnel will return to Scotland, 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.
“I don’t believe that a sovereign Scottish government of any mainstream hue would manage defence so badly.”
Defence consultant and former British Army Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Crawford said: “This clearly isn’t going to be what Liam Fox said it would be. It marks a temporary respite in the decline of the military footprint north of the Border.”
However, the MoD last night hit back, insisting that the investment being proposed by the coalition this week “would not be guaranteed under an independent Scotland”.
A spokesman added: “Scotland would no longer benefit from the UK’s sophisticated defence capabilities that provide the highest levels of protection and security. It is clear we are safer and more secure as a United Kingdom.”
Under the shadow of further cuts to the defence budget, Hammond yesterday launched a pre-emptive attack on the Treasury as it considers a new spending review. A report last week from the Royal United Services Institute suggested the MoD could face additional reductions of more than £1bn a year from 2015.
But Hammond warned he would be “fighting the corner for my budget”, warning that “we won’t be able to make significant further cuts without eroding military capability”.