Scottish soldier shuffling must stop – minister

Clarity is needed over bases, minister says. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Clarity is needed over bases, minister says. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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THE SNP minister for veterans has attacked the UK government over its plans to increase troops in Scotland by 600 rather than the thousands originally promised.

Keith Brown told MSPs yesterday that Scottish ministers were not consulted before the new plans were announced this week by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

Mr Brown, himself a former marine who served in the Falklands, said: “It’s at a local level that these changes will really have an impact.”

While welcoming a decision to retain the Royal Marines at RM Condor in Arbroath, he said: “Around much of the country, there is little else to be genuinely pleased about.”

Clarity was still required for the future of RAF Leuchars, which is to be converted to an army base in 2015, he said.

More information is also needed about the future of defence sites in Edinburgh, following changes to plans to sell off bases and build a new “super-barracks”.

Highlighting the impact on serving soldiers, Mr Brown told MSPs: “It would be interesting to listen in barrackrooms around the country to see what squaddies are saying about the announcement yesterday. They’re getting shuffled around Scotland from different barracks to different barracks.”

Mr Hammond set out revised proposals for the armed forces on Tuesday, as part of wider plans to bring British troops home from Germany. About 70 per cent will be brought back by the end of 2015 and the final 4,300 will return by the end of 2019. The move is expected to save £240 million a year.

About £100m will be spent refurbishing the defence estate in Scotland, where the army’s presence will grow to about 4,000 by 2020. Former defence secretary Liam Fox pledged in 2011 that the size of the army would increase from about 3,500 to 8,500.

Dreghorn Barracks in Edinburgh will no longer be sold off, although its current occupants, 1st Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, will be moved to Belfast next year.

The headquarters of the 51st Infantry Brigade will move from Forthside Barracks in Stirling to Redford Barracks in Edinburgh.

Craigiehall Barracks, part of Redford Barracks and part of Forthside Barracks will be sold. A proposed redevelopment of RAF Kirknewton, near Edinburgh, will not go ahead.

Mr Brown faced questions about the Scottish Government’s alternative defence plans, assuming independence after the referendum next year. The SNP says it expects to spend about £2.5 billion on a defence force with about 15,000 personnel.

Mr Brown said Scotland already had a stake in the armed forces and would be able to negotiate rationally.

“The discussion we will have with the UK government upon independence will be a far more rational and measured discussion than what we’ve seen with this announcement,” he said.

“Where you have, for example, carriers with no provision for aircraft, where you see billions being spent on planes that are dismantled before they’re completed, I’m pretty sure we could do things in a better way.”