THE UK government has performed an about-turn over plans to downgrade Scotland’s military status by transferring command of the army north of the Border to a lesser rank.
This week, Major-General Nick Eeles will be installed as General Officer Commanding (GOC) Scotland, thus ensuring that a two-star general will remain in charge of the army here.
Prior to Eeles’ appointment it had been planned to appoint a brigadier – a one-star general – to command a smaller, Scotland-based mobile brigade.
Eeles will be based at Craigiehall, suggesting that the traditional army headquarters outside Edinburgh has earned at least a temporary reprieve from the cuts.
Scotland on Sunday has learned that Craigiehall is likely to be rebranded General Headquarters Scotland.
Under the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) it is planned to rationalise the three regional command posts in the UK, including 2 Div – which covers Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland – into a single position based in England.
Critics of the plans argued that fewer soldiers under the command of a lower ranked officer would diminish Scotland’s military influence and status.
But the return of troops from Germany means that the size of the army based in Scotland is about to double to around 6,500, a transfer that strengthens the argument for a two-star general to lead it.
Eeles succeeds Major-General David Shaw, whose predecessor, Major-General Andrew Mackay, quit in 2009 citing penny-pinching and changes to the military structure as the reasons for his departure.
Yesterday, opposition politicians at Westminster welcomed the change of heart but said it indicated that the UK government’s defence plans were unravelling.
Labour’s shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said: “This is a welcome U-turn but just one of many in an increasingly chaotic defence review which should be reopened.”
The SNP’s defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “It is difficult to believe that there was any strategy behind the SDSR when the decisions keep unravelling.”
An MoD spokesman confirmed Eeles, formerly of the Royal Artillery, would be based at Craigiehall but added that did not mean that the HQ would be “retained”.
He said: “At GOC Scotland, a Major-General, who will be the army representative there, will take post replacing the current 2 Div general in a non-command role. This is the final part of the move from three regional divisions to a UK-wide Support Command based in Aldershot.”