DEFENCE Secretary Michael Fallon has told officials he does not want the “military footprint” in Scotland reduced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, Scotland on Sunday has learned.
Fallon, who was born and raised in Scotland, is understood to be sensitive to the potential political boost to the SNP of cutting the number of military personnel in Scotland any further or closing any more bases.
While he has made it clear that MoD property is potentially up for sale as he seeks efficiency savings, he has told civil servants not to include Scottish bases such as Fort George near Inverness or the army bases in Edinburgh that were at risk of closure in the last defence review.
Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Fallon explained: “It’s a full review so it is not a refresh of the last one. In other words, it has acknowledged that things have changed and got worse and some things like Russia were not forecast in 2010.”
He said it started a month ago and “will be done by the end of the year.”
He added: “The size of the armed forces is there. That is a manifesto commitment so I don’t think we are going to see a great upheaval of regiments and soldiers.”
A senior source close to Fallon explained that this meant Fallon does not want any reductions in north of the Border. He said: “The Scottish defence establishment is just 8 per cent. We think that is about right. All of the submarines are there, a third of the jets, and an army brigade. I see no reason to change that.”
However, the pledge has been met with scepticism by the SNP after the last defence review saw two RAF bases – Kinloss in Moray and Leuchars in Fife – removed from Scotland and turned into army bases with fewer personnel.
Prior to that, former Tory defence secretary Liam Fox admitted that Scotland under Labour had received a disproportionately high number of defence cuts.
SNP defence spokesman Brendan O’Hara MP said: “The reality is that Westminster governments have cut defence in Scotland into the bone, and have a long history of reneging on promises.
“They have slashed numbers in Scotland disproportionately for years – to serving personnel, bases, historic military units and key capabilities as well as putting severe pressures on military families.”
He went on: “Two of three airbases have now been axed, we are a maritime nation without maritime patrol aircraft and there is not a single ocean-going conventional naval vessel based in Scotland – and there is no guarantee that the cuts are over.”
He added: “The Chief of the Defence Staff, Sir Nicholas Houghton, has warned that defence has been cut so severely that the UK could be left with the ‘spectre of a hollow force’.
“A proper defence policy would invest in the conventional capabilities we need but don’t have, and stop wasting money on what we do have but certainly don’t need – Trident nuclear weapons.”