DEFENCE Secretary Philip Hammond’s basing announcement last week caused a stramash in Scottish Government circles, with Alex Salmond accusing David Cameron of breaking the “bond of trust with the people of Scotland” by reneging on promises made by Hammond’s predecessor, Dr Liam Fox.
Instead of thousands of additional troops coming to Scotland, there will now only be a few hundred.
There are, however, extenuating circumstances. Chief among these is that Fox’s 18 July 2011 announcement was the stuff of fantasy with its roots deep in la-la land. According to senior Scottish military sources, had Fox stayed his hand for maybe even as little as a fortnight he would never have said what he did.
For a start, the plan to (part) fund a £400 million new-build “superbarracks” at Kirknewton outside Edinburgh was predicated on hopelessly optimistic property sale valuations for Redford and Dreghorn barracks and other sites.
Second, Kirknewton is too remote for a modern military establishment. And the huge investment required to base an armoured vehicle training area in the Borders, as Fox promised, was just never going to happen.
So, whilst it would have been nice to have had a multi-role brigade based in Scotland à la Fox, probably at Leuchars in Fife, it was always a bit pie in the sky.
So Hammond statement is a salutary return to the realpolitik of Britain’s reduced military stature in the world, and Scotland has suffered accordingly.
It’s not all bad news; 45 RM Commando staying at Arbroath is welcomed, as is the commitment to maintain the runways at Kinloss and Leuchars. But Scotland will no longer inherit a firm basis for ready-made armed services that a multi-role brigade might have offered in the event of independence. Perhaps that’s what all the fuss is really about?
Stuart Crawford is a former army officer