ONE of Britain’s most senior generals has revealed there are set to be thousands fewer regular soldiers in Scotland than the government has promised.
Chief of the General Staff Sir Peter Wall told MPs on the Commons defence select committee that the current size of the army in Scotland was about to increase, but only by a single unit of between 200 and 500 troops.
The comments by Sir Peter, who is in charge of the “Future Army 2020” reconfiguration of the armed service, appear to go against the promise made in July 2011 by the then defence secretary Liam Fox that the army would double in strength in Scotland. They do, however, confirm that, despite a cut of 20,000 in the size of the regular army, the number of troops in Scotland will rise.
Sir Peter’s words have raised questions over the future of bases that were supposed to house new troops, although the Ministry of Defence has confirmed RAF Leuchars will still have “a major army presence”.
There is speculation Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has reversed many decisions of his predecessor Dr Fox, including not going ahead with the building of a super-barracks at Kirknewton, outside Edinburgh.
Details of the final shake-up are due early this year. A planned announcement on the results of a bases review was postponed at the end of 2012.
When he unveiled the review last July, Dr Fox told MPs that “between 6,500 and 7,000, or something of that order, of the 20,000 personnel we currently have in Germany will be coming back to the multi-role brigades in Scotland”. This was later corrected to say total troop numbers in Scotland would be between 6,500 and 7,000.
During the committee hearing, the general was questioned by Labour Dunfermline and West Fife MP Thomas Docherty on numbers in Scotland. He asked: “If I looked at the current army footprint in Scotland and compared it to when you have finished this process, will it be higher or smaller than it is at the moment?”
Sir Peter responded: “It will be one unit higher, slightly bigger in number terms on the current plan. They [unit numbers] vary a lot in the new structure. A unit is typically 200 to 500.”
He said the overall footprint for military personnel in all three services combined would also increase.
Currently, there are 3,291 army personnel based north of the Border and the addition of one extra unit of between 200 and 500 men would bring that up to only 3,800, at least 2,700 short of Dr Fox’s target.
In his statement, Dr Fox said there would be two army units based at Leuchars when the RAF leaves, one at HMS Caledonia in Rosyth and another at RM Condor in Arbroath after the Royal Marines leave.
The likelihood of just one more army unit coming to Scotland has raised doubts about those plans, although there has been speculation the RAF may stay in a reduced capacity at Leuchars.
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “Just as the SNP has been warning for some time, the UK government is walking away from its defence commitments to Scotland. This is bad for personnel and service families, as well as defence-dependent communities.
“Having suffered disproportionate cuts to manpower, basing and spending, the promises to return thousands of troops to new barracks with a new training area appear hollow and cynical.”
But shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said there was a far greater risk to army numbers from independence and that it was good news the military footprint in Scotland was guaranteed to increase, despite coalition cuts.
He said: “Army numbers in Scotland have faced the twin threat of Tory cuts and SNP independence. But if a boost in British Army levels in Scotland is confirmed, then it would be good for Scotland. The only residual risk to the army [presence] here would be independence. If we leave the UK, the British Army would become a foreign army, and there is no way a foreign army would be based in Scotland.
“Independence would be cheerio to hundreds of years of the British Army in Scotland.”
On Mr Hammond’s decision to postpone the bases review announcement, he said: “It is concerning for forces and their families that there is a new delay to the basing review. It will increase uncertainty for local communities and military families.”
The MoD insisted Leuchars would have a “major army presence” and that overall numbers would increase. A spokesman said: “The army footprint in Scotland is being considered as part of the ongoing basing review. Because of the new form of private finance and the reductions in resource spending announced by the Chancellor in the Autumn Statement, we will make an announcement on this later in the year.
“Our plans envisage a major army presence at Leuchars and we expect the MoD’s total numbers in Scotland to increase. The final plans will make the best use of the existing defence estate and achieve the best value for money for the taxpayer.”