UK accused of betrayal as Scotland’s defence personnel plunge below share by population

Royal Marines on an exercise in Dundrennan. Scots personnel account for 7.1 per cent of the UK total. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
Royal Marines on an exercise in Dundrennan. Scots personnel account for 7.1 per cent of the UK total. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty
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The UK government has come under fire for cutting defence personnel numbers in Scotland despite a flagship promise that they would be increased by the end of the year during the independence referendum campaign.

A commitment to increase defence personnel to 12,500 – 9.2 per cent of the UK total – by 2020 was made by then defence secretary Philip Hammond in 2013.

At the time there were 10,600 defence personnel in Scotland, but this has now fallen back to 9,680 – 7.1 per cent of the UK total and below Scotland’s population share of 8.5 per cent.

The missed target was put to the current Defence Secretary Ben Wallace when he was grilled by the SNP’s Martin Docherty-Hughes at the House of Commons Defence Committee last week.

Wallace responded that it is still the UK government’s “intention to continue to invest in Scotland”.

The UK government insists that investment in Scotland remains “substantial” and defence personnel at key sites such as Faslane and Lossiemouth will be growing in the years ahead. The fall in defence numbers north of the border only mirrors the broader fall in military numbers across the UK military.

But Docherty-Hughes said: “We are in a situation now where I’m not even surprised when the Tories at Westminster renege on promises made to Scotland because it just keeps happening – this broken commitment to increase defence personnel in Scotland by 2020 is just another in a long list of Tory broken promises.

“Not only have they not kept their promise, the Tories have gone backwards and reduced the number of personnel, falling far short of the ‘more than our fair share’ that was promised by Philip Hammond six years ago.”

Hammond claimed during a campaign visit to Edinburgh in October 2013 that there would be 12,500 regular armed forces personnel based in Scotland and hundreds of millions spent on upgrading military bases. Even at the time, he faced some criticism as the proposed increase of 800 army personnel was down from the extra 5,000 which had been set out several years beforehand.

A report by the Scottish Parliament’s Information Centre recently showed that the UK government has cut 2,190 military and civilian jobs in Scotland since 2012.

It was announced in 2016 that eight military sites would close over the next 16 years, including Fort George in Inverness, home to the Black Watch and three barracks in Edinburgh and the Lothians.

The Ministry of Defence insists the eight sites represent 19 per cent of the estate in Scotland, which is significantly less than in some other parts of the UK, while £1.7 billion would be invested in upgrading key Scottish military bases.

RAF Lossiemouth in Moray will grow by 400 personnel by 2024 with the first of nine Boeing P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft is expected to arrive next year.

Faslane, home to the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent, will become the base for all of the UK’s submarine fleet next year, with the number of people employed there set to increase from 6,800 to 8,200.

Defence spending is also significant in Scotland, with the Type 26 anti-submarine frigates being built on the Clyde securing thousands of jobs at the yard, with the future Type 31s fleet set to secure further work.

The MoD says £1.69bn was spent across the Scottish defence industry last year, supporting 10,000 jobs.

A spokesman added: “Defence’s contribution and presence in Scotland is substantial, with key sites such as RAF Lossiemouth and HMNB Clyde growing over the next few years.

“We continue to work towards achieving the targets of defence numbers in Scotland.

“We spent nearly £1.69bn on the Scottish defence industry last year, supporting 10,000 jobs in Scotland.”

But with the prospect of a second independence referendum looming, Docherty-Hughes insists the “broken promises” of 2014 will come back to haunt the pro-Union campaign.

He added: “It is no wonder that more and more people in Scotland are opening up to the opportunities of independence.

“It is now beyond doubt that the only way to defend Scotland, and allow it to prosper further, is for the country to be an independent sovereign member of the EU working closely with our allies. Otherwise, we will continue to be disappointed and devastated by broken promises and harmful policies we didn’t vote for.”