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SNP: UK split would mean more Scots armed forces

Published on 6 March 2013

AN independent Scotland would have thousands more armed forces personnel than under the current UK Government plans, the SNP has said, as it accused Whitehall of another broken promise on defence.

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On a day of claim and counter-claim, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, insisted Scotland would receive a "little bit more than its fair share" in the UK-wide defence review, with an Army increase of 800 troops by 2020 to a total force of 4000.

The changes are part of the military bases shake-up undertaken to cater for the return from Germany of some 16,000 UK troops by the end of the decade.

The move involves the full or part closure of seven UK bases as well as a £1.8 billion investment in new infrastructure such as modern accommodation.

It will save £24 million a year in running costs as soldiers are moved into "clusters" in key locations such as Salisbury Plain, Catterick, Aldershot and Edinburgh/Leuchars.

Overall, across all three services, Scotland's armed forces personnel by 2020 will rise by some 600 to about 12,500.

This compares to 20,000 in 1989, 14,900 in 1999 and 12,020 in 2009. But the SNP insisted in an independent Scotland the full contingent would be 15,000 service personnel.

Two years ago, then defence secretary Liam Fox outlined proposals that envisaged a doubling of Army troop levels in Scotland to around 7000 and the creation of a super barracks at Kirknewton near Edinburgh.

However, Army numbers will rise by only 20%, not 100%, and the super barracks was ditched.

In the Commons, the Secretary of State said ambitions had to be scaled back due to the dire financial backdrop and a consequent decrease in the regular Army from 100,000 to 80,000.

However, he said the changes would create greater stability and certainty for military personnel and their families.

Mr Hammond told MPs Scotland had secured a "very good outcome" and calculated that while 8.39% of the UK population was in Scotland, under the proposals 8.65% of Britain's armed forces would be based north of the Border by 2020.

However, he came under a double attack, largely because the UK Government's plans for Scotland had been cut back.

Jim Murphy, his Labour Shadow, said: "A pledge of thousands of troops to Scotland has become a plan for hundreds."

Angus Robertson, the SNP defence spokesman, also accused the UK Government of "breaking a raft of defence promises".

He said the Ministry of Defence had acknowledged that in the last decade there had been a 28% cut in defence personnel in Scotland compared to 11% across the UK as a whole.

He said: "The Army return to Scotland was supposed to offset the loss of the RAF and increase the defence footprint.

"Will the Secretary of State confirm across the services and taking into account RAF changes, there will be fewer personnel not more and certainly fewer than the 15,000 personnel planned for an independent Scotland?"

Mr Hammond told MPs the SNP Westminster leader's assertion on military numbers was wrong as against the base line used by Mr Fox in 2011 the total number of armed forces in Scotland would rise by 600.

Mr Fox said the spreading of forces across the whole of the UK "undermines the case of the Nationalists that Scotland would ever be better off trying to fund its own armed forces".

Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, accused David Cameron and his colleagues of a "breach of trust and a failure to work together to meet the principles the UK Government set out in its covenant with the Armed Forces".

She added: "The rise in Army personnel announced today, if it's fulfilled, would simply return us to the numbers of military personnel here in 2008."

A senior Whitehall source said the UK's annual defence and security budget was £36bn while the SNP's proposed budget for an independent Scotland was just £2.5bn.

He added: "Their sums do not add up. Their proposal is less than 7% of the UK's budget, which is less than what Belgium, Denmark and Norway spend. It can't be done unless they plan to slash Army capability and rely on second-hand equipment."

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