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SNP anger as seven Scottish TA bases set to close

Seven Army reserve bases in Scotland are to be closed under UK Government reforms.

Across the UK a total of 26 bases are being axed in a shake-up which will see the reserve force change its name from the Territorial Army (TA) to Army Reserve.

The Scottish centres to close are the Carmunnock Road TA centre in Glasgow, McDonald Road TA centre in Edinburgh, the Bothwell House site in Dunfermline, and bases at Wick, Dunoon, Keith, and Kirkcaldy.

The SNP hit out, claiming that Scotland is suffering from "disproportionate defence cuts".

But the head of the Army in Scotland, Major General Nick Eeles, insisted the reserve force here is "doing very well".

The bases closing are for, "the most part, very small bases with very few people in them".

General Eeles also said Scotland is expected to get a new reserves base in Kilmarnock and a "significant increase" in major reserve units, from nine to 12.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced the changes in the House of Commons.

Amid farcical scenes, MPs were not given copies of the list of bases to be closed until several minutes after Mr Hammond stopped speaking.

The base cuts come amid wider announcements of new incentives for small and medium-sized businesses to support reservist employees, a £5,000 "signing-on bounty" for ex-regulars who join the reserves and upgraded holiday and pension entitlements.

An additional £1.8 billion will be spent over 10 years, Mr Hammond said.

He said £200 million will be spent on equipment for the reserves.

"To kick-start that programme, I can announce today we will bring forward to this year £40 million of investment in new dismounted close combat equipment, meaning upgraded weapons and sights, night vision systems and GPS capabilities will start to be delivered to reserve units before the end of the year."

He outlined improved conditions for reservists who are to get military pensions and healthcare benefits as part of the Government's attempt to drive up numbers and bolster regular forces.

Smaller firms that employ part-time soldiers will receive an extra £500 per month when they are away on deployment.

It is hoped the measures will help increase UK reserve numbers across the UK from around 20,000 to 30,000 by 2018.

For Scotland the aim is to have 3,700 army reserve soldiers by then, compared with the current total of just under 2,300.

The White Paper proposals come nearly three years after the coalition Government said it will reduce regular Army numbers from 100,000 to 80,000.

General Eeles said: "A small number of more isolated or outdated Territorial Army locations will be disposed of, while many others will be expanded and enhanced ready to deliver the new Army Reserve.

"There's a significant increase in major units based in Scotland, moving from nine to 12, although the number of sub-units in Scotland overall reduces from 41 to 38."

Seven TA sites will be closed and "a number of others will be increased in size and capability", General Eeles said.

"These will be balanced by increases in other parts of these towns and cities," he said.

"Over 12% of the UK's Army reserve and 15% of its Army reserve centres will be based in Scotland."

General Eeles conceded that recruiting and retaining 3,700 reserve soldiers into the Scottish units is "a significant challenge compared to the current TA strength here of just over 2,200".

He said: "We should not underestimate the scale of this challenge, but with the measures announced in the White Paper today, targeting reservists, their families and employers, the Army is confident the requisite uplift can be delivered and maintained."

The SNP's defence spokesman and Westminster leader, Angus Robertson, said that with seven bases closing, "the disproportionate defence cuts to Scotland continue".

He said: "That the announcement descended into a dog's breakfast was a massive discourtesy to those communities hit. The reserve forces have a long, proud and invaluable tradition of service, and they deserve better than today's shambles.

"Whilst we welcome some of the long-overdue improvements in the terms and conditions for reservists, the changes will arouse suspicion that it is another coalition cost-cutting move not really aimed at modernising the Army for the 21st century."

General Eeles said: "Although you might argue it looks as if closing seven bases is disproportionately hard on Scotland, the reality is that the numbers that those involve are tiny in comparison to the number of reservists based in Scotland.

"The overall figure I would say is more important is the total number of reservists that we are going to have Scotland. That is the key figure if you are having comparisons with the whole of the United Kingdom and on that figure I think we are doing very well."

Veterans Minister Keith Brown said the UK Government failed to consult with, or even notify, the Scottish Government before his statement.

"We have sought to engage positively throughout the UK Government's defence review and we will continue to play our part to achieve the best outcomes possible in the circumstances for service personnel, their families and the communities that host them around Scotland," Mr Brown said.

"Despite our engagement with the UK Government, there is a continued lack of clarity around the actual impact in Scotland.

"Two years ago the UK Government committed, through the defence review, to create a significant number of additional personnel in Scotland. The reality is that they've failed to deliver this pledge. That is why I'm calling on the Defence Secretary to engage with the Scottish Government on matters that have an impact on Scotland.

"I am writing to stress that, ahead of such decisions being made, they should take account of proper analysis of the impact on local communities and economies and to seek assurances that the Ministry of Defence will honour the commitment to increase the military footprint in Scotland.

"Scotland's service personnel have faced decades of UK Government cuts and the Scottish Government recognises that our troops deserve better. We are doing our part, building an approach that is second to none in the UK, covering areas of health, employment, education and housing.

"Army reservists have a vital role in our defence and security and I welcome plans announced today to give them healthcare benefits and military pensions."

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