By Martin Kelly
Communities in Scotland who were promised thousands of redeployed troops as compensation for cuts that decimated their area two years ago, have been “betrayed” after the UK Government backtracked on the pledges.
The SNP today slammed the announcement from UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond after he confirmed fears that thousands of troops promised two years ago, will not in fact be coming to Scotland after all.
However, the Defence Secretary defended the announcement by claiming that Scotland has in fact more than its fair share of troops and that the amended plans were a “very good outcome” for Scottish communities.
Today, in a much delayed statement to the House of Commons, Mr Hammond finally outlined the coalition’s plans to move armed forces personnel from Germany back to the UK. In the announcement it emerged that only 600 troops would now be deployed north of the border - a fraction of the numbers promised.
The official statement by the Tory Minister was a huge blow to Scottish communities who had expected the MoD to move up to 7,000 troops to Scotland and develop a major new facility at Kirknewton.
Responding to the failure to deliver on a raft of earlier commitments, SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesman Angus Robertson said:
"We welcome the return of our troops from Germany and praise their service and professionalism as well as thanking all those communities in Germany who were so generous in their hosting, but today the Westminster government has u-turned in a most spectacular way. It has betrayed communities who were told one thing just two years ago and now find that the MoD has broken its promises.”
The previous Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, had pledged the return of army personnel from Germany would help offset the loss of jobs at RAF bases and increase the defence footprint in Scotland.
In July 2011, Mr Fox promised that between 6,500 and 7,000 personnel would return to Scotland to be part of a new multi-role brigade. He also pledged new barracks would be built at Kirknewton in West Lothian and a new training area would be established in the Borders.
However today's announcement is confirmation that only ten per cent of the original pledged numbers would be redeployed north of the border. The increase, bringing Scottish based troop numbers to around 3800, is well short of the 10,000 many believed would result from the redeployment.
Mr Hammond described the announcement as a "very good outcome" for Scotland which he claimed was getting “more than its fair share”.
He added: "It's also worth noting that if my calculator is correct, the proportion of our armed forces that will be based in Scotland at the end of this process is slightly higher than the proportion of the UK population that lives in Scotland.
"So, Scotland is getting its fair share or perhaps a little bit more than its fair share."
An MoD spokesperson said Scotland "benefits greatly" from being part of the UK’s defence initiative.
The spokesperson added: "This significant investment would not be guaranteed under an independent Scotland. It is clear that we are safer and more secure together as a United Kingdom."
In response, Mr Robertson added: “Liam Fox acknowledged then what we suspected for some time, that Scotland had taken the brunt of defence cuts for years. We know also know the scale of the defence underspend in Scotland is over £7 billion pounds in just ten years. The MoD has confirmed also that in the last decade there has been a 28% defence personnel cut in Scotland compared to 11% in the UK as a whole.
"What do we see today, then? The failure to develop Kirknewton as a major new facility for the army, and no new training area in Scotland are bitter if not unexpected blows. Along with the news that fewer troops are coming to Scotland than promised just a short time ago shows that this is a bad day for the Westminster system and the No campaign.”
Addressing claims that an independent Scotland would not be able to guarantee similar troop numbers, Mr Robertson said:
"The SNP have confirmed that we would have 15,000 serving personnel in defence forces, and would rid Scotland of Westminster's obscene weapons of mass destruction - the nuclear fetish of Trident. Scots don’t want a useless and horrific weapons system dumped for another 50 years on the Clyde, they want a modern 21st Century defence force that meets our needs.”
The SNP MP also called claims by the No campaign that defence was safe in Westminster’s hands as “untenable fantasy” and added:
"These u-turns betrayals and broken promises show once and for all that Scotland defence needs are simply not met by Westminster politicians, and that a Yes vote in 2014 is essential to make Scotland’s defence fit for purpose in an independent Scotland.”
Labour’s Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy attacked the announcement saying:
"Today the government has reneged on its promise. While there is positive news about the return of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Royal Marines staying in Arbroath, a pledge of thousands of troops to Scotland has become a plan for just hundreds. This is a body blow to Scotland and won't be forgotten."
Mr Murphy, whose own government had pledged a defence review in the months prior to leaving office in 2010, insisted that only Labour could protect Scottish defence jobs and added:
"Defence in Scotland faces a double danger from government. Neither the Tory government's cuts or Nationalists' plans for independence will do any good for Scottish defence employment, prowess or capability."
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