Scottish government clashes with Philip Hammond over defence strategy

Defence secretary’s claims that armed forces’ presence in Scotland will increase are a misrepresentation, says SNP

The armed forces’ presence in Scotland is set to increase despite the overall cuts in defence spending, the defence secretary has claimed, triggering a row with the Scottish government.

Philip Hammond, speaking as he unveiled a new UK government report on Scottish defence and independence, said there would be 12,500 regular armed forces personnel based in Scotland and hundreds of millions spent on upgrading military bases. That redeployment would be greater than Scotland’s population share, he insisted, as he sought to rebut complaints from the Scottish government that the country had been repeatedly short-changed by ministers in London.

His fresh estimate fuelled an ill-tempered dispute over defence policy with Scottish ministers and the Scottish National party, who accused the Conservative MP Hammond of misrepresenting the scale of previous defence cuts. Those have resulted in the closure of two airbases, the loss of Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft and cuts in Scottish infantry regiments.

Speaking to the BBC, Hammond said the former defence secretary Liam Fox had been “simply not right” when he claimed that armed forces numbers in Scotland had been cut by 28% by 2010 against nearly 12% for the UK as a whole.

“We’re increasing the number of armed forces personnel based in Scotland. When we’ve completed that process, Scotland will coincidentally have just slightly more than its proportionate share of the UK’s armed forces based in Scotland,” the defence secretary insisted.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said the Ministry of Defence had previously promised to protect military numbers in Scotland but had broken that pledge. Fox’s figures were accurate, he claimed, and based entirely on the MoD’s figures for a decade’s worth of defence cuts.

“Philip Hammond misled the House of Commons in trying to explain away why Westminster broke its promise to Scotland about troop numbers in the defence review and now he is trying to mislead the people of Scotland about the reality of Westminster’s defence cuts and closures north of the Border.

“In doing so, he has rejected figures given by his own predecessor,” Robertson said. “He needs to apologise for his mistake and correct the record before he leaves.

“Westminster’s record is cutting personnel numbers to an historic low, closing bases despite promises to invest here and sacking troops by posting out P45s.”

Robertson said Hammond also admitted that Scottish regiments in the British army could be part of a future Scottish defence force after press reports at the weekend suggested the MoD had cast doubt on the prospects of them automatically transferring across if the 2014 referendum opted for independence.

Keith Brown, the Scottish government’s veterans minister, earlier rebuffed Hammond’s attacks on the SNP’s “insulting vague” defence policy by promising that a more detailed blueprint would be published in the Scottish government’s white paper on independence, being released next month.

Hammond repeated his assault on the SNP’s policies. He told an audience of defence industrialists at the Selex SE defence electronics plant in …read more