Damning verdict on plans to base troops in Belfast

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CALLOUS, plain wrong and a disaster for local soldiers and their families is the damning verdict on shock plans to pull the Royal Scots Borderers out of Edinburgh and base them in Belfast as part of the major shake-up of military facilities.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed the changes as part of plans to save £240million as British troops are brought home from Germany.

But the 4,000 total of troops to be based in Scotland under the latest round of changes falls well short of initial promises from Mr Hammond’s predecessor, Liam Fox, to base 7,000 soldiers in Scotland.

The shake-up will see the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, moved from Redford Barracks in Edinburgh to the capital’s Dreghorn Barracks, replacing 1 SCOTS (Royal Scots Borderers), which is currently coming to the end of an operational tour in Afghanistan.

But the move to base the battalion away from Scotland has sparked outrage among former members of the battalion’s antecedent regiments – the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and the Royal Scots.

A furious Brigadier Allan Alstead, a former KOSB commanding officer, says it is the worst possible decision for the battalion and its families.

He said: “They break every promise and expect people to accept their decisions – incredible. I can see 1 SCOTS actually disintegrating as a result of this stupid and unfeeling decision.”

“People will leave rather than be messed about in this way. While they had a firm base and stability, soldiers and families could take a great deal, but to destroy everything in this way is unfeeling, callous and plain wrong. It is downright dishonest, devious and it will totally destroy morale, particularly among the married soldiers and families.”

Donald Fairgrieve, from St Boswells, a former KOSB officer who led the successful campaign to prevent the merger of the KOSB during the early 1990s, agrees the decision breaks previous government pledges to preserve so-called “golden thread” of individual regimental identity.

“This only serves to underline that this is the worst Government this country has seen in the last 50 years, headed by the weakest prime minister in memory,” said Mr Fairgrieve.

But Scotish Secretary of State and Borders Lib Dem MP, Michael Moore, defended the decision.

He said: “The difference here is that we have had to make some huge structural changes to the army as consequences of the financial legacies we inherited, particular over MoD [Ministry of Defence] equipment budget over-runs. And we have had to make some difficult choices on numbers and basing, but we now have a plan in place which is sustainable.”

Brigadier Alstead says there is no logic to basing an English battalion in Scotland’s capital while a Scottish one, with long historical links to Edinburgh and the Borders, is moved to Northern Ireland. “It is total madness,” he said.