David Stewart

Defence Basing Reforms : concluding speech


20 April 2017

This has been an excellent debate, with thoughtful and insightful speeches from across the chamber.

Of course, some members, such as Mike Rumbles, Maurice Corry, Edward Mountain and the cabinet secretary, are ex-service personnel, and I believe that their contributions mirrored the depth and the range of their significant experience in their previous occupations.

However, other members without military experience also spoke with passion and commitment about the importance of the military footprint in Scotland.

The cabinet secretary kicked off the debate by talking about the 20 per cent reduction in the defence estate, the reduction in the military footprint in Scotland and the role of the regional hubs.

He also expressed concern about the issue of the Condor airfield in Arbroath and the fact that, in large parts of Scotland, the Army will have no footprint at all.

He usefully raised the issue of the working party, which involves local authorities. I would be interested to hear the outcome of its work.

Jackson Carlaw and I could perhaps form a club for people who, in their school days, failed to join the RAF—perhaps we should form a support group to counsel ourselves about our career choices.

On a serious note, he raised important issues from the 2015 strategic defence review and talked about the 91 sites that were earmarked for closure.

Like many members, Gordon MacDonald talked with passion and commitment about base closures in his local area and spoke about the importance of keeping army barracks in his constituency.

Maurice Golden made some valid points at the start of his speech about recognising the historic reputation of the work that the men and women of our armed forces carry out now and have carried out in the past.

On a general level, he talked about the importance of getting defence infrastructure right in the future, which involves a long-term plan.

 Stewart Stevenson entertained us, as always, but he also made a significant contribution to the debate.

 He raised an issue with which I have common cause, which is the impact of the armed forces, particularly the RAF, in the Moray area.

 As always, he had a relative who he could bring into the debate. I think that the year he mentioned was 1890—

Stewart Stevenson: About a hundred years earlier.

 David Stewart: I will go back to school and remember the dates at a better time.

Stewart Stevenson made a valid point about the threats in the future of non-state actors and the worries  about violence, fear and hatred and concerns about ISIS and North Korea, as well as about the importance of mobile forces.

He might have slightly misquoted the reference, but he cited a point made by a famous German military strategist, that no plan ever survives the first contact with the enemy.

Mark Ruskell made some valid points about the relationship between Governments—not just national Governments, but local government, which has an important role.

I note that this is probably his last meeting before he gives up being a councillor, so he will no longer have to declare that interest.

He said that, when bases are going to close, irrespective of the campaigning that has been done, we must consider how we can mitigate the effects of local base closures in the long term.

He also made some valid points about the other side of the equation in Stirling, which concerns the importance of affordable housing and how we can try to put the two issues together.

He also referred to a game of cat and mouse being played by the UK Government, and a common theme that has arisen this afternoon is the question of where the consultation has been from the UK Government.

Many members made that point.

Bruce Crawford has a lot of experience in the military and a lot of understanding of local defence issues.

He talked about the 20 per cent reduction in the defence footprint, his local base and the importance of repairing and upgrading its functions, the impact on Stirling if the base closes, and the high connectivity between the armed forces and the community in Stirling over many years.

Another common theme in the debate has been personal links with the military, and Bruce Crawford mentioned his father, who I think I am right in saying was in the Household Cavalry.

Bruce Crawford: I did not get a chance to respond to one of the points that Mark Ruskell made, but I entirely agree with him that one of the good things that will come from the proposal is that Trident will no longer be able to use Stirling as a base when it passes through.

David Stewart: I shall move on swiftly.

We heard from Mike Rumbles, who also has lots of experience, having been in the Army for 15 years in his previous life.

He talked about Glencorse being his first posting, and he made some valid points about the economic effects of the closure of the bases, and supported the regional hubs. I do not think that anyone is suggesting that everything that the UK Government is suggesting is negative.

There are some military and strategic advantages to having the regional hubs, but I emphasise that our current and future capabilities must meet the new threats.

As the facts change, so do our opinions.

It is critical to stress that. Mr Rumbles also mentioned  the importance of getting our estates strategy right in future.

Edward Mountain was a soldier for 12 years and has a son currently serving. His key point, which in general terms I agree with, was that it is important to consider what is good for our service personnel.

He made a general point about Fort George.

He and I are on opposite sides of the argument, but I concede that setting up a working party is a good idea, and I would certainly volunteer for that. He said that those who want to see Fort George stay open are effectively chirping from the sidelines—I am not sure whether I am included in that—but the last time that I looked that was called democracy and campaigning.

That minor point aside, I would be happy to sign up to Mr Mountain’s working party if he could arrange it.

Graeme Dey made some excellent points about the long-term plans for Condor, as he is worried about the constant chipping away.

Maurice Corry, another member with experience of Army service, spoke with authority about getting a more efficient defence estate and looking at regular and reserve forces.

I promise that next Christmas I will give Mr Corry a watch, because he is not very good at keeping time.

Finally, I want to mention Christine Grahame, who talked about the armed forces scheme being set up in the Scottish Parliament.

I strongly endorse that.

She made excellent points about Glencorse and its facilities and about the importance of the partners who are involved in the business support group.

She finished by saying that it is a disgrace that the base is closing.

As always, I will give Christine Grahame the last word.

I normally do not get the first word either.