UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has failed to rule out that the number of military personnel based in Scotland may be cut by 1700 amid a reduction in armed forces bases.

The Tory minister dismissed press reports last week on the basis he had not received defence chiefs’ final recommendations. However, he appeared not to deny the substance of a news article which said commanders want to speed up plans to shut Fort George in the Highlands, and the Glencorse and Redford barracks in Edinburgh.

It was announced in 2016 that historic Fort George would close as an active barracks in 2032, but there have long been fears the shutdown could be fast-tracked.

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The former RAF Kinloss base in Moray was closed in 2011 and subsequently transformed into an army barracks.

In late 2019, Wallace, a former Scots Guards officer and north-east MSP, signalled a review of the decision to close Fort George could happen. On an election visit to Aberdeenshire and Moray, he suggested the future of the base could be influenced by his determination to meet a commitment to increase defence personnel in Scotland to 12,500 by 2020.

However, speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association

in London last week, Wallace was asked by The National about a report in the Sunday Times on plans to cut force numbers by 1700 in Scotland.

“Boll**ks, it’s probably all bulls**t or whatever you want to call those stories,” he said. “I mean total nonsense. I haven’t got a report. The Army hasn’t presented yet to the Secretary of State or indeed the Minister for the Armed Forces its plans to implement the defence command paper.”

However, referring to the Sunday Times report, Wallace then said: “It did talk about the defence optimisation review. Some of it was reheated which was saying Fort George was closing in 2032 but we all knew that as it was announced six years ago.

“What is going to happen when the Army does present me with its plans, we will see it converting what was announced in the command paper into much more detailed plans.

“So I have said, ‘you can’t just announce new regiments or regimental changes without talking about the bases’ as if you are a soldier you want to buy a home or move with your wife it’s a bit odd to say your regiment is becoming an armoured regiment and then not tell them where they are going to be based. So I held them off in July and they will tell me the details.”

Wallace went on: “I have been pretty clear on the disposition around the Union and to make sure it is fair and consistent with our view that defence is for the whole of the United Kingdom not just for one part.”

He was asked about whether the base at Kinloss would be moved to England and said more jobs would be moved to Lossiemouth.

“Kinloss and Lossiemouth, as you know are almost side by side, not particularly far away,” he said. “I am actually moving extra jobs up there, not away from there. So when the E7 early warning radar is based up there that was going to be based in Cambridgeshire, I think, is going to be based up in Lossiemouth, where ever the V8 is, and with that will come hundreds of extra jobs ... And that’s the other way around, that’s not coming out of Scotland, it’s coming in.”

Wallace went on to say that Redford had been earmarked for closure as far back as 1991 as it was “not a fit for purpose barracks”.

He said it was not correct that some of the bases listed in the press report were closing, adding: “I haven’t seen the Army’s final recommendations so I can’t comment on them.”

Pressed when he would get the report, Wallace said: “Soon. I’ve been pushing to see them as early as possible. Next couple of weeks I think. I have the final say, not them.”

The Scottish Government has asked for clarification on any accelerated move to withdraw the Army from Fort George and Kinloss Barracks and warned it would demonstrate a “complete disregard” for local communities in the north of Scotland.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was also urged to consult the Scottish Government before finalising any plans and outline what support would be offered to local communities to soften the “damaging” economic and social blow.

Responding to the report last week, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Any acceleration of base closures by the UK Government demonstrates a complete disregard for the significant economic and social impact on local communities.

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“While this is a reserved matter, given the potentially damaging impact for Scotland we would expect the UK Government to consult with us fully before finalising plans. We call on the UK Government to urgently clarify their position and the timeframe for base closures, including outlining what support they will provide to help mitigate community impact.”

Previously, the Army said: “In the spring it was announced in Parliament that the Army would be restructured to meet future threats as we implement the outcomes of the integrated review. The plans for structural reform are not yet finalised so speculation is unhelpful and misleading.”

Last year, communications emerged which showed that defence chiefs questioned whether Kinloss Barracks could become the new home of the Black Watch, currently based at Fort George. They had previously stated the Black Watch would move to another base in Scotland when Fort George closes and Leuchars in Fife has been considered the front-runner.