Thursday, July 21, 2011

Silver linings to the Leuchars cloud

My husband tells me that when he was a teenager he used to sneak onto Tentsmuir beach and watch the Lightning interceptors take off from RAF Leuchars. He stood there in awe as they virtually stood up on their tails after rocketing down the runway.  Maybe that's what inspired him into engineering, although a very different kind. yi We've been reminiscing this morning, as the space shuttle made its final landing, how great technological and engineering advances in our youth and childhood have now lapsed with nothing to replace them.

He remembers being woken up at night in his St Andrews home by the sound of engines being fired at Leuchars.

The RAF at Leuchars have been a part of the local community in North East Fife for as long as anyone can remember. The announcement made on Monday that the base would be taken over by the Army has caused sadness and anger in the local community - and not least its local MP, Liberal Democrat Ming Campbell, who told the Courier yesterday:
"I am steadfast in my view that the decision to close RAF Leuchars has been made for the wrong reasons. This base is best placed to protect the skies above Glasgow and Edinburgh, to patrol important installations like Faslane and Torness and to answer the call should the need arise to protect the population throughout the UK from a terrorist attack from the air in a manner synonymous with the events in the USA on September 11, 2001."
Now, we have rightly played up Ming's expertise in strategic defence and foreign affairs many times in the last few years. Nick Clegg gave him the tricky job of working out our policy on the replacement of Trident. We can't now dismiss his views as irrelevant. He's worked incredibly hard on the Save Leuchars campaign and I totally sympathise with the frustration and disappointment that he must be feeling at the outcome. I also can't pretend to know the first thing about air defence strategy, so it would be really stupid of me to try to comment one way or the other.

I guess, though, that if you look at it on a Scotland wide basis, the military footprint overall is going to increase, with Army batallions being based at Kinloss and Leuchars. The rumours the other week that Fort George near Inverness was going to close have, thankfully proved to be unfounded.

Nowhere did Labour muck up in Government quite as much as they did in defence, with massively unsustainable overspends leaving a total nightmare to sort out. I guess we have to judge this Government on what they've managed to achieve for Scotland that the Tories would  not have delivered alone.

Mike Moore fought for the aircraft carriers, knowing the impact on the economies of Fife and the Clyde if they were cancelled - and they were retained. RAF bases at Kinloss and Leuchars are to close - but they will be used by the Army. It would have been a huge blow for the Moray economy to lose Lossiemouth as well, so that's going to stay open.

And then you have to look at how we've ensured that the iniquitous leave arrangements for personnel introduced by Labour were changed. Now leave does not begin until people are back on UK soil.

Of course there will be sadness and concern over the changes announced on Monday. You would expect Danny Alexander to find good things to say about the economic impact as reported in the Herald today:

THE shake-up of military bases in Scotland, including the doubling of the Army to 6500, will boost the Scottish economy by £200 million a year, Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, revealed last night.The Highland MP acknowledged the decision to close RAF Leuchars was difficult but insisted the changes represented a “positive statement by the UK Government of its commitment to Scotland”.
North East Fife will notice a huge change as the RAF departs and the Army arrives, but the Chief Executive of Fife Chamber of Commerce thinks there are opportunities for local business:
"The RAF base is traditionally a major business and huge employer, so it is disappointing to lose it," he said. "But if it is going to become an army base with more personnel it will require significant investment in housing and local services like schools — that might be an opportunity for a positive impact on the area."
This could have been a lot worse for Scotland, and  credit I think, has to go to our ministers and MPs for ensuring that the military footprint in Scotland has increased. In the 80s, we saw catastrophically careless decisions made by a remote Conservative government. The Coalition has shown some regard for the communities who live near the bases. If anything, the net effect should be more money in the local economies. It's not ideal, though, and the Coalition still needs to win over the North East Fife community particularly.

My "next steps" for the coalition are to ensure they deliver on what they've committed to and that they ensure that they provide proper support for ex servicemen who too often find themselves homeless and vulnerable. They need to show that they can treat our service personnel with more respect and dignity than they were afforded under the last lot.

No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails