The historic Fort George barracks near Inverness is “at risk” of being shut down by UK defence chiefs.
The Press and Journal can today reveal that the future of the 250-year-old garrison – home of the famous Black Watch battalion – has been thrown into doubt.
Scottish Government ministers have been told that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering pulling the Army out of the site as part of a nationwide review.
Last night, it was claimed that any such move would represent a “betrayal” of the Highlands.
The SNP’s Keith Brown has written to UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to say he is “disappointed” by the move – and that it would have “huge significance” for Scotland.
The minister learned of the move from a local meeting.
He also warned that it would have a “major impact” on Historic Environment Scotland’s ability to continue operating the site.
Any MoD pull-out from Fort George would represent a huge blow to the economy of Inverness and the Highlands.
Built after the Battle of Culloden, the 500-strong Black Watch 3SCOTS is based there, with many of their families also living in the area.
And it is one of the region’s top tourist attractions, being home to The Highlanders’ Museum, the largest regimental museum in Scotland outside of Edinburgh.
Mr Brown is due to raise his concerns about the proposal when he meets UK defence minister Mark Lancaster today.
In his letter to Mr Fallon, the SNP minister said: “I was deeply disappointed to learn through the local Firm Base meeting that Fort George, home of the Black Watch, is at risk in the latest round of MoD reforms.
“The base has been in continuous use as a garrison for almost 250 years, so any decision for the Army to vacate the site would have huge significance in Scotland.
“There are also considerable practical consequences for the Scottish Government.
“Fort George is operated by Historic Environment Scotland, under a scheme of delegation from Scottish ministers who retain ultimate responsibility for the site.
“This decision, if taken, would have a major impact on our ability to maintain the site.
“I would therefore expect MoD ministers to discuss this with Scottish ministers well before decisions are made.”
Fort George has previously been suggested as a possible area for MoD savings, but was spared the axe when it was last reviewed in 2012.
Inverness and Nairn MSP Fergus Ewing said: “There has been a long list of closures and cuts and cuts to Scottish Army and RAF basess, from the Gordon Highlanders to RAF Kinloss. Many former servicemen inthe Highlands are very proud of their military traditions and history. All of them have long memories and will be appalled at any betrayal of Fort George.
“I would urge the UK Government to abandon any such plans.”
In January this year, the MoD announced plans to dispose of 12 sites to try to save £500million.
It was the first phase of a plan to reduce its overall estate by 30% and raise £1billion, with a full list of affected sites in the “Footprint Strategy” due to be revealed later this year.
At the time, Mr Lancaster said: “By streamlining the defence estate, we will ensure that it better meets the needs of the Armed Forces well into the future.
“Defence has the strongest incentive to become more efficient; with every pound we make by disposing of excess land reinvested into a defence budget that keeps Britain safe.”