Union leaders refused to concede defeat in their campaign to save the base as the home port for 20 Navy minesweepers and North Sea fishery protection vessels. They said they would use the 90- day consultation period which follows the Government's announcement to fight to reverse the run-down.
Bob Brown, convenor of industrial trade unions at the base, said: 'Today's announcement means the closure of Rosyth. If you have no ships, you have no base. This is a terrible blow but . . . the fight will go on.'
As the 1,800 civilian workers currently employed at the base left emergency union meetings last night, they accused the Secretary of State for Defence of betrayal and expressed despair at the prospect of redundancy in an area which already suffers the highest levels of unemployment in mainland Scotland.
Paul Ashton, 39, an electrician who moved to Rosyth 10 years ago after being made redundant at Portsmouth Royal Navy base, said: 'Two years ago, I thought I had done the right thing when Rifkind said that Rosyth's future was secure. Now he and the Navy have torn up the all the promises they made.'
He added: 'My department will be wiped out in less than two years. I don't know what I will do after that. There are so many unemployed people around here . . . I'll have to take anything to support my family, but given the way things are I can't even be sure of that. It is devastating.'
The decision to downgrade Rosyth is the most politically- sensitive development north of the border since the closure of the Ravenscraig steel works in 1992. Opposition politicians yesterday accused the Government of sacrificing Scottish workers' jobs 'to look after Tory electoral interests' in the South.
Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, said Mr Mr Rifkind had gutted Rosyth. He dismissed assurances that retaining ammunition storage and naval support facilities would guarantee the yard's future. 'We are left with a naval base with no ships. That has about the same long-term prospects as a pub with no beer.'
Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, defended the decision. 'Scotland is bearing a fair share of the burden. Of course, it's difficult when jobs go, (but) it is not the right time to use words like betrayal. I have fought very hard for Rosyth.'