The forces in Iraq and Afghanistan must be in crisis if his country still needs him by MURDO MACLEOD, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT - SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY (firstname.lastname@example.org) A PORTLY, middle-aged MSP has been asked by army chiefs to quit Holyrood (Scottish Parliament) for active service in Iraq or Afghanistan, Scotland on Sunday can reveal. In the latest and most astonishing sign of armed forces overstretch, Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles was offered the chance to swap his parliamentary "uniform" of jacket and tie for desert camouflage and resume a military career he quit 13 years ago. Rumbles, 51, who spent 15 years in the Army Education Corps, reaching the rank of major, turned the offer down. Last night he condemned the Government for letting the army down and described the approach to him as "worse" than scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan mean 11,500 troops are currently deployed out of a total army strength of around 100,000. The need to rest troops, combined with injuries and commitments elsewhere in the world, has led to regular accusations the forces are close to breaking point. Under military rules, retired soldiers can be recalled up to age 55. In the event of a major conflict, the call-up is compulsory, but in the present circumstances they can only be asked. Rumbles, the MSP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, quit the army in 1994 and hasn't picked up a rifle - or done much physical exercise - since. His party vociferously opposed the Iraq war, and Rumbles himself considered it illegal, in 2002 describing any invasion as "unacceptable". So he was astonished to return from Holyrood's autumn recess last month to find a letter from the army's personnel office, based in Glasgow, and addressed to "Major Rumbles". It asked him whether he would tick a box which would allow him to be "called up" for active service overseas. Rumbles told Scotland on Sunday: "This really shows the state that the army is in that they have had to call on the likes of me. It's deeply worrying that the army are so overstretched. The army has been let down by this Government and badly treated. "I have been out of uniform for 13 years and I served in the Education Corps. Never mind scraping the bottom of the barrel. By the time they have reached me, they are through the bottom of the barrel and scraping underneath." Rumbles said: "If it were for the defence of the country then, of course, I would want to do my bit. But our troops should not be in Iraq in an illegal war. And so I did not tick the box for being called up." Although the major would have been placed in a headquarters unit rather than on day-to-day patrols or in combat, he would still have been given weapons training and the HQ would still be seen as a potential target for insurgents. Stuart Crawford, a former colonel in the Royal Tank Regiment, who attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst with Rumbles, said: "It just shows what a state the army is in that they are having to rely on people of our age. "The regular army has been overstretched and the Territorial Army is exhausted by members being redeployed so often. They are now having to dig very deeply to find people. "He's not letting the side down: you do accept that you might be called up to defend your country. But there is a big difference between that and an illegal and probably unwinnable war in Iraq." Willie Rennie, the Lib Dem defence spokesman, said: "It shows how desperate things are. We also have bandsmen heading to Cyprus and storemen finding themselves on the front line. The recruitment is actually not as much of a problem as retaining members of the armed forces. Their facilities are poor and they are being deployed much more frequently than they should be. The MoD can't hold on to soldiers." But other politicians of the same age with military backgrounds questioned Rumbles' decision. Patrick Mercer, the former Tory homeland security spokesman, said: "He should be flattered to get the letter at the age of 51. I would go like a shot. I don't know if they'd let me take on the Taliban, but I'd like to try." And Tory MP Desmond Swayne, who left the Commons for a six-month stint in Iraq with the Territorial Army, said: "I had the dilemma of who would represent my constituents, but I also felt that I couldn't sit in a parliament deciding to send others to fight when I wouldn't do it myself. I felt that many constituents might not even notice an MP - or I dare say a member of the Scottish parliament - being away either. I think that sending reservists is an increasingly difficult issue for businesses, though, as they are being deployed more often." An army spokeswoman said: "There are many roles for an experienced officer who is 51 years old. He [Rumbles] still has four years' liability left."