By a Newsnet reporter
Plans by the UK Coalition to axe more Scottish Regiments have been met by anger today amid claims that it amounted to an act of betrayal.
It has emerged that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond is to implement further defence cutbacks that will see the disappearance of at least one infantry battalion and some of Scotland’s most historic names.
In an interview with The Telegraph newspaper, the Defence Secretary has confirmed that some entire infantry and armoured units will be scrapped as the Army is restructured – prompting fears over the future of the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
The cutbacks mean that along with the recently-announced disbandment of 40 Regiment and the Lowland Gunners, one-third – three of the nine Scottish-raised battalions in the army – have now been scrapped by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Mr Hammond said the most vulnerable units were those that failed to recruit in the UK, and made up the numbers from Fiji, the Caribbean and elsewhere. According to the newspaper, Mr Hammond claimed that Army regiments with significant numbers of soldiers from Commonwealth countries were facing abolition or merger.
However an un-named military source said: “There is anger about this. The Scottish battalions have been hitting their recruitment targets and are performing as well as any other units.”
SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP condemned the proposals describing them as an “intolerable betrayal by the UK Government.”
Mr Robertson added:
“It brings into sharp focus the shocking decline of Scottish recruited units and starkly exposes the extent to which the UK Government is running down Scotland’s defence capabilities.
“With the recent disbandment of the 40th Royal Artillery Regiment only 8 of 140 regular units will be Scottish recruited and only three of those, or a shocking 2 per cent, are actually based in Scotland.
“In contrast to the need for a well-funded conventional defence presence in Scotland, the reality is completely the opposite. For over a decade Scotland has been short changed, losing more than 10,500 defence jobs and enduring a £5.6billion underspend.
“Nobody outside of Whitehall wanted to see the amalgamation of Scottish regiments – it was a small comfort that the unique identities of the battalions would be preserved and now even that seems to be at risk.
“We should make better defence decisions in Scotland and not leave it to London.”
Lt Col Sir Andrew Ogilvy-Wedderburn, former CO of the Black Watch, said the real damage was done seven years ago when historic regiments were amalgamated by the previous Labour government to become part of Scotland’s single “super regiment” of five regular and two Territorial Army battalions.
He challenged claims by the Defence Secretary that some of the battalions no longer had close ties to their traditional areas of recruitment and added:
“It is a nonsense to suggest there is no geographical connection with the Scots battalions.
“People turned out in their droves to see the Black Watch parade through Perth, Dundee, Kirckaldy and Forfar when they recently returned from Afghanistan.”
Labour’s Shadow Defence spokesman Jim Murphy said “an enormous part of our history” was being cut. The Labour MP also used the news in order to attack the SNP by claiming that Scotland’s relationship with the British Army would end with independence.
“Armed Forces that would end under independence and may now threatened by the Tory government.” he said and added:
“There is now huge uncertainty about the future shape of the Army which is causing worry and concern for service personnel and defence communities the length and breadth of Scotland. The Government have got to come clean about their plans.”