By Bob Duncan
The SNP has challenged the Tories over promises they made on Scottish regiments, as Whitehall briefings indicate further disbandments and amalgamations are to be announced on Thursday.
The SNP have published a catalogue of commitments made by the Conservatives – set out when the previous Labour government amalgamated Scotland’s historic regiments – to reinstate Scotland’s six regiments.
At the time, the Tory Shadow Scotland Secretary said: “A Conservative government will reverse any Scottish regiment cuts made by Hoon, Brown and Blair. We will reinstate six distinct Scottish regiments. All Labour offers is a cap badge and a war memorial. We will save the Scottish six.”
In December 2003, Peter Duncan MP – Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, said: “I have real worries about this – it seems clear to most that this is purely a smokescreen for further cuts to the armed services. The announcement will do nothing to reassure the Black Watch, the Royal Scots and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers that they have a future. This is a time when Scots would be far happier for these famous regiments to be strengthened, not weakened or even disbanded, and I am seeking immediate clarification on the proposals.”
In September 2004, Speaking after a debate in the Scottish Parliament, Murdo Fraser MSP urged all those opposed to the cuts to campaign for the retention of Scotland’s six regiments. Mr Fraser said: “It would be an act of the most supreme betrayal for politicians at home to decide to extinguish these very regiments whose men are risking their lives in defence of our interests. To be seeking to reduce the size of our infantry appears to be absolute madness.”
Fraser added: “I appreciate this matter is reserved to Westminster but the Scottish regiments have both an economic and, through their military heritage, cultural importance. So I think the Scottish Parliament should be properly debating this and the Scottish Executive should have an interest in the matter.”
Also in September 2004, David Mundell, then an MSP, speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament, said “During the summer, when my colleague Peter Duncan MP and I gathered signatures for a petition to save the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots, I was struck by the depth of feeling for the regiments in our communities across Scotland. It was not just the usual suspects in the shape of former service people who came forward; it was people from all sections of our community.
“They value the contribution that has been made by people from their community. Like John Swinney, they have passed by the war memorials in their communities. They know the sacrifice that has been made and they do not want to see it just brushed aside. That is why so many people have signed the many petitions raised by ex-servicemen and politicians.
“It would be good if we were able to get cross-party consensus on the case for Scotland’s regiments. Labour MPs from Scotland will have a pivotal role in determining the final decision. It will be the strength of their backbone in standing up to the UK Government that will determine the outcome. Let us hope that they have that backbone.”
In October 2004, the Tories pledged to reinstate the Scottish regiments. The shadow Scottish secretary Peter Duncan MP said: “I pledge that a Conservative government will reverse any Scottish regiment cuts made by Hoon, Brown and Blair. We will reinstate six distinct Scottish regiments. We will save the Scottish six.”
One week later, Commenting on news that the Royal Scots, the oldest infantry regiment, was to disappear as a result of amalgamation, Mr Duncan said: “These cuts are unnecessary, dangerous and vindictive. They are a slap in the face to Scotland’s servicemen and women and another example of Labour’s savage cuts. We will reverse them.”
Later that month, Peter Duncan reinforced this message, saying, “The proposal to abolish our six regiments and merge them into a single Scottish regiment is appallingly ill-judged. It is a gross betrayal of the brave troops who are battling for Britain as we speak. Telling them that they are unwanted is no kind of message to be sending.”
In February 2008, Shadow Scotland Secretary David Mundell MP said, “The Government just ignored what people had to say about the impact that creating the Royal Regiment of Scotland would have on recruitment. And that has all been proven to be correct – there is no doubt that the merging of the Scottish regiments into one regiment and loosening those traditional ties has had a serious effect on recruitment.”
SNP Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson Angus Robertson MP said:
“After promising to reinstate Scotland’s historic regiments the Tories are now running down our armed forces even more.
“Reports over the last few months threatening the future of our recruited units are another intolerable betrayal of our armed forces by the UK Government. The Tories promised that our regiments would be reinstated, but now these same politicians are cutting Scotland’s battalions.
“It brings into sharp focus the shocking decline of Scottish recruited units and starkly exposes the extent to which the UK Government are running-down Scotland’s defence capabilities. 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 11,000 defence jobs and enduring a £5.6billion underspend.
“Labour destroyed the regimental integrity of Scottish units and the Tories are breaking their promises to restore them and are planning more cuts.
“Conventional defence in Scotland must be better managed from Scotland with decisions taken in Scotland. A ‘Yes’ vote in the 2014 referendum for independence will end these disproportionate and damaging cuts.”
Official figures show that less than 3 per cent of regular army units are now stationed in Scotland. A parliamentary answer secured by the SNP shows that Scotland has only 4 of 148 major regular army units based in its territory, representing only 2.7% of the entire British Army. This is despite Scotland having 8.4% of the UK’s population and 32% of the UK’s landmass.
There are 36 units permanently based overseas – these units are not on operations. Not including those in Afghanistan, there are 9 times as many units based overseas than there are permanently based in Scotland.
Of the total of 112 units based in the UK, 99 are based in England, 3 in Wales and 6 in Northern Ireland. The number of troops stationed in Scotland is now lower than the number stationed in The Republic of Ireland – a neutral nation.
According to recent figures from the MoD, obtained as a Freedom of Information request, Scots make up approximately 11% of the Army’s personnel, significantly higher than the percentage of the UK population which is Scottish. The percentage of RAF and Royal Navy personnel who are Scottish is approximately the same as the percentage of Scots in the UK population as a whole.
The figures demonstrate that the UK armed forces, especially the Army, preferentially recruit from Scotland, but that MoD expenditure and resources are disproportionately deployed elsewhere – largely in the South and South East of England.