Betrayed: Blair bows to plan to scrap Scots regiments

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WIDESPREAD anger today met news that military chiefs have sounded the death-knell for Scotland’s Army regiments.

Generals have ignored massive protests to press ahead with plans to merge the country’s infantry into a "super-regiment".

Under the scheme, the Edinburgh-based Royal Scots - the oldest infantry regiment in the British Army - is set to be merged with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers to form one battalion of the new Scottish regiment.

The Black Watch, which is fighting in Iraq, also faces the end of its proud independent history as part of the shake-up. Defence chiefs have officially backed plans to merge Scotland’s six regiments, and it now seems certain that the proposals will be given the go-ahead by the Government.

Politicians and campaigners today voiced their anger and dismay at the news.

A defence source said the Army Board decided there can no longer be single battalion regiments, although a meeting to confirm the decision is expected to be held on December 6.

The source said: "The Army Board have decided . . . we can no longer have single battalion regiments. Unequivocal."

The move marks a major blow to campaigners’ hopes of halting the overhaul of Scottish infantry, which comes as Black Watch troops fight insurgents in war-torn Iraq. It is thought Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon will announce the decision just days after the Army Board meeting when the Black Watch has finished its deployment in the infamous "Triangle of Death".

A compromise proposal backed by Tony Blair, which would have allowed the Army to keep six regiments north of the Border, appears in tatters.

Representatives from Scotland’s six regimental associations also hit out at the controversial plans after a meeting at the Royal Scots Club in the Capital.

A joint statement from the associations and members of Save the Scottish Regiments Campaign, lashed out at the proposal and accused Army chiefs of having no mandate for the changes.

The statement read: "As representatives from the Regimental Associations we unreservedly and wholeheartedly reject the proposals by the Army Board.

"The proposals, announced by the Council of Scottish Colonels, does not have a mandate from the people it is supposed to represent, the serving soldier. Soldiers have no voice in the current process, which will decide their future, as under military law they are forbidden to take part in political debate or any form of protest. Past service and sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers, both alive and dead, throughout two world wars and various campaigns have barely been recognised, nor taken into consideration in these hastily and ill-conceived plans."

Stuart Crawford, spokesman for Keep Our Scottish Battalions, said: "If the decision follows the Ministry of Defence line, then there will be a significant political backlash in the General Election. We have never targeted the military to change the mind. This will be a political decision. The reality is 40 deployable battalions [across the UK] are better than 36."

Colonel Robert Watson, a former Royal Scot who now lives in Balerno, said: "Which is more important? A jet fighter destroyed in the 1970s or a battalion facing up to insurgents in Iraq? It is absolute total madness. The frontline in the global war of terror is infantry."

Lieutenant Colonel Bob Paterson, from North Queensferry, who served in the Royal Scots for 20 years, said: "The Royal Scots have retained their identity for 370 years. They do not need to be stuck together with someone else to do their job. This is not the time to be doing this. The Americans are recruiting more than 20,000 soldiers and we are cutting ours by ten per cent. The Prime Minister Tony Blair is also standing on a platform of security. There is no logic in this."

And Major Steve Simson , who served in the Royal Scots for 37 years and now lives in Colinton, added: "The infantry is the most effective and efficient tool we have in any situation. You can have all the technology you want, but you need men on the ground."

The groups called for the Government to carry out proper consultation with soldiers and veterans to ensure Scotland’s six regiments do not lose their identity and "their right to exist as single regiments".

The joint statement added: "Should the Government decide to press ahead with plans as currently recommended by the Army Board, we shall give our full support to The Save the Scottish Regiments Campaign which will engage the Government at the forthcoming General Election by contesting marginal Labour seats throughout Scotland.

"In addition, on election day we shall have a presence at every polling station throughout Scotland to remind the Scottish people of the gross betrayal of its soldiers and the willful destruction of its historic regiments."

Colonel Martin Gibson, a former commanding officer of the Royal Scots and ex-Chief of Staff of the Army in Scotland, added: "If you don’t have enough infantry across the UK, then you are unable to sustain the level of operations which the Government has committed to and the infantry will be over-stretched."

Jeff Duncan, spokesman for the Save the Scottish Regiments Campaign, attacked the "drip drip" unofficial leaks and briefings from the Army Board and the Government about the shake-up.

He said: "This is further evidence of the sheer contempt the Army Board has for the troops. The Government is equally to blame.

"This is not exactly a morale booster for the Black Watch and the Royal Scots. At the end of the day, the troops are viewed as a pawn in the political process. The Army Board has got zero respect from the people it is supposed to represent."

Up to 5000 soldiers and veterans are also expected to march along Princes Street before a rally in the Gardens on December 18 in a bid to halt the plans.

Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat MP John Barrett said: "I am very concerned that the decision is being taken while our boys from the Black Watch are in the front line in Iraq.

"I would have thought at the very least they would have delayed this decision until they get back."

Mr Barrett has the first question to Mr Hoon in the House of Commons on Monday and will raise the question of the future of the Black Watch and the other regiments.

Scottish National Party chief whip Pete Wishart, whose North Tayside constituency is in the heart of the Black Watch’s recruiting area, said: "This latest news exposes the sham of the consultation exercise. It will finally be a political decision taken by Geoff Hoon and Tony Blair. They have an opportunity to reverse the decision to scrap the Scottish regiments."

Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz joined in the condemnation. He said: "I think this is a decision that will be unacceptable to a great many people. Obviously, Edinburgh with its historic links to the Royal Scots will suffer particularly from the loss of the historic regimental system.

"A number of my constituents have been in touch with me over the last few days. I hope that these plans are rejected by the Army Board. I shall be lobbying Geoff Hoon and the Prime Minister to that effect. The proposals are not acceptable to me. They are a compromise which will not satisfy anybody."