YESTERDAY’S announcement by the Ministry of Defence of a third round of army redundancies, with another 5,300 jobs to go, is the latest stage in the plan to cut the British Army from 102,000 to 82,000, as announced in the Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010.
Let’s not make any mistake here; notwithstanding weasel-worded denials from the usual suspects, this has nothing to do with Britain’s strategic defence requirements and everything to do with saving money. After years of mismanagement and profligacy by politicians and senior military officers alike, we quite simply cannot sustain our current level of armed services. Something had to give, and it’s our boys and girls in uniform, plus a large swathe of civil service middle management, who are paying the price.
Leaving aside for the moment the personal traumas of those now facing unplanned career change and the often difficult transition from military to civilian life, where exactly does this leave Britain’s armed services in general and army in particular?
Well, for a start the army will be smaller than it has been for more than 100 years, smaller even than the 100,000 British Expeditionary Force sent to France in 1914, still regarded by many as the finest fighting force ever to leave these shores. And they were essentially gone by Christmas of that year, destroyed in the battles of Mons, Le Cateau and Ypres.
The timing of the announcement is also unfortunate, coming as it did the day after the Prime Minister alluded to a generational conflict in Africa. By 2020 we will have a one-shot army, increased use of reservists notwithstanding. There will be no second chance if we get things badly wrong.
Closer to home, it’s pretty clear that the wheels are coming off the military blueprint for Scotland, announced only last year by former defence secretary Liam Fox.
There will be no “superbarracks” at Kirknewton; that plan was based on hopelessly optimistic predicted sale prices for existing barracks at Redford and Dreghorn in Edinburgh, and reality has now kicked in. Whether we will even see a doubling of military personnel in Scotland as he also promised remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Could independence be the saviour of Scotland’s proud military tradition? It seems likely that an independent nation might need more than the 11,000 or so regular servicemen and women stationed north of the Border at present. We await the SNP’s defence policy, to be published this autumn, with interest.
• Stuart Crawford is a former army officer and defence commentator.