The infantry and tank battalions are victims of a wider cull of 20,000 regular army posts being undertaken as part of the UK government’s strategic defence and security review (SDSR). With the recently-announced disbandment of 40 Regiment, the Lowland Gunners, it will mean that one-third – three of the nine Scottish-raised battalions in the army – will have been scrapped by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition.
Even with plans to double the size of the presence of the army in Scotland, to 6,500 by 2020, the move will provoke fury north of the Border and has already been taken as evidence by the SNP that the UK is “removing Scotland from the British army”.
The last time a government proposed to scrap famous Scottish military names, in 2004, it provoked a huge backlash, with 2,000 protesters marching in London. This time it could play a part in the independence referendum campaign. The decision means that regiments, which are part of British military folklore for the capture of Napoleon’s imperial eagle at Waterloo and the thin red line at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854, are to disappear from the regular army.
Although a review into which battalions will be axed is expected to be announced in June, military sources have told Scotland on Sunday that a decision has been reached about the Scottish battalions.
A senior source said: “The Argylls are to go and a Scottish tank regiment as well.” The only Scottish tank regiment is the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the oldest cavalry regiment in the British army. It has fallen victim to the change of strategy in the SDSR, with the government deciding that tanks are not needed to fight the wars of the future.
The decision also raises a question mark over the future of the Leuchars air base in Fife, where it had been expected that the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards would be relocated once the RAF pulls out and army units are brought home from Germany.
Meanwhile, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, based in Canterbury in Kent, have been selected because it is the most junior of the five regular battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. It may re-emerge as the name of a Territorial Army unit, but its demise as a regular army unit means that the fourth battalion, the Highlanders, currently in Germany, and the third battalion, the Black Watch, based at Fort George near Inverness, have both been given a reprieve.
Last night the SNP claimed that the decision was part of a history of cuts to the military in Scotland. The party’s Westminster leader and Defence spokesperson, Angus Robertson, said: “The disbandment of these senior units, which include Scotland’s only regular cavalry regiment, would be an intolerable betrayal by the UK Government. It brings into 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.
“With the recent disbandment of the 40th Royal Artillery Regiment only eight 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 £5.6 billion underspend.
“Nobody outside of Whitehall wanted to see the [former] 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 going.”