The Royal Regiment of Scotland is under-strength by more than a fifth as the army struggles to overcome an unprecedented recruitment crisis, it has been revealed.
All but one battalion of Scotland’s last regiment is short of troops, falling behind its overall target by almost 600 soldiers.
It comes as the army struggles to fill vacant roles, even with the UK armed forces cut to their lowest level in modern history.
Around 4,000 soldiers need to be signed up to reach the target of an 82,000-strong army, but only 7.5 per cent of the 100,000 applicants last year ended up in uniform amid fierce criticism of a recruitment drive outsourced to private firm Capita. Applicants have waited almost a year to complete the process.
The Ministry of Defence admitted that its recruitment drive was facing “challenges”, but insisted it had enough troops to “keep Britain safe”.
Overall, the Royal Regiment is 21 per cent below its regimental strength establishment of 2,906 troops.
The shortfall is deepest in the regiment’s reserves, with the strength of the 6th Battalion more than a quarter below target.
The Royal Regiment of Scotland was formed in 2006 following a controversial decision to amalgamate Scotland’s historic army regiments, in the face of criticism from veterans.
Regimental manpower appears to have eroded significantly since that decision, with troop numbers reported as 3,190 in April 2012 and 3,020 in October 2013.
The figure now stands at just 2,323 – although that does not include Gurkhas and reservists attached to regular units.
Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird said the government had broken its manifesto commitment to keep troop numbers stable.
“These figures represent an abject failure by the government to ensure that our Armed Forces, particularly the Royal Regiment of Scotland, has the personnel and resources that it is both entitled to and requires,” said Laird.
“Right across the board, we know that personnel numbers are falling and urgent action is required to address issues within both recruitment and retention.
“The first duty of any government is to defend its country, and that means ensuring that Armed Forces is of sufficient strength and scale. It is perfectly clear that this government is not up to that task.”
Stewart McDonald, the SNP’s defence spokesman at Westminster, claimed the figures showed that morale in the army was at a “devastating low” and called for better conditions for soldiers on pay, housing, and representation through a Police Federation-style union.
“These numbers lay bare the recruitment and retention problem that the Ministry of Defence is presiding over,” he said. “The government needs to stop hiding behind the smoke and mirrors pay increase, and instead get serious about addressing the concerns raised by many members of the armed forces in relation to service life, work-life balance, housing, and much more.
“Morale is at a devastating low, and it will only pick up if those who serve in the armed forces can see that the government is serious about addressing concerns and modernising itself as an employer.”
McDonald added: “The real cost of all of this is to our own safety and security,”
An army spokesperson said: “The Army has enough people to perform its operational requirements that help keep Britain safe.
“We recruited around 9,000 people [regular and reserves] into the army in the last financial year and while there are challenges, the Ministry of Defence has developed an improvement plan which we are working to deliver.”