Ruth Davidson in storm over honorary army role
Ruth Davidson sparked a new storm over her appointment as an honorary army colonel as it emerged that the military bypassed regulations to put her in the ceremonial role.
The Scottish Conservative leader hit out at the SNP after documents relating to the appointment were published following a written parliamentary question.
They reveal that Ms Davidson was the only person put forward for the position as Honorary Colonel of 32 Signal Regiment, the unit she previously served with as a Territorial Army soldier.
There are also questions over how Ms Davidson will carry out her role in spite of a Ministry of Defence ban on enlisted troops speaking to elected politicians without permission from ministers.
Yesterday Ms Davidson, who is on a two week holiday during the Scottish parliamentary recess, lashed out in response to the parliamentary query from Douglas Chapman MP, complaining she had come under attack from “fury brigades on social media”.
In a string of 35 posts on Twitter, the Scottish Conservative leader accused nationalists of whipping up “hostile and vitriolic tirades against her and said she had suffered “the Highland Spring treatment” - a reference to claims this week that the bottled water company backed away from criticism of a second independence referendum following contact from the Scottish Government.
The SNP responded by claiming Ms Davidson had gone into “meltdown”.
“I know that the fury brigades on social media react to the slightest trigger, and I am a pretty stout veteran of 2014, but even I wasn’t expecting the hostile and vitriolic tirades that followed the event at Edinburgh Castle to promote Armed Forces day, encouraged by SNP outriders,” Ms Davidson wrote in a series of tweets.
“There are thousands of Scots involved in the UK armed forces, both regular and reserve. Hon positions have existed for decades to help and support regimental work.
“My fear is that people will think twice about saying yes if they reckon they’re going to get the ‘Highland Spring’ treatment.”
An SNP spokeswoman said: “Ruth Davidson’s summer meltdown suggests her holiday is long overdue and much needed after this bizarre Twitter rant. These are perfectly legitimate questions - it is only right that an MP can hold the party of government to account.
“Being quite this hot-headed is not a great look for a political leader nor, for that matter, a Colonel.”
Correspondence published following a request from Douglas Chapman MP shows Ms Davidson was approached by the commanding officer of 32 Signal Regiment, Lt Col Rhidian Jones, before agreeing in writing to take on the position.
The role was signed off by Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, a member of Ms Davidson’s party, before being approved by senior officers on behalf of the Queen.
The MoD confirmed that the Scottish Conservative leader was the only candidate approached.
Under the Terms of Service for Officers set out in the Reserve Land Forces Regulations, when recruiting an Honorary Colonel “a field of candidates, defined as a minimum of two for each position, should be sought where possible”.
Candidates should be considered by a “defined selection panel” in order “to ensure that choice is not unnecessarily restricted and that all suitable people are considered” for the role.
The rules state that appointments should operate under principles set out by the UK Office of the Commissioners of Public Appointments, which call for a choice of high quality candidates” to be “drawn from a strong, diverse field”.
The correspondence also includes a nomination from Lt Col Jones which hails Ms Davidson as a “popular” and “eminent” politician whose appointment will “grant the unit wider influence within the civilian field”.
However, last night the MoD confirmed that Ms Davidson would not be able to bring up her role in a political capacity under rules that restrict contact between politicians and enlisted troops.
“Arrangements can be made for Honorary Colonels to visit their unit regularly,” an MoD spokeswoman said. “However, it would be inappropriate for briefing provided to an individual as a member of the Reserve Forces to be then used for parliamentary or political purposes.”
Responding to the lack of a shortlist of candidates, the spokeswoman added: “Whilst a minimum of two is preferred, single nominations can be made.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said the SNP were “utterly uninterested in speaking up for the armed forces”.
The spokesman added: “For opponents to suggest that senior military officers - including the Head of the Army in Scotland who signed this off on behalf of her Majesty - haven’t followed the correct protocol is simply wrong.
“Ruth is not the first politician to serve as an Honorary Colonel; she’s not even the first Scottish Conservative to do so. This is just the first time the SNP has created a grievance about it. It shows just how rattled they are.”