THE announcement of a controversial reorganisation of the army looks set to be delayed until September because the process “has turned into a shambles”, according to military sources.
The delay will cast fresh doubt over whether the plans to double the size of the army in Scotland will happen and which bases will be used. It also means that the fate of historic regimental names will also not be confirmed until after the summer, instead of this month or June as originally intended.
The Scotsman revealed last week that the Ministry of Defence intends to merge the names of the Black Watch and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders when the fifth battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, currently the Argylls, is disbanded. The review is the army’s attempt to cut 18,000 personnel in its regular forces and bring home 17,000 personnel based in Germany.
The Lowland Gunners, officially 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, has already been disbanded, and the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards tank regiment is also set to go along with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. There is also a question mark over the Scots Guards, which has the worst recruitment record of the five Household Guards battalions, although it is expected that the Coldstream Guards are more likely to be axed, with their name being attached to the Grenadier Guards.
Prime Minister David Cameron was reportedly preparing to “slap down” his defence secretary Philip Hammond on the issue of regimental names last week. Mr Cameron has made it clear he does not want famous names to be lost in the review and risk repeats of protests in 2004 over reorganisation.
The compromise in 2004 was to name the battalions of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland after the old disbanded regiments. But according to military sources the problem is now over which bases will be used.
One source told The Scotsman: “The whole thing has turned into a complete shambles. Nobody seems to be able to decide anything and the political interference isn’t helping much either.”
Plans to replace the RAF at Leuchars in Fife with a tank regiment appear to have been abandoned, sources said.
The plug has already been pulled on one of former defence secretary Liam Fox’s high-profile proposals to build a new super-barracks at Kirknewton near Edinburgh and sell off Craigiehall HQ, Redford and Dreghorn Barracks in Scotland’s capital.
And plans to move an army unit into HMS Caledonia in Fife also appear in doubt. Clive Fairweather, a former senior commanding officer in Scotland, said: “There is complete silence on what is happening with Leuchars. If I were involved with trying to save Leuchars this would worry me greatly. From what I am hearing nobody seems to be able to agree on a way forward.”
Labour Dunfermline and West Fife MP Thomas Docherty, a member of the defence select committee, said: “If a delay means that a better decision is reached then that is the right thing to do.”
The Ministry of Defence has said that work is on going with the review and “no decisions have been made yet”.