A new report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) suggests defence budgets could be slashed by as much as 10 percent after the general election, reducing overall troop numbers in the army to just 50,000.
It would see the British Army at its smallest level since Britain lost the American colonies in the 18th century.
None of the major political parties have committed themselves publicly to protecting defence spending and prime minister David Cameron and George Osborne, the chancellor, were reported at ‘loggerheads’ over maintaining the Nato target of committing two per cent of the country’s finances to defence.
It raises the spectre once more of Scottish regiments having manning levels reduced, a move that a former commanding officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) - antecedent regiment of the Royal Scots Borderers (now a battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland) - says would be a grave mistake, given that regular soldier numbers are already being trimmed from 102,000 to 82,000.
Brigadier Allan Alstead commanded the 1st Battalion, KOSB, in the 1970s and 51st Highland Brigade in the 1980s and expects more cuts to the Armed Force after May’s general election.
“I would expect that more cuts to the services will follow the election of any government and I am sure that the RUSI is correct about this,” he said.
“In Scotland the Royal Regiment of Scotland represents the army and the infantry in particular. There is a mindset in civil servants and politicians that it is easiest to cut the infantry because they are assumed - very wrongly - to be easiest to recruit and train. This has proved to be so badly wrong time and time again throughout history.
“Simply look at the two wars and in particular the Great War of 1914-18 when the poorly trained infantry paid for the failures of governments to look ahead and have a well trained and adequate army.
“So my personal view is that we need to maintain adequate defence forces and the training now required by the army, particularly the infantry, is now much more complex than before and time and effort is required before these young men are launched into a conflict where there is a good chance they may lose their lives.”
And Stuart Crawford, former senior officer in the Royal Tank Regiment and now one of Scotland’s leading political consultants, says further cuts would see the army as no longer be fit for purpose.
“I expect the plan would be to remove as many of non-combat troops as possible - HQ staff etc - but inevitably the front line strength would seem likely to suffer, and I can’t see the RRS getting away unscathed if this were to happen,” he told us.
“As we said all those years ago, it is now seen as a ‘big regiment’ of four battalions and an independent company, and it’s relatively easy presentationally to remove a battalion but say the regiment survives.
“I couldn’t really guess what the effect would be on the Royal Scots Borderers (1 SCOTS) at this stage, but whatever might happen it wouldn’t be good news.”