Scottish infantry divisions fear Whitehall cuts

Col Clive Fairweather
Col Clive Fairweather

FORMER commanders of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers say they will not be surprised if Government plans to restructure the British Army sees famous Scottish infantry names vanish altogether.

Brigadier Allan Alstead and Colonel Clive Fairweather both led the 1st Battalion, KOSB, and the latter also served as deputy commander of the Special Air Service at the time of the Iranian embassy siege.

They were commenting as speculation grows over what Whitehall intends. Defence Minister Phillip Hammond has already sanctioned the slashing of one-fifth of the army’s strength, with troop numbers being hacked back from 102,000 to 82,000.

It has been stated that none of the Scottish infantry’s historic cap badges will be lost – taken as a sign that Prime Minister David Cameron is wary of handing Scottish nationalists a propaganda coup ahead of the referendum on independence by consigning famous Scottish military names to the history books.

But if the sweeping changes are taking into account recruitment and demographics, it is hard to see how some of the poorer recruited Scottish battalions will escape this time round.

Col Fairweather says if defence chiefs were sensible they would turn 5 SCOTS (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders) into a TA unit.

“But we live in strange times,” he added.

“I would not be surprised if the 3rd [Black Watch] and 5th Battalions are merged, just to have a go at the Black Watch which has hitherto avoided amalgamation – and also currently has a TA named unit as well as a regular battalion.

“Nor would I be surprised if all titles are removed leaving just 1st, 2nd etc – manna from heaven for nationalists.”

And Col Fairweather issued a warning for the Borders’ local infantry unit.

“The Royal Scots Borderers will be left alone,” he said, “except they may lose that title.”

However, he says, overall, it is the loss of capability people should worry about, with the army being shrunk to its smallest size ever and then over reliant on reservists as a result of relentless reductions – plus a frightening loss of logistic support.

“It is said that money – or lack of it – is the root cause,” he said. “Understandable maybe, except as a nation we are all living at a better standard than say the 1950s when we had troops and aircraft carriers all over the place.

“What Mr Hammond and co really mean is that we are not prepared to spend as much money on defence anymore.”

Brigadier Alstead agrees and believes there may be a ‘fudge’ by the Government over the Scottish infantry until after the independence referendum.

“So, although Scottish battalions may be kept in some form – possibly with the names – they will all go in due course, I would expect. To many this is seen as a ‘transition phase’ into a new infantry structure,” he told us.

“What is suffering, I believe, is recruiting as people have no idea who the regiments are and they are all being mixed up as a deliberate policy, so the identity is actually being lost by arranging a mix of all ranks in all the battalions.

“The recruiting problem is becoming worse, I believe, as the new regiment has abandoned the previous system of each battalion carrying out its own recruiting.

“This previous system was extremely effective for the KOSB and others. I believe this is a mistake.”

Royal British Legion Scotland spokesman, Neil Griffiths, also believes it will be impossible for the Scottish infantry to escape its share of the cuts.

“The loss to the British Army’s effectiveness and esprit de corps – especially in the Scottish regiments – will be very costly,” said Mr Griffiths.

“This is the golden thread that the MoD promised to respect, but the books have to be balanced. Our defence capability will inevitably suffer.

“Scotland’s centuries old tradition of soldiering will not disappear but it will be diluted - how seriously will only become clearer with the passing of the years, but it doesn’t look good.”

However, Michael Moore, MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Secretary of State for Scotland, says no decisions have yet been made on the future of Scottish regimental names.

And he added: “As we are preparing the army for different roles in the 21st century we are working to ensure Scotland’s proud military traditions are properly respected.”