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Scots regiments fight back to beat recruiting targets
IAN BRUCE, Defence correspondent July 05 2004
TWO of Scotland's threatened regiments have beaten their own recruitment targets in a remarkable turn-around of manpower shortages.
Despite their achievement, the units might still face disbandment or amalgamation as part of the Treasury's demand for military cost-savings of more than £1bn a year over the next two years.
The Black Watch exceeded its manpower target of 112 volunteers by 10 and the King's Own Scottish Borderers re-cruited 111 new soldiers, 11 ahead of target.
However, senior military sources say a Ministry of Defence recruitment ban to save money on wages and training could reverse the gains made. Uncertainty over the future of the regiments has also slowed the intake in the first two months of the current financial year.
Insiders claim that at least one Scottish regiment, the Highlanders, had already had its recruitment target halved from 140 to 70 for the coming year in what they say is a deliberate attempt to undermine its improving position.
Before the invasion of Iraq, the Black Watch was 65 short of its 590-man full strength and the KOSB was 50 below its 556-man complement.
The upsurge in recruitment means the six-battalion Scottish division is just 62 men short of its assigned level of 3260 trained soldiers and one of the best-recruited in the army.
Two years ago, the division was 386 soldiers short and battalions deploying on operations were forced to "borrow" troops from other units to bring them up to fighting strength in a process known as "Rent-a-Jock".
The figures will be revealed today in a written parliamentary answer from the Ministry of Defence to Angus Robertson, the SNP's MP for Moray and shadow Scottish secretary for foreign affairs and defence.
They show that in the financial year 2003-04, the Highlanders fell just six short of its 120 target, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders re-cruited 82 out of its goal of 103, the Royal Scots brought in 63 recruits from a target of 113 and the Royal Highland Fusiliers achieved 107 out of a planned total of 113.
Mr Robertson said: "When you consider that the army is overstretched and more committed to overseas operations than at any time since the second world war, it would be tragic to undermine the drive to enlist willing volunteers."
Sources expect the Scottish Division to lose the equivalent of two battalions, with the Royal Scots top of the potential victim list. The RAF is expected to take the brunt of the manpower cuts. Up to 8000 of its 52,000 servicemen and women are to go. The Royal Navy is bracing itself for the scrapping of three Type 42 destroyers, three Type 23 frigates and the sale of the carrier, HMS Ark Royal.
The MoD budget is suffering from a £3.1bn overrun as projects such as the Typhoon fighter, already eight years late, exceed original cost estimates.
A Scottish army expert, meanwhile, has warned regiments not to battle among themselves.
Douglas Connon, a former lieutenant colonel with the Highlanders and now a trustee of the Highlanders, said: "Fighting to save individual regiments will fail. We need to move to a large Scottish regiment with four or five battalions. The old names and traditions might be maintained within this structure."