Scottish Regiments Axed

Royal Scots axed in Army shake-up
By Tom Peterkin
(Filed: 07/10/2004)

The Royal Scots, Britain's oldest infantry regiment, is to disappear as a result of sweeping defence cuts that will see Scotland's historic regiments amalgamated into a single fighting force.

Last night the Army announced that a Scottish super-regiment made up of five battalions is to be created from Scotland's six infantry regiments.

The Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers are to be squeezed into a single battalion - a move that will lead to two of the British Army's most distinguished regiments losing their separate identities.

The remaining four battalions will be made up of the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Highlanders, who will retain their names and cap badges.

Soldiers representing the super-regiment, which is likely to be called the Royal Scottish Regiment, will wear a common uniform with discerning features that recognise the regimental origins of the battalions.

It has yet to be decided how the historic origins of the Royal Scots and KOSBs will be marked, but it is almost certain that the merged Lowland battalion will be renamed.

Major Liz McKinney-Bennett, an Army spokesman, said: "We could try and keep them separate within the battalion, but that just doesn't work. I would be very surprised if they went down that route."

The change, announced after a seven-hour meeting of the Council of Scottish Colonels on Tuesday, spells the end of two regiments formed in the 17th century.

The restructuring exercise was foisted on senior soldiers after the announcement in July by Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, that a Scottish regiment should be axed. The decision, arrived at by a brigadier and five generals, including General Sir Alistair Irwin, Britain's second most senior soldier, was condemned by those fighting to save the regiments.

Jeff Duncan, the organiser of the Save the Scottish Regiments campaign, said: "It is not just the Royal Scots and the King's Own Borderers but all regiments which are disappearing. Whatever the colonels say, in three or four years no one will talk of the Black Watch or the Highlanders or any of the other regiments because they will have merged into this super-regiment, which will be further cut and trimmed at the whim of the MoD."

Peter Duncan, the shadow Scottish secretary, said: "These cuts are unnecessary, dangerous and vindictive. They are a slap in the face to Scotland's servicemen and women and another example of Labour's savage cuts. We will reverse them."

Angus Robertson MP, the Scottish National Party's defence spokesman, said: "This is nothing more than the latest in a series of moves which are downgrading Scottish military units and facilities. These moves are utterly inexplicable at a time of global instability and military overstretch."

The recommendation of the Council of Scottish Colonels will be passed to the Director of Infantry by Oct 8 and forwarded through the Army's chain of command to the Army Board and MoD. Ministers are expected to rubber-stamp the recommendation in December.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives' defence policy was thrown into confusion last night when the shadow defence secretary claimed that Michael Howard's pledge at the Conservative conference in Bournemouth to reverse Scottish regiment cuts was unworkable.

The day after the Conservative leader promised to bring back the six Scottish infantry regiments, Nicholas Soames said Mr Howard had not spoken to him before making his promise.

Mr Soames said: "I'm afraid he hadn't consulted me about that. It would not be possible to reinstate. I am telling you, once a regiment has gone, it cannot be brought back."

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