Army cuts spark Scots row
By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 6 July 2012
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has been accused by fellow Tories of appeasing supporters of Scottish independence, following his announcement of plans to cut the strength of the regular army from 102,000 troops to 82,000 over the next eight years.
The plans, offset by a projected doubling of reserve force numbers to 30,000, will see 17 units – including famous names like the Green Howards – disappear, mostly through mergers. It will bring army numbers down to about half their Cold War level.
‘After a decade of enduring operations, we need to transform the Army and build a balanced, capable and adaptable force ready to face the future,’ Hammond told MPs yesterday.
Jim Murphy, Hammond’s Labour opposite number, claimed that the cuts would leave the smallest army since the Boer War, and rule out future long-term deployments.
But some of the defence secretary’s fiercest critics came from within his own party. Beckenham MP and ex-colonel Bob Stewart called the English cuts ‘savage’ compared with those inflicted on Scottish battalions.
Against earlier expectations, the surviving Scottish infantry identities will all continue within the overall ambit of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, though in reduced form.
In particular, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, saved from abolition in the 1970s by a famous public campaign, will be reduced from 465 men to a ceremonials-only unit of around 150. Four other Scottish battalions stand to lose some 200 troops each.
Basildon & Billericay MP John Baron, a former serving soldier with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, claimed: ‘The decision to axe the better-recruited English battalions at the expense of the more poorly recruited Scottish battalions smacks of a grubby political fix given the advent of the Scottish referendum.’
But Angus Robertson, the Scottish National Party’s defence spokesman, said Scotland had been hit especially hard by previous cuts, the effects of which continued.
Murphy complained that the Argylls were ‘reduced to guarding castles and being photographed by tourists’. But Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson praised the prime minister for responding to Scottish pleas from herself and others.