It seems that politicians do not, in the public service, have a monopoly on egregious traducing of promises, for how else can one view the cynical way in which assurances made by senior Army Officers, who, above all, save perhaps Her Majesty’s Judges, are supposed to be honourable people, have been broken with unblushing swiftness?

Thus one approaches the story of how the six Scottish infantry regiments – The Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment), The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, The Royal Highland Fusiliers, The Black Watch (The Royal Highland Regiment), The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons & Camerons) and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders – were inveigled, or rather prodded at the point of a bayonet, into a marriage that saw the total number of Scottish Battalions reduced from six to five and an all-embracing Royal Regiment of Scotland subsume the remains into a five-battalion ‘super regiment’ with sadness and dismay.

Once Scotland had ten infantry regiments of the line and since the Second World War had shown remarkable resilience in preserving its national identity within the Army, having undergone the loss of the Cameronians (Scottish Rifles), disbanded as a regular unit in 1968 and leading a twilight existence thereafter as a Regimental HQ until 1988, and the amalgamations of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and Highland Light Infantry into the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the successive amalgamations that produced the Highlanders. The campaign to save the Argylls in the late 60s was a case in point.

Each of these regiments had fine records stretching back, in the case of the Royal Scots (as a Regiment of Scotland), to 1633. Whilst most Infantry Regiments could have been called ‘tribal’, in that many of the old County Regiments could point to families which had given several generations of service, both amongst its officers and its other ranks, this was a word which could particularly be applied to Scottish Regiments, given the highly localised recruiting districts of the regiments and the strength of the Clan system.

When the time came for there to be a general reorganisation of the infantry in the last few years (I will not go over the pros & cons of that exercise again, save to say that I believe that in the long term it will prove to have been a serious mistake and not to have achieved any of the goals that were given as its objective at the time), it was the plan to amalgamate the entire body of Scottish Regiments into an amorphous ‘super regiment’ of five battalions that produced the sternest opposition. This was a proposal strongly resisted by almost every side in Scottish politics. As a result a huge swathe of promises was made about the preservation of the identities of the various battalions that revolved around a variety of Regimental distinctions in their appointments, such as cap badges, hackles, tartans, sporrans and the like, but also included an assurance that recruits could still choose which of the battalions into which he wished to be recruited, thus preserving his link with his clan and tradition. These were promises made by senior officers from the Chief of Defence Staff downwards (see here).

Now within an indecently short time these promises are being broken: see here. One of the reasons which was advanced for the amalgamations that took place throughout the Army was that the changes would ‘improve’ recruiting. In Scotland’s case this has been a spectacular failure for the Royal Regiment of Scotland is already 313 men short of its establishment, a disaster that has taken just over a year to achieve since the amalgamation took place. (see here and here).

The Defence Minister at the time when this was proposed was one Geoff Hoon (not for nothing is he known as “BuffHoon’) and the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Mike Jackson, a Para with little obvious sympathy for or understanding of the Infantry of the Line. They must bear their share of responsibility for this fiasco. But sadly other officers who made promises which have so swiftly been broken should be ashamed of themselves this morning. One expects politicians to break promises, though that is not to exculpate them, but one had hoped that those holding the Queen’s Commission would hold true to their guarantees or resign if unable to do so. That they break these promises with nary a moment’s unease is a truly shocking thing.

With a dollop of irony one of the Regiments which is experiencing a recruitment and retention problem is Jackson’s own Parachute Regiment which is overall 20% under strength (see here) compared with the Royal Regiment of Scotland’s 15%.

When Hoon and Jackson were planning their butchery of the Infantry, it is fair to say that properly arguable military reasons were advanced for the changes. But many warned at the time that the wholesale loss of individual regiments, together with so much of their traditions and history, brought disadvantages which far outweighed the advantages of change, in particular in the area of recruitment. Of course Blair’s warmongering has not helped, but the loss of a distinctively local Army presence will have a long-term deleterious effect on an Army which has built its strengths so much on just such attachments.

Throw into this heady mix the very real social problems caused by overstretch, appalling and substandard accommodation and less than generous pay, it is no wonder that the Army’s Crown looks more than just a little tarnished today.

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