The Predictable End of An Old Fighting Song

8 May 2012

Years ago, before government began to take its toll I remember reading an interview with young David Cameron published by the Dundee Courier. The paper wanted to know if the leader of the opposition (as he then was) had any plans to reverse the army reforms that bundled all the Scottish infanty regiments together to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland. As I recall, Mr Cameron (gently) suggested he was unlikely to be able to unpick that reform but stressed he was mindful of the importance of local afiliations and that he understood the depth and breadth of sentiment attached to the regiments in Scotland.

Aye, weel, tht was then and this is now. No-one should be surprised that the army plans, according to the Daily Telegraph to kill-off the ancient regiments once and for all. The Black Watch will be no more, instead they’ll be known as 3 SCOTS  – the kind of nomenclature that may please officials but can mean nothing to the general public who will, understandably, confuse 3 SCOTS with 2 SCOTS (previously, the Royal Highland Fusiliers) and 1 SCOTS (the regrettably-merged Royal Scots Borderers) and whoever else is left after these latest cuts that, service chiefs laughably claim, will leave the army "more flexible and powerful". 

All this is bad enough and the kind of bad faith exercised by successive governments of both left and right (dating back, incidentally, to Options for Change 20 years ago. It was the last Conservative government that killed the Gordon Highlanders) but it would be better if ministers could at least admit to breaking their promises or if they could avoid telling obvious untruths as they peddle their decisions to a sensibly sceptical public.

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If Mr Hammond thinks regiments no longer have any significant connection to their traditional recruiting areas then, frankly, he needs to leave Whitehall more often. Of course, one way to ensure that regiments lose any territorial affiliation is to strip them of their ancient identities in the first place.

For that matter, civil servants may refer to 3 SCOTS but as far as the general public are concerned the regiment is the Black Watch. When Hammond says "The ancient cap badges have largely gone, they are attached in brackets to some unit name" he is being, at best, disingenuous.

Since all the Scottish regiments are, we are told, meeting their recruiting targets, one wonder why they should be especially threatened by what is bound to be yet another botched defence reorganisation. Doubtless there are other regiments endangered that should not be but one hears less about them. Is this because the Scots make more of a fuss about it all or because sentiment runs higher north of the Tweed?

Finally, why should any voter interested in defence matters and living in, say, Perthshire or Angus, endorse a Conservative party that is quite so happy to destroy the army’s heritage in Perthshire and Angus? Isn’t a Tory government supposed to appreciate that institutions derive some of their importance and value from their longevity?

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Show comments
  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice .

  • Paul

    Radford NG

    the other thing that happened then was the collapse of the USSR and end of the Cold War. Rather more significant for the defence budget than “preparation for the Euro”

  • Nicholas

    No, Archibald, I do not dislike your choice of Tory! On the contrary. . .

  • Radford NG

    Twenty years ago?And what else happened then?Major(John Major)defence cuts began as a response to the fall in tax-revenue caused by the collapse of the ERM policy which was designed to prepare us to join the single URO currency.

  • Archibald

    Funny thing is, Nicholas, Angus was recently a Tory seat, now it is Tartan Tory as a flag of convenience, ie SNP, even the council, but an old fashioned Tory in the Ken Clarke mould would clean up here, noone cares a damn about being PC or having good PR, something the London parties are yet to grasp. I know you probably dislike my choice of Tory, but he’s honest and very bright and you couldn’t accuse him of engaging in the superficial marketing balls that is killing politics in the UK which would be why he’d clean up. Also BBC Scotland has nowhere near the bias the BBC has, it is extremely balanced, perhaps the SNP deserve credit for that but its news coverage is nothing like the BBC Labour the rest of the UK endures.

  • Yow Min Lye

    Alas, so went the Staffordshire Regiment some years ago – another fine line regiment with a quiver full of battle honours from Sicily and Arnhem.

  • Nicholas

    Bastards. Utter bastards. A Tory government? Not on your nellie. I don’t know what the lying, scheming, double-dealing, dissembling, promise-breaking bastards are but it sure as Hell isn’t Conservative.

    Hammond should have his arse kicked for that crass remark about badges, the bastard. If Salmond takes this up as an issue for Scots nationalism and pride he has my blessing. Scotland should do whatever it takes to separate its fortunes from those useless idiots in Westminster who are making life in Britain so utterly miserable.

  • Tiberius

    If Salmond wins his referendum, there won’t be any Scottish defence force because it won’t be affordable. But then neither will any Scottish soldiers be lost in illegal English wars.

    Although the european defence force is there, and thankfully paid for by somebody else, I wouldn’t want to rely on it the next time the Norsemen land.

  • Archibald

    You make a good point Alex. Anyone living in Courier country and further north would be boosted by the saving of the Black Watch – it has a good PR win for the government written all over it in what is an extremely widely read and flourishing local press.
    Anyone in any doubt about how well-liked the Black Watch are in the Angus area need only have seen them parade through Inverness, Dundee and (below) Forfar as well as elsehwere on their recent return from Afghanistan, the whoops and cheers of the locals just about managing to stop themselves starting a ceilidh by the road side with Prince Charles leading the dancing off is clear to see. Little wonder it’s something the Courier has campaigned for; you see similar deep affection at relevant Highland games. It’s an open goal for Cameron really, and I’m sure the same can be said elsewhere in the UK.

  • Old Slaughter

    I disagree with many of the army changes as much as the next person.

    However, the most ridiculous part of this is that if your regiment is famous enough… you are fine. The Guards regiments will never be touched yet others with a massive history, the Gloucesters for example, will find themselves amalgamated every few years until like now, they no longer exist.

    Each time they have come up with some sensible yet quite dramatic changes, those at the high levels who are ex-famous regiments end up making it a half-arsed policy which decimates local regiments and spares the favoured ones rendering the purpose of the process obelete.

  • Noa.


    3, 2 and 1 Scots is of course a reference to the number of soldiers who will in future be recruited. Those six lads will be able to share the old regimental cap badges between them, wearing them as appropriate on alternate days.

    Wearing the badge of the Cameron highlanders will be purely voluntary.

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