Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders downgraded in MoD cuts plan

1st Battalion of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
Image caption The 1st Battalion of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders has been reduced to company status

The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders will have its status downgraded as part of UK government defence cuts announced in the House of Commons.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the Canterbury-based service would be "re-rolled as a public duties company".

The Tory minister also confirmed that Scotland would keep its regimental names and cap badges.

Throughout the UK, the number of armed forces personnel will be reduced from 102,000 to 82,000.

Among its new public duties, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders could in the future be guarding high-profile locations such as Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace.

The other four Scottish battalions are remaining intact. They are:

  • the Royal Scots Borderers
  • the Black Watch
  • the Royal Highland Fusiliers
  • and the Highlanders

Worries had been expressed publicly that the traditions of Scotland's army regiments could come to an end as part of the overhaul.

Mr Hammond said he could understand the "dismay" expressed at the withdrawal of units, but said a sensitive approach had been taken to army restructuring.

He added that Britain's armed services "must be a forward-thinking fighting machine, respecting the past but looking forward to the future".

The minister went on to tell the House: "No current regimental name or cap badge will be lost."

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy accused the UK government of putting "savings before strategy".

The Scottish MP added: "Jobs and military capability have been lost and tradition and history have been sacrificed. This isn't just a smaller Army, it's also a less powerful Army in a less influential nation. Our armed forces and their families deserve better."

'Uncertainty remains'

Scotland's six regiments had already been formed into five battalions with the creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.

It had been suggested that Scottish regiments should be reorganised because some were struggling with recruitment.

Scotland's Minister for Veterans Keith Brown said the downgrading of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was a serious cause for concern.

He added that clarity was needed on speculation that there would be a reduction in personnel across other battalions in the Royal Regiment of Scotland

Mr Brown said: "Scotland has already suffered very substantial reductions in armed forces personnel under successive UK governments, and as such we need to maintain existing strength rather than cutting it further as today's announcement does.

"In July last year Liam Fox made a commitment in parliament that there would be a significant increase of 2,000 in the military footprint in Scotland, including troops returning to Scotland from Germany, and that a multi-role brigade would be based here.

"The UK government must now set out how that commitment will be met and how it relates to today's announcement about brigade structures within reaction and adaptable forces."

Mr Brown said Mr Hammond's announcement did nothing to remove the uncertainty that was affecting local communities around Scotland.

Overall, the number of reservists who can be used on the frontline will double to 30,000, along with an increase in the use of contractors in areas such as logistics support.

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