At last the forces of unionism are drawing together something approaching a campaign to save their union. The latest co-ordinated assault in the pages of the Hootsmon involved offsetting Swinney’s announcement of a new tax regime in Scotland by a two-page spread by Ed Milliband claiming we could not be both independent and British and a rather spurious piece from Defence Secretary Philip Hammond that any Scottish Army would be ‘unsustainable’. This was complemented by an op ed piece where a Tom Miers, citing his long family tradition of military service claimed independence would be the ‘death of military tradition‘ in Scottish units.
However orchestrated all these pieces critical of independence and its corrosive influence on the prospects of any purely Scottish military might be, it was certainly not substantiated by much in the way of argument and evidence. In fact, while excoriating the prospect for it in Scotland, Miers was sympathetic, if not openly supportive of Hammond’s plans to further reduce British military numbers from 108,000 to barely 82,000—and with them to face the merger or dissolution of more regiments.
What is evident is current UK military overstretch, despite an MoD budget of £40bn—the third largest in the world. This does represent an unsustainable disaster and is substantiated—by recent £4bn scrapping of Nimrod replacements; by bargain-basement sell-off of 72 Harriers to the USMC; by repeated shortfall of equipment for our forces overseas, especially in Afghanistan. And yet Hammond, not content with ‘rationalising’ 17 once-proud Scottish regiments into a single RRS, is hell-bent on discharging another 20,000 professionals?
This is sheer nonsense.
But consider this. A proportionate (8.5% by population) defence budget for Scotland of £3.4bn would be freed of many ludicrous UK distortions and drains on budget: Trident, nuclear bases, aircraft carriers, main battle tanks and similar kit is not only expensive but vulnerable and clumsy. How could a more balanced useful and deployable active army be created from existing units of the British Army? Rather easily.
Let’s assume that The Scots Guards stay with the British Army as a memento of our long military history together. The five active battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, restored to five component regiments would provide a core for any Scottish Army:
- Royal Highland Fusiliers (Light Infantry)
- Argylls & Sutherland Highlanders (Air Assault)
- Black Watch (Light Infantry)
- Highlanders (Mechanised with 45 x Warrior & 25 Boxer armoured vehicles)
- Scottish Borderers (Light Infantry)
These provide an active brigade, say 51st Light Infantry, plus two battalions for a 52nd Mobile Brigade that would be augmented by existing active Scottish formations
- Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, reconstituted as a reconnaissance regiment (15 x Warrior; 25 x Scimitar; 25 Boxer) and the third battalion of 52nd Mobile Brigade
- 42 Commando, retrained for deployment as special forces small units focussed on defence of North Sea rigs but capable of air assault along the the Argylls
- 40th Artillery Regiment, organised to deploy composite battalions (105mm/Javelin/Rapier) in support of 51st & 52nd brigades
- 38th Engineer Regiment, organised to deploy composite battalions (pioneer/assault/REME) in support of 51st & 52nd brigades
- 32nd Signal Regiment, organised to deploy in support of 51st & 52nd brigades
A proportion of logistics, medical, adjutant and training would also be expected, as would existing bases such as Glencorse, Redford and Fort George. The remaining two territorial battalions of the present RRS would provide the core for six reserve regiments that would constitute the 9th and 15th brigades in the event of mobilisation of the forces. These could revive the identities of formerly amalgamated Scottish regiments and, like them, be based and recruited geographically, for example:
- Gordon Highlanders (Light Infantry—based in the North East)
- Seaforth Highlanders (Light Infantry—based in the Highlands)
- Cameron Highlanders (Light Infantry—based in Tayside/Stirling)
- Highland Light Infantry (Light Infantry—based in Glasgow)
- Scottish Yeomanry (Mechanised—based in Edinburgh)
- Scots Greys (Mechanised—based in Southern Scotland)
And though they might restore the 339 battle honours to their colours, such a force is clearly no match for a major enemy. But why should it be? Scotland’s fortunate position means that it has no obvious enemy if relations with England remain as cordial as they are today. And though, light as this force is, it is comparable to the 35,000 the Danes can field and far more flexible and useful than the armour-heavy deployment of the present British Army. Clearly, close working with the British Army would be both desirable and sensible, along with adopting NATO standards in equipment and training.
But most ludicrous of any assertion in the Hootsmon is the idea that such forces would “languish in barracks”. Such assumption ignores the cocky pugilistic nature still alive and well in the young men of Scotland. Of all the world’s infantry, the “Ladies from Hell” boast 300-years of global history and have no need for proof of their worth. There would be not just active training with their neighbours and allies but deployment on operations around the globe in NATO or UN actions. Keeping them home would be a bad idea.
While home, they would have a far more prominent ceremonial role in Scotland’s barracks and castles (c.f. Brigade of Guards in London) but Scottish soldiers’ reputation would keep them in high demand in the world’s hotspots. So, while a concern that they might languish is understandable and a professional soldier currently serving in the British Army might regard a ’smaller’ army with scepticism at first, the Scots will not lack for foreign adventures.
The difference is that they are more likely to be popular ones. Light infantry are tough, resilient soldiers. They make good, heavy-duty, on-the-street police for the Lebanons and Liberias of the world. They also won’t balk at helping pull survivors from earthquake rubble whether in Haiti or Japan. From Cassino to Korea, Scottish soldiers have made friends in the past and that gruff, no-nonsense good sense of the Jocks will make more friends in the future because they put on no airs and know how to handle themselves.
When the serving Scot discovers that pay will be better and his equipment more modern, that unit morale is sky-high and deployments interesting, that they are sent as friends and not as a hostile occupiers of the Iraqs and Afghanistans, then there will be fewer recruitment problems than those with which the RRS, despite fine Samoan volunteers, is being bedevilled at present.
Indeed, we may have to consider weeding the English applicants out.