Jul 6 2012 by Gregor White, Stirling Observer Friday
STIRLING’S own regiment the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are to be reduced to company status as part of the latest moves to cut defence spending.
With historic links to the Stirling area the Argylls had already been downgraded from regiment to battalion status with the creation of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.
Now, just a fortnight after Armed Forces Day celebrations in the city, its strength is to be reduced further – potentially down to almost a quarter of where it currently stands – with the new outfit expected to take on “public duties” such as guarding the likes of Holyrood Palace.
Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford said the consequences of the move could be “catastrophic” and added: “The Argylls are rightly held in high esteem here in the Stirling area, where they have a long and enduring relationship with the city.
“There will therefore be widespread and understandable anger at this announcement.
“Having already cut military personnel numbers in Scotland by 27 per cent over recent years, compared to 11 per cent across the UK as a whole, these further cuts again hit Scotland disproportionately.
“I fear that these changes effectively mean the disbandment of the Argylls, despite their long and proud history.”
Scotland’s four other battalions – the Royal Scots Borderers, Black Watch, Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Highlanders – are unaffected by these latest changes and the cap badges and names of all the sections are to be retained.
The UK government is currently aiming to reduce the number of armed forces personnel from 102,000 to 82,000.
Mid-Scotland and Fife Tory list MSP Murdo Fraser said the Argylls’ reduction in strength was “disappointing” but welcomed the retention of their cap badge and name.
“The identity of this famous regiment will remain strong and proud,” he said.
“Our Scottish soldiers are renowned throughout the world for their bravery and skill.
“Recent tours in Afghanistan have underlined once again that our soldiers serve Scotland and the United Kingdom with courage and distinction.”
Labour MP Anne McGuire, however, said: “Whilst I welcome the decision to retain the cap badge and presence of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders within the new Army configuration, I think it is regrettable that the Argylls have been reduced to company size and will be carrying out mainly ceremonial duties.”
Speaking before the official announcement of the plans by Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond at Westminster yesterday (Thursday) her party colleague, Ochil and South Pertshire MP Gordon Banks, said: “The government has consigned hundreds of years of history to the dustbin today by slashing the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to mere ceremonial duties and to ‘company’ status.
“The battalion which currently stands 465 strong will be reduced to 120 personnel who will carry out ceremonial duties outside Edinburgh Castle and other historic sites.
“I do not feel this is a fitting transfer of duties for the Argylls who have fought in the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as many other conflicts.
“Many of my constituents will be dismayed by this announcement due to the long-standing links between Clackmannanshire and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
“Many of the current members are recruited from our area and these cuts will have a devastating impact.”
He added: “I will continue to be vocal in my opposition to these defence cuts which go too far and will directly impact frontline services.
“I, along with my Labour Party colleagues, believe our forces are ‘top heavy’ and would like to see cuts being made at the top to tackle this problem, which would mean fewer cuts needing to be made to frontline personnel.
“This Conservative-led government has made the wrong decision and in doing so have shown their lack of regard to the historic links many in our area, and across Scotland, have to the army.”