Alex Massie

The Predictable End of An Old Fighting Song

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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.

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?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.