This month I led a debate at Westminster on the future of our historic Scottish recruited army units.
This followed weeks of confusion over the UK Government’s position, with reports that some entire infantry and armoured units could be scrapped as the Army is restructured - prompting fears over the future of the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Royal Highland Fusiliers.
It felt a bit strange to be forced into this position again. Back in 2004 the SNP led debates against the previous Labour Government when they were forcing through the amalgamation of our historic regiments, in the face of total and overwhelming opposition.
This debate was the first opportunity for the UK Government to clearly set out its intentions. While taking some encouragement from the Minister apparently ruling out any threat to the golden thread of regimental names, cap badges and insignia, it is disappointing that he did nothing to unequivocally end the uncertainty over the future of our historic units.
This is an issue about numbers as well as names. The Coalition government still has serious questions to answer – particularly given the promises by the Tories when they were in opposition that they would reinstate Scottish army units.
The regimental system is a knit between the past and the future and brings a sense of enormous pride to the community. My constituency of Perth and North Perthshire is home of the Black Watch and I recognise the value and importance of the history, the tradition and the community links, which are lost at our great peril. But the debate is just as much about boots on the ground as it is about the historic names and cap badges.
As the MoD have confirmed, fewer than 3 per cent of regular army units are now stationed in Scotland – that is just 4 of 148 major regular army units. There was nothing from the Minister to suggest that we will see a reversal to the disproportionate defence cuts that Scotland has endured over the last decade. The brutal decimation of Scotland’s conventional defence capacity under successive Westminster governments cannot go unchallenged – enough is enough.
For over a decade Scotland has been short changed, losing more than 11,000 defence jobs and enduring a £5.6 billion underspend. The Scottish recruited units have been intolerably betrayed by successive UK governments.
While decimating the conventional forces, they remain wedded to a £100billion spend on a Trident missile.
It’s clear successive UK government cannot be trusted with the future of our proud army units. There is only one way to protect our historic Scottish regiments and that is for the decisions to be made by the Scottish people in an independent Scotland.