What a difference three hundred years or so makes. In the 1690s, about half the British troops fighting in Flanders were Scottish. Sixty years after that the British Government bent over backwards to keep the number of Scottish units to a minimum – while the size of the British army quadrupled, the number of Scots units didn’t even double. One battalion recruited in Scotland, the 85th Royal Volunteers in 1759, was officered almost entirely by Englishmen.
Now, in 2012, the English are complaining that well-recruited English infantry and armoured units are being axed while Scottish units are getting off Scot-free. Well, almost, the 5th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland is being reduced to just over 100 men and put ceremonial duties. That preserves the name Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the Army List. The remaining four regular battalions are being reduced in strength from around 500 men to 400. Some may take comfort from the fact that the Argylls were reduced to company strength in the late 1960s but restored to full strength in 1971. The restoration was not without its problems, some cynics would say the rest of Scottish Division dumped its worst officers on the revived Argylls in 1971 and the once proud regiment took more than a decade to recover, but if a future government sees sense when it comes to British defence policy, the rump of the regiment could be the foundation of a very useful infantry unit.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards had seemed likely candidates for disbandment or amalgamation but have somehow escaped the axe. Instead it fell on the Royal Tank Regiment, which will be merging its 1st and 2nd regiments, and the Queens Own Lancers and 9/12th Lancers which will also be amalgamated.
Three English and one Welsh infantry battalions are getting the chop. So it’s goodbye to the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, the 3rd Mercians, the once proud Staffordshire Regiment, and the 3rd Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, descendents of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. The 2nd Royal Welsh is also being axed.
English politicians are already screaming that the Royal Regiment of Scotland got special treatment because Westminster doesn’t want to upset Scots in the run-up to the Independence Referendum in 2014. Once again, it depends which figures are to be believed. The reduction of the Argylls to company strength, tokenism some might argue, brings the number of Scottish infantry units axed since 1994 to three. Three out eight comes out at about a 37.5% cut in Scottish infantry units in less than 20 years. In 1947 there were 11 Scottish regular infantry regiments. Now we have 5¼.