CALLOUS, plain wrong and a disaster for local soldiers and their families is the damning verdict on shock plans to pull the Royal Scots Borderers out of Edinburgh and base them in Belfast as part of the major shake-up of military facilities announced this week.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond revealed the changes on Tuesday, as part of plans to save £240million as British troops are brought home from Germany.
But the 4,000 total of troops to be based in Scotland under the latest round of changes falls well short of initial promises from Mr Hammond’s predecessor, Liam Fox, to base 7,000 soldiers in Scotland.
The shake-up will see the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, moved from Redford Barracks in Edinburgh to the capital’s Dreghorn Barracks, replacing 1 SCOTS (Royal Scots Borderers), which is currently coming to the end of an operational tour in Afghanistan.
But the move to base the battalion away from Scotland has sparked outrage among former members of the battalion’s antecedent regiments – the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and the Royal Scots.
A furious Brigadier Allan Alstead, a former KOSB commanding officer, says it is the worst possible decision for the battalion and its families.
“They break every promise and expect people to accept their decisions – incredible. I can see 1 SCOTS actually disintegrating as a result of this stupid and unfeeling decision,” Brigadier Alstead told TheSouthern this week.
“People will leave rather than be messed about in this way. While they had a firm base and stability, soldiers and families could take a great deal, but to destroy everything in this way is unfeeling, callous and plain wrong.
“It is a disaster for the Royal Scots Borderers. To my mind – it must be, as far as everyone in Scotland is concerned, the worst possible decision.”
Brigadier Alstead condemned as false and utterly worthless, promises made at the time of previous regimental restructuring that it would give stability so that soldiers could buy houses and their families get jobs safe in the knowledge they would not be moving in two or three years.
“It is downright dishonest, devious and it will totally destroy morale, particularly among the married soldiers and families,” he said. “It almost appears to be a calculated move to destroy morale in a unit which is just about to return home from an operational tour in Afghanistan. What could be worse than a unit which is serving abroad under the most stressful conditions, hearing that the houses, the jobs and the stability that all had been counting on are to be destroyed?”
Donald Fairgrieve, from St Boswells, a former KOSB officer who led the successful campaign to prevent the merger of the KOSB during the early 1990s, agrees the decision breaks previous government pledges to preserve so-called “golden thread” of individual regimental identity.
“This only serves to underline that this is the worst Government this country has seen in the last 50 years, headed by the weakest prime minister in memory,” said Mr Fairgrieve.
“This decision will only play into the hands of the SNP separatists and help to destroy our already disillusioned armed services.
“What a mess this government has created – the church is in meltdown, the economy is in freefall with no sign of improvement, and our infrastructure including roads and railways is falling to bits. What we need is leadership, and the quicker Cameron and his pathetic lot resign, the better.”
But Scotish Secretary of State and Borders Lib Dem MP, Michael Moore, defended the decision.
“The difference here is that we have had to make some huge structural changes to the army as consequences of the financial legacies we inherited, particular over MoD [Ministry of Defence] equipment budget over-runs,” he said.
“And we have had to make some difficult choices on numbers and basing, but we now have a plan in place which is sustainable.”
Defence analyst Lt-Col Stuart Crawford said it was only ever a populist view that the return of British troops from Germany meant Scottish units would return to Scotland.
“This has never been the case, as units rotate through British and overseas bases on a timetable which has nothing really to do with where they’re recruited.”
But Brigadier Alstead says there is no logic to basing an English battalion in Scotland’s capital while a Scottish one, with long historical links to Edinburgh and the Borders, is moved to Northern Ireland.
“This is a really foolish decision by the Ministry of Defence. It is total madness.”