by Henry Hill
Tuesday, 19
October 2021
Debate
07:30

The UK is letting its army wither

A strong Union needs a strong Armed Forces
by Henry Hill
We need a few million more of these guys. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Saving the Union is supposed to be one of this Government’s top priorities. You certainly found no shortage of people saying so at the recent Conservative Party Conference.

But it is a feature of Boris Johnson’s rule that slogans don’t necessarily signal a coherent policy programme. Instead, words such as ‘levelling up’ and ‘defending the UK’ can mean just about anything.

No story illustrates this gulf between rhetoric and reality than last week’s reports that the Army, in line with the Government’s plans to cut troop numbers, intends to allow its footprint in Scotland to wither on the vine.

According to the Times, the proposals would see the accelerated closure of two bases currently slated to shut in the 2030s whilst a third, perhaps even more toxically, would relocate to England. The overall number of British troops stationed in Scotland would be cut almost in half, from 3700 to 2000 — a figure out of all proportion to the overall fall in strength from 77,820 to 72,500.

In order to avoid the need to make soldiers redundant, the Army further proposes to effectively freeze recruitment in Scotland in order to let the regiments there shrink via “natural wastage”.

For a government which is nominally committed to strengthening the United Kingdom, it is difficult to overstate how short-sighted this is.

In the era of devolution, with the British State locked out of vast areas of policy, military spending has been one of the few ways for it to maintain a footprint in Scotland. Successive governments have recognised this, prioritising the Clyde for naval shipbuilding contracts at the expense of other yards. It is no coincidence that Jackie Baillie, one of Scottish Labour’s most boisterously pro-UK MSPs, has Faslane submarine base in her constituency.

During the 2014 referendum, one argument employed by Better Together campaigners was that there was no way that Alex Salmond would honour his promise to maintain all of Scotland’s historic regiments post-independence, given the tiny sums the SNP had earmarked for a Scottish Defence Force.

The Armed Forces are one of a dwindling number of genuinely pan-UK institutions. At a time when people increasingly live their lives in an English or Scottish pattern, military service produces Britons.

A far-sighted government would recognise that this social function is not, or should not be considered as, merely incidental to the Army’s proper purpose.

Making sure that the Armed Forces drew strength from, and were distributed widely around, the entire nation would be a core part of any defence review. And when one of the biggest challenges facing unionists is reaching out to young people, effectively shutting them out of a military career via a recruitment freeze would be dismissed out of hand.

At the very least, Ben Wallace, Alister Jack, and Michael Gove should join forces to demand that any reduction of troop numbers in Scotland is merely proportional to the overall cut in personnel numbers. In the long run, Westminster has to recognise that a small army undermines its nation-building potential.

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Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
11 months ago

All of this pandering to Scottish views to safeguard the Union is a total nonsense (whether you believe in army reductions or not).

I suggest we should announce a referendum in Scotland today, also in Wales if necessary. The terms of separation can be announced at the same time – a hard border, no more pounds sterling, no more money from the coffers. Take it or leave it. If the answer is ‘yes’ just go; if the answer is ‘no’ the next referendum will be in year 2075.

The will allow the politicians to get on with government instead of wasting resources by constantly threatening a referendum.

Al M
Al M
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I take your point.

On the other hand, the last thing many Scots want is for Sturgeon and Co. to stop blathering on about a referendum and attempt to run the country. Every time they do pass laws or successfully prosecute their policies makes life even more $h1t than it already was.

Will R
Will R
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Absolutely!

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
11 months ago

Decent article Henry but look back to the SDSR 2010 and Cameron’s unwillingness to cut the Scottish regiments back then. This is that decision coming home to roost.
Despite being woefully undermanned and rife with issues (including severe, by army standards, drug problems), most were saved where other well-manned and historic Welsh and English-recruited regiments got disbanded or amalgamated (2bn Royal Welsh, 2 RRF to name two)
It doesn’t matter whether the regiments were English, Welsh or Scottish – it’s that Cameron and his government chose the politically expedient option to try and keep the Scots sweet ahead of the referendum instead of binning the least effective and worst manned parts of the army.
This was painfully transparent to those serving at the time including those in Scottish regiments. It also caused huge resentment as soldiers either had to leave (perfectly functioning) regiments they had dedicated their lives to either by joining another or leave the army altogether.
To make this more clear to non-military people this would be a bit like asking Chelsea fans to support United or Liverpool after forcefully disbanding Chelsea for no good reason. Or I would almost go as far as saying changing religion in some cases.
So in short they had already made the wrong decision to try and appease the Scots, and to do so again against what is best for the army would be criminal, and will stoke further resentment in the army.

Last edited 11 months ago by A Spetzari
Ronnie Bradford
Ronnie Bradford
11 months ago

I served a full career in a Scottish regiment. Leading up to the Scottish referendum most of the younger soldiers said they were pro-independence. When I asked if they would prefer to serve in a Scottish or British Army, they were adamant they wanted to stay in the British Army. The independence debate is not about logic.

Josh Cook
Josh Cook
11 months ago

It’s too depressing to even read this article

Bill W
Bill W
11 months ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

Yes

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
11 months ago
Reply to  Josh Cook

Agreed, a nation is in spiritual decline when it lets its military go as that means it is not always ready to fight and die for its core principals. Basically it means it has no real core principals worth fighting for.

To me one of the finest qualities a Nation has is a military of fine young people who achieve excellence at arms because they gladly will be a solider for their country.

In modern Britain the Politicos would rather give the money to scroungers and migrants than to keep Great Britain – Great.

No MGBGA sentiment in the BBC watching sheep…and they are running Westminster.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
11 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The ever burgeoning Welfare State is sucking the life out of this Country. Even the Russians realise you can’t support a strong Military and a nannying state combined.

Michael Kellett
Michael Kellett
11 months ago

‘A far-sighted government would recognise that this social function is not, or should not be considered as, merely incidental to the Army’s proper purpose.’
Indeed! But if there is one thing this government isn’t, it’s far-sighted. Neither on this topic, nor on anything else.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
11 months ago

Costs. Our budget of £68bn is the same as Russia’s. Russia spends less per capita than we do. The question is who are we going to fight? A big war against China in the South China Sea? We’d be completely bankrupt in a matter of weeks. We spend 2.2% of GDP. Germany spends 1.4%. Is Russia going to invade the West with tank armies? No. Russia itself would fall apart. Clearly warfare in the next decades is cyber or terrorist or biological and all about resources. The best form of defence spending is on more sufficiency on energy and food and bio/cyber security. Otherwise we’ll be ‘fighting the last war’ as the French did in 1940.