One of the revelations in the recently published MoD document ‘Future Soldier’ that has received relatively little publicity has been the demise of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland, The Royal Scots Borderers, known as 1 SCOTS in army parlance. On December 1st this year they became the 1st Battalion, The Rangers (1 RANGERS), part of the new four battalion Ranger Regiment.
Sadly, this is yet another step in the dismantling of the historical, some would say traditional, Scottish infantry regiments, and we need to go back a few years to get a proper handle on what’s actually going on here. At the end of the twentieth century there were six regular infantry regiments in the administrative grouping known as the Scottish Division; they were the Royal Scots, the Royal Highland Fusiliers (RHF), the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB), the Black Watch, The Highlanders, and the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders. These were themselves in most cases the result of previous amalgamations.
In the late 1990s the idea was mooted that the Royal Scots and KOSB should amalgamate, an idea driven largely by poor recruiting figures at the time and the fact that their traditional recruiting areas were contiguous. Although this decision was temporarily rescinded, it was eventually implemented as part of the ‘Options for Change’ reforms, and on 1st August 2006 the traditional Scottish regiments were amalgamated into the amorphous Royal Regiment of Scotland. As part of that process the Royal Scots and KOSB joined and became The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (RRS).
This was all driven through by the MoD and the Chief of the General Staff at the time, General Sir Mike Jackson, in the teeth of a fairly energetic and vociferous campaign to keep the traditional Scottish regiments in which I was intimately involved. In the end, aided by a fairly supine Council of Colonels Commandant of the Scottish regiments, the forces of darkness prevailed. One of our main arguments had been that it was easier, politically and emotionally, to cut one unit from a multi-battalion regiment (which the RRS became) than it was to axe one of the historic regiments.
And so it has come to pass. Only six years after the formation of the RRS, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders (5 SCOTS) was reduced to single company strength – Balaklava Company – to be used for ceremonial duties in Scotland. Thus were the descendants of the famous “Thin Red Line” of Crimean War folklore and every war fought by Britain since reduced to what amounts to no more than a small support unit for VisitScotland.
Now it has happened again. The Borderers, 1 SCOTS, has become one of the four regular infantry battalions from which the new Ranger Regiment will be “seeded” as it is stood up. In time anyone from across the army can apply to join the Rangers, and if they successfully complete an eight week, two part assessment process then recruits will be posted to the new Regiment and undergo a further eight months of additional training before they are good to go.
Whether the Ranger Regiment will live up to the hype remains to be seen, but the current Chief of the General Staff (CGS), General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, has more or less staked his reputation on it being a success. For Scottish readers, however, a few more details of what this actually means for us should perhaps be underlined. First of all, obviously the RRS loses another battalion, down from an initial five to three plus one company. On top of this, each Ranger battalion will be only 250 strong, half that of 1 SCOTS.
Furthermore, the new battalion will, as far as I can ascertain, sport the grey beret and other accoutrements designated for it, and there would appear to be no record left of its previous “Scottishness”, subject to confirmation at time of writing. So, essentially, another Scottish infantry battalion has been lopped off the order of battle in a smoke and mirrors operation that would make any magician proud.
Does any of this matter? Well, it depends on your point of view. I have always believed that those currently serving are the custodians of the history of those who went before and the future of those who are yet to come. Our military should not be changed and re-organised at the whim of those currently in command; after all, they work for us, the electorate, not the other way around.
What is not in doubt is that the Scottish element of the British army has once again been diminished. What is also clear is that, up to this point, no politician of note from any of our political parties has said anything about it publically. Does it just not matter to them any more?
(First published in the UK Defence Journal in December 2021)