It strikes me that the Coalition Government are playing a cynical game in respect of the Strategic Defence Review. Having leaked a few weeks ago, some possible outcomes, they have sat back to see if there is any fall out in the press and public opinion. There is, but it's muted at best.
Part of the reason is that the population centres are now so diluted that the collective memory of past service, past sacrifice and ownership of local regiments and corp cap badges is not what is once was. Army recruiters often find there is a dramatic difference in local pride and sense of belonging between the urban centres and the smaller towns and villages outside the cities where tradition, local pride and connections with the services have much more resonance. What they don't have though, is votes in great numbers.
Added to this, the Telegraph today suggested that the Government may introduce more benefits to servicemen such as free train travel, university tuition paid for and fast tracking to work as teachers. None of this is very radical. Indeed, Bob Ainsworth when he was Minister for the Armed Forces introduced free further education for servicemen after five years service; I know, because I went to see him and proposed it. Moreover, soldiers don't want free rail travel; why should they get it and not say, nurses? What they want is to keep their jobs and the Army, Navy and Air Force to be maintained at current levels, however modest they may be. More people now work for Marks and Spencers than are in the Army............... some clever clogs has obviously decided that we will never again have to fight a war with a determined enemy in strength.
So, the inevitable review will be announced and with it some platitudes and a trolley full of consultant-speak which will be another way of saying, "Look, you're all very brave and tough but frankly, there are no votes in this and we have to keep the lie-down-and-cry-liberals happy and keep paying out grants to India and China so some regiments are for the chop. Live with it."
It is an enormously sad day when a regiment disbands. The biggest and most tight knit families in our country march off into history. Men who have given their whole adult lives to the well being of those around them and honouring the traditions created through hundreds of years of battle are left with a sense of nothing less than bereavement.
You may be wondering what I'm talking about. Let me illuminate such an event for you.
One such regiment to go were the Cameronians who, on Douglas Dale on the 14th of May 1968 disbanded just in the place they were raised in 1689. On that day, the remarkable Rev Dr Donald McDonald addressed the 1st Battalion. He gave what, I think, is one of the finest speeches I have ever heard but from it you will get a very real sense of the emotion and heavy hearts that follow disbandment of a fine regiment.
I have nothing but contempt for all those reptilian, lying, shortsighted and mendacious politicians and everything they're too feeble to stand for. At least the Cameronians marched off with their heads held high with these stirring words from the Rev McDonald echoing in their minds,
"It is not YOU who are being proved unworthy or unwilling to share the solemn trust of maintaining the dignity and furthering the destiny of this realm. Recent years speak their witness on that point, and it is a witness which can stand alongside the heroic story already engraved upon your annals.
You now move out of the Army List because of changes of emphasis in our Defence Systems coupled with economic duress and political expediency. But ‘be not disheartened.’ The Army List is a document of temporary significance, liable to amendments or excision according to the whim and swing of governments.
Pray, one day, those who defend us might get the government they deserve and have earned a hundred times over."