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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 December, 2004, 17:34 GMT
Protest over merger of regiments
Veteran at march
A veteran marches in opposition to the proposals
Some 2,000 campaigners have marched through Edinburgh in protest against plans to merge Scotland's regiments.

The King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots are to merge and join the other four infantry regiments as part of a new Scottish super-regiment.

Save The Scottish Regiments has warned the government it faces a sustained campaign against the move.

Army veterans were joined by politicians for the march along Princes Street in the Scottish capital.

As part of the reforms of the UK's infantry, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said the merged Royal Scots and KOSB would be combined with the Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Highlanders in a new Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Mr Hoon and Army chiefs said the changes were needed to the structure of the infantry to ensure an Army fit to meet its commitments in the 21st century.

However, Save Our Scottish Regiments campaigners have accused the government of destroying centuries of tradition, which threatens to damage recruitment.

Colonel Martin Gibson
Colonel Gibson said the government must reconsider
Speaking on Saturday, retired Royal Scots Colonel Martin Gibson said: "The campaign is to make sure that the six existing Scottish regiments continue, despite what Mr Hoon said in parliament.

"The Army does have to change for the 21st century but the commitments that we have at the moment, as far as the infantry are concerned, and the reduction from 40 to 36 battalions is totally inappropriate at the moment.

"Overstretch is in evidence throughout the infantry."

Campaigners gathered in East Market Street and marched along Princes Street to Princes Street Gardens where speakers addressed them.

Organisers expressed delight at the turnout and members of the public applauded as the parade of campaign supporters, politicians, bands and military vehicles made its way to the rally point.

Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said that rather than merging the regiments, voters should "disband the contingent of Scottish Labour MPs" who supported Mr Hoon's proposals.

'Parcel o' rogues'

He said: "On each and every occasion that an issue comes to the crunch they back their government and vote against Scotland.

"They are Scotland's 'parcel o' rogues' and it is time to send them packing.

"Instead of disbanding our regiments and keeping Scottish Labour MPs we shall use this election campaign to keep our regiments and disband the Labour MPs."

Perth Nationalist MP Annabelle Ewing, who was ordered out of the Commons on Thursday after calling Mr Hoon a "backstabbing coward", told protesters she stood by her comment.

She said: "I would have regretted not having spoken up. I was elected to fight for the interests of my constituents and it is just a pity in Scotland too many MPs fail to stand up for the people."

Scottish Tory MP Peter Duncan told the marchers: "The Blair Government may well think that this debate is now over, since the announcement has been made.

Young campaigners
Young campaigners make their feelings known
"Well the message for them is 'hear us in Edinburgh today and understand that it's not over yet'.

"The message of Conservatives at the next General Election will be a simple pledge to take action to save the Scottish regiments.

"In the very first week of a Conservative government, we will reverse the cuts to the Scottish regiments and reinstate all 6 to single-battalion regiment status."

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell said: "There is a legitimate cause for reform of the Army but no defence for reduction.

"To lose infantry battalions at this time is to take a dangerously optimistic view of Britain's future commitments."

Jeff Duncan of the Save Our Scottish Regiments campaign said it will take on Labour in key marginal seats in next year's expected General Election.

Standing on the Ross bandstand in the gardens, he said: "We will deliver a clear message to the government that the people of Scotland support the regiments and they are not going to sit idly back unlike Scottish Labour.

"If the government do not listen to the people, they will pay at the ballot box."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Protesters march through Edinburgh city centre



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