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Expanding TA is right way forward

The recent recruitment campaign for the Territorial Army used the slogan: "Do more, be more." Perhaps the men from the Ministry of Defence should have used the original phrase, as it appears on motivational posters.

That is to say: "Have less, do more, be more", because that is precisely why Britain is having to beef up its supply of what are often known as "weekend warriors".

This follows a brutal rationalisation of Britain's armed forces that has ridden roughshod over Scotland's historic regiments. The latest changes have seen the size of the regular army cut by 20,000 to 82,000, the smallest number since the Boer War.

The Government is now seeking to reinvent and expand the Territorial Army (TA) of reservists from the current 15,000 to 30,000 to compensate for this. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond launched a Green Paper on the subject yesterday, announcing that the TA would become "a fundamental part of how we provide military capability".

Like the local yokel advising the lost traveller, The Herald would say that, given the choice, we would not start from here. (Expensive pieces of military hardware for which the MoD has such an appetite should have been cut back ahead of boots on the ground.) Nevertheless, given where we are, renaming and reinvigorating the TA, as Mr Hammond pledged to do yesterday, is the right way forward.

It will bring Britain in line with our major allies. The almost 500,000-strong US National Guard at one point made up one-quarter of the American presence in Iraq.

Throughout these islands part-time or retired soldiers, often known as militia or yeomanry, have been called upon since the Middle Ages, though they were only regularised as the Territorial Force in 1907. Since their deployment in Iraq in 2003, about 30 have lost their lives. Six reservists have won the Military Cross for bravery.

Yesterday Mr Hammond pledged the Army Reserves, as they will be renamed, will be better trained, better equipped and better rewarded. They may also be required to serve for up to a year on the front line.

The current TA budget accounts for just 1.3% of defence spending and it is hard to avoid the idea this is an attempt to get an army on the cheap. These men and women will cost a fraction of the pay and pensions bill of regular service personnel. It makes sense to attempt to recruit more of Britain's armed forces from the home nations and give them marketable skills but will they be fit to fight?

Though the TA contains some outstanding soldiers, its traditional image is of civilians who enjoy playing soldiers but would be little use on the front line.

Earlier this year senior army sources expressed concern that the TA is "not fit for purpose", claiming barely 5000 were fit enough for front-line service.

The other major concern is about the response of employers, faced with the prospect of losing key staff for up to a year. Even with the stick of anti-discrimination legislation and the carrot of some sort of kite mark for services-friendly employers, it is difficult to see how the system will work.

Finally, has anyone in Whitehall even begun to consider the potential impact on these plans of a Yes vote in the independence referendum, leading to the establishment of a Scottish Defence Force. No? We thought not.

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