THREE of Scotland's most illustrious infantry regiments are among 10 reported to be facing disbandment in the biggest shake-up of the nation's armed forces since the second world war.

Claims that the Royal Scots, the Black Watch, and the King's Own Scottish Borderers could be be lost as a result of the so-called Northern Ireland peace dividend were met with outrage yesterday by opposition politicians.

According to Sunday newspaper reports, more than 9000 infantry soldiers face redundancy, casualties in the Ministry of Defence's plan to reorganise Britain's fighting forces following the withdrawal of troops from Ulster.

As well as the three Scottish regiments, at least one of the Army's two Gurkha battalions faces disbandment, as do the Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire and one battalion of the Royal Irish


Although the MoD dismissed the reports as speculation yesterday, a white paper is due to be published within weeks on the future of the armed forces and Geoff Hoon, defence secretary, has hinted at cuts.

In a speech in June, he said military success was no longer as dependent on troop numbers. He said technology was now the key, adding ''measuring the capability of our armed forces by the number of units will no longer be significant''.

A spokeswoman for the MoD said: ''The secretary of state spoke about how the armed forces might become more streamlined. He did not release any names of units which might be affected. Until the white paper is published we cannot speculate.

''He did say we would have to make tough choices to ensure we are best equipped to meet the new challenges facing us.''

One man who believes the reports to be absolutely accurate is Patrick Mercer, Conservative spokesman for homeland security and a former infantry colonel.

He said: ''This is madness. I have no doubt that it is true. It has to be borne in mind that, currently, the infantry are getting tour gaps - the amount of time they get to rest between operations - of about six months. It is meant to be 24 months.

''If we are talking about taking 10 or so battalions out and the foreign secretary continues to offer more troops to the Gulf, then that tour interval will never improve. You will get the sort of symptoms in the Army that you get everywhere else today - too much work and not enough rest, not enough training, and, most importantly, an inability to be at home for any concerted period of time so that they can recruit themselves properly.''

Speaking specifically about the Scottish cuts, Mr Mercer said: ''For the last 300 years, whenever the fighting has been thickest, you have always found the Lowland and Highland regiments right at the sharpest point. This continues today with the Black Watch in Iraq.

''Obviously glory, honour, and achievement count for nothing in the face of the bureaucrat's pen.''

Angus Robertson, SNP defence spokesman, described the prospect of cuts as ''extremely damaging''.

He said: ''The SNP is utterly opposed to the amalgamation or disbandment of traditional Scottish regiments.''

Phil Gallie, for the Scottish Tories, said: ''This seems to me to be another false economy at our armed forces' expense.

''The Army may be a costly asset but we will not save taxpayers' money by weakening the defences of the United


According to yesterday's reports, MoD chiefs have decided against amalgamating units as an alternative to outright disbandment.

It is understood that the expected redundancies will be achieved as much as possible by natural wastage with many soldiers being allowed to transfer to other units if vacancies are available.