STILRING politicians have hit out at the UK Government's announcement that a historical Scottish regiment is to be downgraded.

Last week the UK Government announced the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which has strong links to Stirling, will have its status downgraded as part of defence cuts.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the service would be "re-rolled as a public duties company" and throughout the UK, the number of armed forces personnel will be reduced from 102,000 to 82,000.

Expressing his concerns at the announcement, Stirling MSP Bruce Crawford said: "The UK Government's latest cuts to the armed forces could have catastrophic consequences for our local battalion, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, which are set to be reduced to ceremonial duties only and made up of personnel from other battalions.

"The Argylls are rightly held in high esteem here in the Stirling area, where they have a long and enduring relationship with the city. There will therefore be widespread and understandable anger at this announcement.

"Having already cut military personnel numbers in Scotland by 27 per cent over recent years compared to 11 per cent across the UK as a whole, these further cuts again hit Scotland disproportionately.

"I fear that these changes effectively mean the disbandment of the Argylls, despite their long and proud history." Among its new public duties, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders could in the future be guarding high-profile locations such as Edinburgh's Holyrood Palace.

Worries had been expressed publicly that the traditions of Scotland's army regiments could come to an end as part of the overhaul.

Stirling Provost Mike Robbins added: "The decision to reduce The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to company status is a blow for Stirling and will be felt keenly by the many local families with strong and enduring links to the Battalion.

"The Argylls, who for so long made Stirling Castle their home, are one of the great names in Scottish military history, part of our area's history, heritage and traditions, and recipients of the Freedom of the Burgh. The announcement will cause real disappointment and dismay to many." Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy accused the UK government of putting "savings before strategy".

Scotland's six regiments had already been formed into five battalions with the creation of the Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.

It had been suggested that Scottish regiments should be reorganised because some were struggling with recruitment.

Scotland's Minister for Veterans Keith Brown, who also represents the communities of Dunblane and Clackmannanshire, said the downgrading of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders was a serious cause for concern and is calling for communities to unite against this cut by signing a petition.

He said: "There will be many people across Stirling and Clackmannanshire who have a connection to someone who has served in the Argylls - fathers, brothers, uncles, sons or other family members - and over the years, the communities of Stirling and Clackmannanshire have forged and maintained strong links with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who still retain their home headquarters Stirling Castle. In recognition of these links, both Stirling and Clackmannanshire have granted the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the Freedom of the City and County respectively.

"The substantial reduction in the complement of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the effective downgrading of the unit to a 'rotating company' undertaking public and ceremonial duties, is a serious cause for concern. Scotland has already suffered very substantial reductions in armed forces personnel under successive UK Governments, and as such we need to maintain existing strength rather than cutting it further. "The great irony of this is that in an Independent Scotland there would be a need for such regiments, operating at much greater strength and as a key part of a conventional defence strategy. "With their continuing commitment to nuclear weapons, the Westminster parties have made it clear that they prioritise Trident over troops and this is at least in part the reason for further army cuts of this nature.

"The Westminster anti-independence parties' attack on independence is often focused on defence issues but in reality the destruction to almost nothing of the armed services in Scotland is happening because these decisions are still being made by their parties at Westminster. "Our community must unite to fight against allowing this battalion falling victim to the cruel Tory axe.

"A petition is available in my office for those who wish to sign it to protest against the UK Government's plans and I will be in touch with local branches of the Royal British Legion and other local organisations to see what other action can be taken."