Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson created headlines as she was given an honorary position in the Army regiment she worked with before entering politics.

She gained the title of honorary Colonel in the 32nd Signal Regiment, which she has been invited to hold for a five-year term.

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The move caused controversy online, with many accusing the Scottish Tory leader of breaking rules about the impartiality of the Armed Forces.

An article by blogger Another Angry Voice making the claim has been shared more than 4,500 times since it was published.

So did Ruth Davidson break Army rules by wearing the uniform?

Ferret Fact Service has looked at this claim and found it to be False

Evidence

While Ruth Davidson has previously made the armed forces an important part of her political campaigning, the controversy here stems from the Tory politician being given an honorary position, and posing for photographs wearing Army uniform.

Another Angry Voice (AAV) described Ruth Davidson as partaking in army “cosplay”, which is a term the Cambridge Dictionary defines as “the hobby of dressing as and pretending to be a character from a film, TV programme, comic book, etc”.

In fact the Tory leader spent time before becoming a politician as an Army reservist and wore the uniform in the course of receiving the honorary position.

There are strict rules regarding misuse and appropriate times to wear Army uniform, which aim to avoid the Armed Forces being perceived as politically partial.

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Widely circulated on social media and referenced within the AAV blog are two excerpts from the Queen’s regulations for the army, which state the uniform should not be worn: “on occasions when the Army’s reputation or political impartiality might be brought into question e.g. Political protests, rallies, marches or demonstrations of any kind where a political, social or interest group agenda may be perceived as being pursued, or where disorder or affray might result, or appearing in the media to seek personal publicity.”

According to the Ministry of Defence, wearing the uniform as part of an honorary appointment does not fall foul of this regulation and is considered by the army to be non-political.

The regulation also states that “uniform is not to be worn by prospective or adopted parliamentary candidates at political meetings, or while canvassing, appearing in public or engaged in any other activities connected with their candidature.”

However, since Davidson is not current a prospective Parliamentary candidate this is not relevant, while the wider regulation refers to serving full time Army members, rather than reservists.

For members of the Territorial Army, there are a separate set of rules. Ruth Davidson’s honorary reserve role falls within these guidelines.

“Officers and soldiers of the Army Reserve may stand for election at local or national level providing that they are not in any form of full time service”

It continues: “They have the normal rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United Kingdom. They may also release the fact that they are members of the Army Reserve in their campaign literature and on their web sites, however, the information released should be factual, eg time served in the Army Reserve, places served.”

The picture of Ruth Davidson in uniform were taken during the course of her ceremonial appointment with 32 Signal Regiment, and was not used on campaign literature, so it appears she has not broken any rules.

Whether it is appropriate for a serving politician to appear in media wearing military uniform is a rather more subjective area.

Politicians and commentators have criticised the Conservative politician for allegedly politicising her former position. She has made reference to her time in the Armed Forces during her political life, including in speeches before the independence referendum, and has posed with military hardware during campaigning. She wrote of Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter: “Corbyn’s spokesman saying Jeremy wasn’t on the side of the IRA, but simply seeking peace is offensive to anyone who’s worn the uniform.”

However, there is no evidence to suggest her honorary position and wearing of the uniform contravenes existing rules on Army impartiality.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

Ruth Davidson’s appearance in military uniform while she was made an honorary Colonel does not break any military rules aimed at maintaining the impartiality of the Army. The widely quoted Queen’s rules do not fully apply to the Territorial Army, and do not prevent events considered non-political, such as the day of her appointment.

This claim is false

Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at factcheck@theferret.scot or join our community forum.

Contributions

  1. To be blunt, Honorary Colonels (of regular or reserve units) are expected to wear uniform when visiting their units - and wearing the uniform when visiting on appointment is pretty much mandatory*. Whether it is appropriate, or not, for a politician to be appointed Honorary Colonel is a slightly different matter, but this far from the first time this has happened.

    • When the previous Duke of Buccleuch was appointed Honorary Commodore of HMS Claverhouse, he didn't wear uniform, However, this was after he was confined to a wheelchair.
  2. Seumas says:

    As someone who was having fun pushing the claim I would like t make two comments. Of course she wasn't breaking the rules, however it could be rightly argued that a she was bending them as she is a political party leader and was appearing in public in uniform. I was always very careful to not do anything political in Uniform.
    The real issue is whether she should have been appointed QR 4:143 refers. Is she a distinguished Civilian or is she ex service. If she is ex service was she a Lt. Col?
    Clearly someone made a political decision to appoint her. Why uniquely among Holyrood politicians has she been so honoured? There are others Keith Brown being one who have had a more active political career.

  3. The rules are actually about campaigning in uniform as opposed to doing anything 'political' in uniform (you can even wear the uniform of the HAC in the House of Commons!)

    Ruth Davidson is ex-service (TA in 32SR) but seems to have had a medical retirement while an Officer Cadet (I am making assumptions here.) However, I suspect she was appointed on the grounds of her civilian "eminence" as opposed to as a "senior serving or retired Military Officer".

    Because it is 32SR and she was one of them?

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