Downing Street is delaying cutting the Army's strength by one-fifth because of unease over cuts to Scottish regiments, according to Whitehall officials.
The final details of the reduction from 102,000 to 82,000 soldiers have been broadly agreed between senior officers and the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond. But Number 10 is said to be apprehensive about handing a propaganda coup to Scottish nationalists before the referendum on independence in 2014.
Entire units are due to disappear under the proposed cuts. None of the historic cap badges will be lost, but the plans are said to include Scottish regiments losing battalions, which, say defence planners, is justified on recruitment and demographic grounds.
Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, Mr Hammond said: "While we are determined to maintain an effective regimental system, it must be based on the realities of today, and the primacy of capability. That means focusing on analysis of recruitment performance, demographic trends and future recruiting needs."
But a senior Whitehall official stressed: "The Scottish regiments are a highly sensitive issue and there is concern in Downing Street on how battalions being cut will play up there. There are discussions on how best to go about this. One can't have military decisions in isolation."
Serving and former Army officers warned the Government against letting political considerations dictate the restructuring policy, with Colonel Bob Stewart, the Bosnia veteran and Conservative MP, pointing out that English regiments suffered disproportionately in the last round of cuts.