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27 September 2018

S5M-14094 Veterans and the Armed Forces Community (Support)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-14094, in the name of Clare Haughey, on Scottish Government support for veterans and the armed forces community in Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I declare that I am a northern area committee member of the Highland Reserve Forces and Cadets Association, and in that role I am happy to support reservists, many of whom are former servicemen. I noted James Dornan’s reference to the cadets, who play a valuable role, often under the leadership of former service personnel and who work with young people across Scotland and the UK.

The Highland RFCA covers approximately one quarter of the landmass of the United Kingdom, extending north from the Forth and Clyde valley to encompass the whole of the Scottish Highlands and Islands.

On Tuesday, I had the privilege of meeting the Defence Medical Welfare Service, which Brian Whittle referred to. That is a fantastic organisation that, since 1943, has given support to more than 1 million patients and their families. I was greatly impressed by the work that has been done by that organisation and by many others. It was a privilege to hear many of its stories on Tuesday.

The backdrop to all this was well illustrated when, in May 1915, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” after witnessing the death of his friend the day before:

“We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.”


That illustrates the experience of service personnel and it should be no surprise that that experience can lead to people having needs after they have served in the forces; we are addressing those needs today and will have to address them for a long time. The poem has echoed down the 100-plus years since it was written, and is the reason why we wear a little red poppy on armistice day. As I said in my intervention on the minister, we approach the 100-year anniversary of the armistice, not the end of the conflict, and we should celebrate that. We have seen many memorial services and preparations to honour those who fought in that great conflict, and the great sacrifices that they made.

In my life, I have been fortunate enough to travel to many corners of the world, in many of which one sees the imperial war graves. When I was in Burma, some 40 years ago, the only thing that seemed to work effectively was the graveyard outside of Rangoon, where every blade of grass was within a millimetre of its neighbour, where the book of remembrance was pristine and where the memorial was excellent. Nothing else in that country worked properly, so it was great to see such dedication.

A week ago in my constituency, the community came together for the re-dedication of a memorial marking the commencement of the war. Bands played, prayers were given, and scriptures and poems were recited, including the poem that I just quoted. The Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, Clare Russell, said:

“The dedication will in no way glorify war or mark any kind of celebration of what was one of the darkest moments in the history of mankind. Rather it will be an occasion for people to remember and to work for peace.”

It was a truly inter-generational tribute, as members of the Royal British Legion stood alongside uniformed youth organisations. That happened around Scotland, which indicates the respect and regard that we have for our veterans.

I am proud that we have taken the steps that we have in Scotland. Other nations in these islands equally respect our veterans, but they support them in different ways and they could learn a little bit from the way that we do it.

Gordon MacDonald referred to the Scottish veterans fund, which has supported 19 projects in the past year and continues to be an important support that is provided to veterans.

The motion before us refers to Eric Fraser, the former veterans commissioner—many members have referred to him, too—and to Colonel Charlie Wallace, our new veterans commissioner. The commissioner’s role is important, because there are something like 400,000 veterans in Scotland who have served in our armed forces at some point in their lives. Further, about 20,000 people in the UK leave our armed forces every year, and the transition to civilian life can be quite difficult for some people.

There are more than 50 veterans organisations in Scotland, which are part of the 300-plus charities that Maurice Corry referred to. Poppy Scotland is well known to us, as is veterans first point. Those organisations, often working with the Scottish Government, are integral to what we do.

The Scottish veterans commissioner’s report described testimony from John Johnston, a veteran and a research project officer at Borders general hospital, who was helped by veterans first point. John stated:

“The whole ethos of veterans first point is that they go the extra mile for everyone who accesses the service. They helped me get out of the house and meet with like-minded people which ultimately is the reason I am still here today.

“Even once you’ve finished treatment or completed a programme ... it never closes its doors on you.”


My personal connections are modest. I inform James Dornan that my father knew Lloyd George. He was his election agent when he stood for the rectorship of Edinburgh university. And his cousin James Stevenson was in Lloyd George’s Government during the first world war and was ennobled by Ramsay MacDonald in the 1920s.

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