Armed Forces Day – The importance of supporting our Armed Forces Veterans
In the second of a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark Armed Forces Day, which takes place on Saturday 29 June, The Rt. Hon Alex Fergusson MSP states that Scotland and her people are fiercely proud of the disproportionate number of the UK’s active Service men and women who are Scots. In his article he sets out the role the Cross Party Group on Armed Forces Veterans in the Scottish Parliament has in supporting Veterans across Scotland.
Alex Fergusson is the Conservative MSP for Galloway and West Dumfries and is Convenor of the Cross Party Group on Armed Forces Veterans in the Scottish Parliament.
From 2007 to 2011 I had the immense privilege of serving as the Presiding Officer (or Speaker) of the Scottish Parliament. The holder of that position does not participate in the activities of any of the 70 – 80 Cross Party Groups that are established during any one session of Parliament, and rarely did that cause me any great problems. However, I do recall an intense feeling of frustration when I learned of the intention of a Borders MSP, Jeremy Purves, to establish a Cross Party Group (CPG) on Veterans Issues.
My frustration grew from the fact that my family background is steeped in military service. My father’s side of the family has a proud record of Army Service stretching back many generations. My mother’s side is similar, but with the occasional foray into the Senior Service. A great-uncle was an original member of the Royal Flying Corps and I married the daughter of a Spitfire Pilot. So I can justifiably claim a level of interest in every branch of the Armed Forces that would undoubtedly have got me involved in the formation of a Cross Party Group had I been at liberty to do so.
However, it was not to be. In one way, that was a good thing, because my role as the Parliament’s civic representative included the undertaking of many duties and visits which simply served to highlight the absolute relevance and desirability of having a Cross Party Group on Veterans Issues in Scotland’s Parliament.
I visited the Black Watch museum in Perth, which served as a vivid reminder of Scotland’s proud military history (as well as the fact that my father’s younger brother had once commanded the Regiment). A visit to Whitefoord House, the excellent Veterans supported residence in Edinburgh rammed home to me the point that Veterans in need of support those days can be as young as 19. A visit to the Combat Stress facility near Ayr reminded me that the need for on-going support does not necessarily diminish with time, and an opportunity to take a salute at Edinburgh Castle afforded me the chance to talk to some very young men and simply marvel at their calmness and sense of purpose on the eve of their heading out on tour to Afghanistan.
The Broad Policy Area of Defence is one that is rightly “reserved” to Westminster. But many aspects of daily life for those leaving active Service fall firmly within the “devolved” nature of the Scottish Parliament’s remit. Furthermore, Scotland and her people are fiercely proud of the disproportionate number of the UK’s active Service men and women who are Scots, and Scottish Governments of all political persuasions have been very open to approaches from both military and civilian sources on how to improve the lot of those returning to Civvy Street, whether those improvements be in the field of mental health, housing, access to employment, educational opportunities or any other of the plethora of potential challenges that face those who decide that the time has come to leave the Armed Forces – and the transition from Service to civilian life is clearly full of such challenges.
So, what does the Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament actually do? In simple terms, its remit is to:-
- Help the Scottish Parliament to address the challenges facing Veterans.
- Provide MSP’s with a source of information and expertise on issues relating to Scottish Veterans.
- Bring together those with an interest in the well-being of Veterans.
- Encourage co-operation in promoting the interests of Veterans and their involvement with the Scottish Parliament.
- Assist the Scottish Parliament in meeting Veterans needs as well as benefiting from their experience.
It addresses those aims by holding four or five meetings each year, co-ordinated by the secretariat, Veterans Scotland – an umbrella association of 53 separate organisations whose aims are to provide support and assistance for the Veteran community in Scotland.
Veterans Scotland does a fantastic job for us in identifying the real experts in housing, welfare, mental health, and social security as they impact on Veterans, and they all seem more than willing to come and talk to the Cross Party Group leaving every attendee considerably better informed than they had previously been.
And the Cross Party Group has some influence. Under the leadership of the first Convenor, Jeremy Purves, the principle of every one of 32 local Councils appointing a Veterans’ Champion was promoted and brought into being. This is a hugely important step in terms of ensuring that all Council’s sing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to Veterans support, and the Champions themselves take their roles as seriously as you could wish for. That is an achievement for which the Cross Party Group can take great credit.
And yet I think the most influential outcome of our work is encapsulated in the third aim of our remit – ‘to bring together those with an interest in the well-being of veterans.’ CPGs in Holyrood have a much wider membership of outside bodies than do the All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPG’s) at Westminster. Perhaps because of that, the ‘David’s’ can meet with the ‘Goliath’s’ within our group as equals, and discuss the issue of the day as equals. I believe that is a valuable function and, having spoken with a number of the ‘David’s’ I know that they share that view. It says a massive amount for every constituent part of the UK that there are so many charities and voluntary organisations whose sole aims are to provide support and advice for our Veterans. Politicians of all persuasions are no different in wanting to play their part. Our Cross Party Group is perhaps best seen as a two way bridge between the two, and I feel very honoured to act as its Convenor during this session of Parliament.
Published: Tuesday 25 June 2013
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2013
Photograph: © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Endeavour Public Affairs or any of our clients.