The Armed Forces Covenant is a useful metric when considering the obligations that the government should have to those who serve.
However, since the covenant entered political discourse around the turn of the millennium, it is clear that it often remains a statement of intent rather than a statement of action. It would come as a surprise to many that the covenant offers no legal backing for military personnel. In this year’s general election only the SNP considered this matter important enough to include in our manifesto a commitment to give an armed forces representative body a statutory footing.
Denmark has taken quite a different approach. Their defence forces comprise a large number of reservists serving alongside permanent personnel. The reserve, which plays a significant role in any military operation, is also considered a bridge between Danish civil society and the armed forces. It brings civil values and ideas into the armed forces and becomes the military’s ambassador in civilian life. The reservists in Denmark have a professional board which ensures their competence and readiness, but importantly, is also able to negotiate conditions with the Ministry of Defence, a situation not currently possible for the British armed forces.
As Scotland moves closer to independence we begin to consider all aspects of statehood. Defending land, sea, air and citizens is a fundamental responsibility of all nations. In preparation for this responsibility the SNP is establishing a commission to consider all aspects of defence and the terms and conditions of service of the men and women who choose to serve and protect us.
As the SNP’s Westminster spokeswoman for the armed forces and veterans, I am delighted to be co-chairing this commission with Tom Arthur, an MSP. To ensure full representation, the commission will include veterans and academics. We will use the expertise within the group to call upon the British government to protect those who protect us, but crucially we will develop the policies that will shape our Scottish defence forces after independence.
This is a real opportunity to take the best aspects of other nations to mould a defence policy that works for Scotland. Conditions of recruitment, training and apprenticeship opportunities will be considered, alongside the health and wellbeing of our personnel and veterans.
Just like in other policy areas, the SNP and Scotland will show our nearest neighbours in England how to properly support our military. Let’s remember that the closest ally of an independent Scotland will be England, so anything positive which we develop, we will gladly share with our ally and neighbour.