There was a Soldier, a Scottish Soldier…?

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 26 August 2013)
UK Armed Forces are politically neutral. Those who control them abuse that position.

Every year the UK has an Armed Forces Day. It is one day in the year in which a chosen place hosts the event so that the public can come out and show their support for the men and women of the British armed forces, both serving and veterans, at a parade and other events. Just as the armed forces officially take a neutral stance in politics, Armed Forces Day has never been a political event. It was started as Veteran’s Day by the Labour government in 2006 (the name changed in 2009 to raise awareness about serving members of forces) and has been respected as a national non-political event every year since by both Labour and Conservative governments.

All that is set to change in 2014.

The UK Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond has chosen the Scottish city of Stirling for Armed Forces Day 2014, and by his own words is clearly manipulating the day as a political event. The event will take place only a few weeks before the referendum on Scottish independence, and Mr Hammond stated it would help underline the strength of the union. He stated “They remind us in a very graphic way that we are stronger together. Britain, the United Kingdom and Scotland benefit from the scale and the power and the capability of our armed forces.”

Were this not enough, I took the trouble to look up the date of next year’s Armed Forces Day. It will take place on Saturday, 28 June 2014. Exactly the same day the Bannockburn 700 Event starts – also in Stirling. That is the same event at which the National Trust for Scotland have banned political banners and stalls.

The political inference of having Armed Forces Day on exactly the same day in the selfsame city is all too clear. To have UK armed forces on procession in Stirling at the start of Bannockburn 700 is but one more reminder of our oppression under the yoke of Westminster. And I have absolutely no doubt that this has been done equally as deliberately as the Conservative government cynically manipulating Armed Forces Day for their own unionist ends.

Consider also this scenario. At these events many people, including children, are handed out Union Flags to wave. If any of these people are going on to Bannockburn 700, will they be asked to hide their union flags or have them taken off them? If not, then if just one Union Flag is visible at Bannockburn 700, that shall be a making a political statement, to which ever Scots Nat should call foul.

I personally do not attend Armed Forces Day, because I do see it as partially political. It is no disparagement to the men and women of our armed forces, who do a job I would not do even if I could do it, which I freely admit I could not. I have always been of the opinion however that any country which hero-worships it’s military is a country dangerously close to fascism. It stirs up jingoism and national fervour of the worst kind, and is a favourite hanging-on event for the extreme right. Consider that just recently the far-right Scottish (mostly English) Defence League (SDL) held a march in Edinburgh “in support of our troops” (I’m pretty sure most troops would want absolutely nothing to do with the SDL). Also as a pacifist, I see it as an obscene glorification of war.

And of course, if you don’t support Armed Forces Day, you are immediately condemned as a “traitor”. A traitor to whom exactly? I am completely opposed to the British state and am campaigning for an independent Scotland. Why then should I celebrate a symbol of my own oppression? If I or any other Scots Nat does not take part in Armed Forces Day that no more makes us traitors than Sir William Wallace was guilty of treason. Therefore to have this event in Stirling, in my country, on the same day Bannockburn 700 starts, and which is cynically being used to gain No votes in the independence referendum I see as an affront to all which is decent.

I do not decry any individual member of the armed forces, for whom I have the utmost of respect. Rather I decry the politicians who are manipulating and abusing them for their own political ends. Phillip Hammond and the Conservative government who have taken this decision have acted in a manner which is completely devoid of honour, and for that they should think black burning shame of themselves.

As regards Phillip Hammond’s statement of “Britain, the United Kingdom and Scotland benefit from the scale and the power and the capability of our armed forces”, that rings completely hollow in the face of the government’s defence cuts, which are hitting Scotland hardest. One of the scare stories of the unionists is that an independent Scotland would see massive job cuts in defence, which no doubt will be pedalled out again at Armed Forces Day 2014. Except that between 2007-2010 defence reviews saw personnel slashed by 27.9% in Scotland, the highest proportion in the whole of the UK. Since 2000 there has been a 35 per cent drop in Scotland, compared with 20 per cent across the UK as a whole. We have seen base after base after base closed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) under both Labour and Conservative governments, and both serving personnel and support services decimated. Indeed, when it comes to keeping jobs in Scotland the MoD has an abysmal track record. And don’t expect that to change any time soon. The next round of cuts, also announced by Phillip Hammond, will see 7 out of 38 Army and Navy Reserve Centres to be closed in Scotland; 18%, more than twice Scotland’s population share. Meanwhile, out of the latest round of cuts, reducing armed forces personnel by a further 4500, it is feared that Scottish forces will make up a large proportion of these.

Equally this present government, like every government since 1918, can hang it’s head in shame as regards veterans. At the end of the First World War, David Lloyd George promised “homes fit for heroes”. No government then or since has ever delivered upon that. Instead we have veterans struggling to make ends meet, having benefits taken off them as ATOS declares them fit for work and being evicted through the government’s insidious Bedroom Tax. Meanwhile Conservative Prime Minister has announced that he intends to make August 2014 the start of four years of “celebrating” the insanity which was was the First World War.

Scrape the veneer away and you soon see the truth. Before the Battle of Quebec in 1759, General Wolfe rode up to the Seaforth Highlanders, the only Scots regiment there, and told them “We’ll send you in first. If you fall, it is no great loss.” 254 years later little or nothing has changed. Scots forces, some of whom are poor sods who joined up because they could not get a job, are still used as cannon fodder for Whitehall’s bloody adventurism, for which they get no thanks in the end.

Were that not enough, on 28 June 2014 they will be used as pawns in a game of dirty politics by an unspeakable government who have absolutely no conscience or moral compass.

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