Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 31 January 2017.

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Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I warmly congratulate Graeme Dey on securing this debate and Eric Fraser on his excellent report.

I stand as someone who, like a previous speaker, has been nominated as vice-convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community and as the MSP for Moray, which I suspect has more Scottish veterans per head of population than any other part of the country, given the concentrated nature of the bases—RAF Lossiemouth and the Kinloss barracks, formerly RAF Kinross—and the size of the area.

Everyone who lives in Moray knows Scottish veterans. I have many friends who have served in the forces and we all know people who are either still serving in the forces or who have done so. Our veterans play a huge role in the community—they are an integral part of it. They help to underpin the local economy and they contribute to life in many other ways.

I welcome what the report says about the role that our veterans can play in plugging skills gaps. We should view our veterans as an enormous resource and we should help every man and woman who has served in the forces to fulfil their potential. The report refers to the fact that oil workers are being recruited as teachers. In Moray and elsewhere in north-east Scotland at the moment, there is a shortage of teachers. As highlighted in the report, I would like to see more done to attract veterans to retrain as teachers, which is one way in which they could help to plug some of the skills gaps in their local economy.

When we talk about Scottish veterans, we should also speak about their spouses and partners, who play a huge role in the local community. As Jackie Baillie said, if we give people the opportunity to work, train or develop their employability, it is a way of giving them self-worth and self-esteem and of allowing them to contribute to society and the economy and to lead productive lives. That is why this debate is so important.

Combat Stress was in the news today, talking about the deprivation experienced by many veterans. Scottish veterans are more likely to experience deprivation than veterans elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I am sure that Scottish ministers will want to look into that. Factors such as that vindicate the decision to create a Scottish veterans commissioner, who will address many of those issues. Parliament should take pride in that. On Combat Stress’s website, there is a long list of the difficulties that people can have in making the transition from military to civilian life. People can have work and relationship problems; they can feel numb and empty; they can feel suicidal; they might avoid people and places; and they might have panic attacks or feel isolated. That is why it is so important to support training and employment opportunities.

This month, Sacro is starting a veterans mentoring service in my constituency. Debi Weir, who has been employed by Sacro to run the project, sent me an email listing her new responsibilities. She says:

“The service is for military veterans who are currently in or are on the periphery of the criminal justice system. The service will work closely with the veteran to put an intensive support plan in place where strategies can be developed to cope with their specific needs. The aim of the service is to enable the service user to enjoy sustainable, independent living.”

There are many good projects out there. I am sure that the Scottish veterans commissioner will want to look at those in more detail in future and that ministers will want to learn more about projects such as the one in Jackie Baillie’s constituency, the one that I mentioned in my constituency and those in other members’ constituencies, so that we can help to encourage people to have productive lives and deal with the challenges that they face in making the transition from military to civilian life.

The veterans commissioner says in the foreword to his report:

“with the right leadership, attitudes and investment, we can do the very best by our veterans community. As its members come to be more fully recognised as valuable contributors to our society and economy, the benefits—for all of us—will be significant and worthwhile.”

That is a laudable aim that we all share. I hope that the minister will continue to do all that he can—it is also the responsibility of the UK Government to help and support Scottish veterans—to bring that vision to reality, and to help people to move on with their lives and contribute to society.