I take this opportunity to thank Graeme Dey for bringing the debate to the chamber. Positive outcomes for our former members of the armed forces are extremely important.
Although I do not have a military base, or anything of that kind, in my Paisley constituency, there is quite a large community of ex-forces people and veterans there. As members of the Scottish Parliament, we usually have to deal with the cases that are most challenging: the difficult ones, in which people enter our offices and we are their last, best hope for a positive outcome. I will talk about some such situations and cases. Many of the reasons for that are mentioned in “The Veterans Community: Employability, Skills & Learning”. Lack of training and of recognition of the skills gained in the armed forces can lead to ex-servicepeople struggling when they leave the forces.
I can understand that: if a young man or woman joins the forces in their teens, it effectively changes their life. They work in an environment unlike any other and tend to be looked after by the service. The culture shock when they come back out to civilian life can, in some cases, be quite extreme.
The people whom I have been dealing with have been young men and women who have left in their mid to late 20s, after doing various stints in Afghanistan and Iraq. They suddenly have to deal with their life in the civilian world—a place where, as the report says, many of their skills are not recognised or, when they are recognised, the person appears, because of their armed forces working practices, to be out of step with other people in their working life.
Those veterans tend to come to us when all else has failed and they need help. For me, one of the biggest problems is that many of the qualifications that veterans get in the armed forces are not recognised in civilian life. I know that work to sort that out is being done by the MOD, but we can surely find a solution to the problem. I could give a list of veterans from Paisley who had to resit their driving tests because their MOD licences were not recognised when they came out of the armed forces. If they are fit to drive Land Rovers through war zones, I think that they will manage okay on our high streets.
There is much to be commended in the report. Recommendation 1—which is the idea of a veterans employability strategic working group—is a great chance for us to move forward. We should provide the opportunity for the Scottish Government, SDS, local government, the MOD’s career transition partnership, the DWP and Veterans Scotland to work together to make the transition much easier for many such young men and women. I find that the problem is sometimes this: when the security of being in the forces is all of a sudden taken away, and when they do not get jobs and move forward, is when things start to break down and ex-servicepeople end up by presenting themselves at our doors, in our constituency offices.
I have a very good relationship with the large community of veterans in Paisley. They tend to congregate around the Comrades Club—which, incidentally, Presiding Officer, I do too. It is one of the few members’ clubs of Legion Scotland that does not have a branch number, just a name—and that name is important. They always wanted it to be the Comrades Club, because it is a place where veterans—and non-veterans, in my case—can socialise. More important is that it is a place where veterans can get advice and support. That type of organisation is not for every veteran—in particular, the younger people whom I have just talked about, who are leaving the forces now. The people in the local Legion club in my area tend to be middle aged and of my demographic. They are not the type of people whom those young ex-servicepeople want to talk to. I think that recommendation 1 could go a long way towards making sure that we do not lose these young people when they leave the armed forces.
We must also not forget about the older veterans, who have been through everything before and who we may have missed helping at some point. I believe that the MOD needs to do a lot more, but we all need to work together and—as Graeme Dey said—help our veterans to acclimatise to civilian life.