I thank Graeme Dey for bringing this debate to the chamber, as it is an extremely important debate to have.
I would also like to comment on what George Adam has just said about veterans and where the vulnerable points are. I agree entirely that it is those who have been in the armed forces for four years or under who are the most vulnerable part of the veterans community when they come out. At the other end, we have the older veterans, who experience a significant amount of loneliness—that is something that we still have not been able to crack.
Having been a member of the armed forces myself, I have seen people in operational areas around the world and in the United Kingdom, and I can understand the problems that they have to deal with. I am currently dealing with two cases where those problems are very prevalent—one in particular is a chap with a four-year length of service who is in a desperate situation. However, I am glad to say that through the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association and other organisations, including the council, we are gradually getting him back on the rails.
Eric Fraser and his team deserve our thanks for creating a well-produced and well-thought-out document that has many good points. There are points that we will probably discuss this evening and that people may have views on. I was glad to see that the Government has decided to extend the commissioner’s stay in his post for at least another year, which is great news for the whole veterans community in Scotland.
The cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community, which I am fortunate to convene, was lucky enough to have the veterans commissioner attend our last meeting in December to talk about his report. I will not go into the report in too much detail, although I encourage members to get a copy and read it themselves; I know that several members of our group have done exactly that. Instead, I will highlight a couple of the key points in the report that I believe are key to the debate.
The commissioner points out in the report—and correctly so—that employment is one of the most important factors in determining whether someone has a positive transition from a military life to a civilian one. For many veterans, the part of that transition that they will struggle with most is finding employment. However, this is not a group of people who, for the most part, should have any real difficulty in finding work. As the commissioner says in the report,
“this diverse group is largely made up of intelligent, experienced, reliable and motivated people, who are ideally placed to take on many of the highly-skilled and rewarding jobs that are available across Scotland.”
Veterans are an incredibly well-trained group; many in the armed forces now do some form of highly skilled technical work—the sort of skills that businesses are screaming out for—as part of their service, and would be perfect to fill the skills gap that we know Scotland has, which is why I am glad to see that the issue features in one of the recommendations in the report.
However, it was worrying to read that the commissioner encountered
“a degree of reluctance to hire” veterans, particularly among
“public sector organisations and ... small and medium-sized enterprises”.
As those include some of the largest employers in Scotland, that is an important point, and a particular cause for concern.
In my experience, there is a lack of understanding of our armed forces among some levels of management due to families become more divorced from the armed forces over the generations and therefore not really discussing the armed forces or even being supportive of them. That leads to people in human resource management, for example, who are looking at skills requirements and who have a veteran in front of them not quite understanding what he is made of.
There are a lot of things that we need to do. That is why the work of Business in the Community and SaluteMyJob is so welcome—I commend it to members. They are currently creating a toolkit to help businesses tap into this underused resource, which they will launch here in the Parliament in March.
I also welcome the commissioner’s recommendation that veterans issues should receive more scrutiny from Parliament, with the aim of raising the profile of veterans issues among members. I am glad that the cabinet secretary has already welcomed that recommendation, and I hope that he will follow through with an annual report on the implementation of the commissioner’s findings.
The commissioner has set the Parliament and the Scottish Government a series of challenging recommendations that I hope to be able to play my part in pushing for, because I firmly believe that implementation of those recommendations would deliver massive benefits not just for the veterans community but for wider Scottish society.