Veterans and Armed Forces Community

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 17th November 2020.

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Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

As Maurice Corry knows, we cannot instruct health boards to do that, but there is incentivisation through co-funding of the model. Furthermore, I view the future as being based on that model of access right across Scotland. The veterans care network can start to deliver such consistency in what is available, regardless of where in the country someone lives.

A number of members—Alex Rowley, Keith Brown and Annabelle Ewing—mentioned the Black Watch. I associate myself with their views and concerns. I will raise the issue in a virtual call tomorrow with Lieutenant General James Swift, who is chief of defence people. It might be that the story is wrong, but if it is not, I say—as Keith Brown and others have said—let us get together on a cross-party basis and say no to what is being talked of.

Mary Fee noted the importance of mental health services for veterans. I agree entirely. It is a driver for the new network, whether in creating better understanding of veterans’ needs or giving them greater confidence that they will be better understood if they present to mainstream services—the trust that Mary Fee talked about. If they ask for help, they will know that it will be available whatever their locality and on an equitable basis across the whole of Scotland, which is something that Mike Rumbles has championed.

Peter Chapman highlighted, rightly, the role of the military in responding to the challenge that has been set by the pandemic. That has been a timely reminder, for wider society and in relation to employment, of the skills that are gained through military service, and not necessarily just the obvious skills, but many others. I know that a number of departments in the Government have been very impressed by what they have seen in terms of what the military has to offer.

I thank Keith Brown—and others—for the kind words, but I have to acknowledge that I stand here building on the foundations that he established. We would not have made the progress that we have made on veterans issues without his original endeavours—not the least of which was the establishment of the veterans commissioner post.

Maureen Watt recognised the importance of peer mentoring. One of the most striking things that I have seen in my travels as veterans minister was a mentoring service within BT. It recruits proactively from among veterans and has a mentoring service to assist individuals to settle into their roles, which appears to work very well.

I will pick up on the issue about the General Teaching Council for Scotland and get back to Michelle Ballantyne on that. She also talked about spousal employment as an area in which we need to improve. I completely agree. I have made visits to various locations, including Leuchars and Faslane, where I met wives and heard the stories of their experiences. We can undoubtedly do better. Some of the most striking interactions that I have had in my role have been with wives and partners.

If we are honest, there is undoubtedly more that can be done, but I commend the work of companies such as Barclays that have reached out on spousal employment. When I visited Barclays, I was struck by how even little things can make a difference in accommodating spousal employment. There is a lot that we can learn, in both the private and the public sectors.

Jackie Baillie noted her disappointment about the delay to the census. I recognise that disappointment and entirely understand it. I hope that what she has heard from me today, and on other occasions, gives her some comfort that we will not allow a delay in obtaining the data that she was talking about to get in the way of improving service delivery for veterans and their families.

We have heard speeches from around the chamber that have highlighted issues that we already knew of. There is a willingness to pursue those; I look forward to doing that in the coming months.

The debate has been thoughtful and constructive, as debates on this subject tend to be. The Parliament is all the better for that. In keeping with that approach, I commit the Scottish Government to continuing to work collaboratively with our partners in the public, private and charitable sectors, and to continuing to build and develop new and effective partnerships, in order to improve our support for the veterans and armed forces community.