I declare an interest as a proud veteran and as convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community. I heard the rumour about the Black Watch, which greatly concerns me, although I have not looked into it yet. I was second in command of 3, Black Watch in Perth, which covered Strathmore, Angus, Montrose, Perth and Fife, so I know very well what Mr Rowley is talking about. We managed to recruit successfully in those areas and had drill halls in Dundee, Montrose and Forfar, as well as Perth, Kirkcaldy and other areas.
I am pleased to take part in the debate in support of our veterans across Scotland and the efforts made to champion what they have to offer. We shall support the Government’s motion; indeed, we shall support Labour’s amendment, too, because I quite understand where my colleague Mr Rowley is coming from when he talks about the charities that need so much support at the moment, in kind and particularly in advice.
The dedication of servicemen and women in protecting our country is of the highest standard. That was most recently evidenced in their immediate assistance with the United Kingdom’s Covid-19 response. Their contribution means that they deserve every opportunity to succeed when they return to civilian life. To make that possible requires continued partnered support from across our sectors and at every level of government.
“The Strategy for our Veterans”, published in 2018, was the collective work of the UK Government and devolved Administrations across the UK. Those collaborative efforts were driven not by party or political gain but by a recognised need to promote a multilevel co-ordination of veterans support to ensure that service leavers not only transition well but truly excel in whatever they choose to do. With that joined-up approach, our Governments and veterans stakeholders work to highlight and maximise the wide-ranging skills and abilities of our veterans. Now, more than ever, that co-ordinated approach must continue to improve signposting and increase awareness of the help available.
I welcome the work of the Scottish Government in building on that strategy, based on its own far-reaching consultation. The strategy abides by commendable principles: that veterans are of value and benefit to society; that they should be encouraged and equipped to maximise their potential; and that every veteran should be able to access support and advice at the point of need. I believe that every effort is being made, by both the Scottish and UK Governments, to achieve those principles. Thankfully, veterans support has generally come a long way, especially in the past decade. We have seen a welcome shift in the narrative—one that moves on from the tired notion of a one-size-fits-all approach to support for veterans. Of course, many ex-service personnel transition back into society successfully and pursue their chosen career without requiring additional support. However, some individuals experience challenges, such as securing a house—as referred to earlier—or steady work, or managing their physical and mental wellbeing.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 has exacerbated those issues. Employment is one such example. Job criteria can often be overly specific, despite a veteran’s clear capability for a role. I hope that the Scottish Government will focus on incentivising more businesses to put their support of the armed forces covenant into practice, particularly regarding the recruitment of younger early service leavers, where there is space for improvement. I am delighted to hear the minister’s statement today about more emphasis on employment opportunities, skills, training and qualifications.
Given those challenging circumstances, the response of veterans organisations and charities in Scotland has been nothing short of inspiring. Operating under heavy constraints, most have fought to adapt and increase their services to answer heightened demand, particularly in cases of social isolation and anxiety. For instance, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association Forces Help has established an emergency response fund, which has assisted veterans with accessing benefits and entitlements. In Helensburgh over the weekend, I was involved in the case of a Welsh infantryman who, unfortunately, had been sleeping on the streets for too long. We managed to bring him inside to temporary accommodation, thanks to SSAFA and Argyll and Bute Council working well together.