Veterans and Armed Forces Community

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

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Photo of Mike Rumbles Mike Rumbles Liberal Democrat

If I may, I will mention to Maurice Corry my Black Watch credentials. I served with the Black Watch and other Scottish infantry regiments during my first army posting to Glencorse barracks back in 1980. It was some time ago, but there we are.

I very much welcome the annual debate focusing on the welfare of our armed forces veterans. I cannot help but find it difficult to refer to myself as a veteran, but I left the army when I was 38. I am approaching retirement age, so perhaps I will get more used to it.

During the parliamentary session, I have repeatedly taken the annual opportunity to highlight the difficulties, particularly in access to health services, faced by veterans who live in the Grampian health board area. I have long argued that our veterans, wherever they may live in Scotland, should have the same access to NHS physical and mental health services.

In last year’s debate, I was, for the first time, heartened by the approach of the Scottish Government in seriously addressing the issue. I was particularly taken with the personal commitment of Graeme Dey, the minister for veterans, to tackle the issue, building on the work of his predecessor. I was pleased to hear that the minister was to launch a national veterans care network in the spring of this year. The network was to provide service improvement and planning across the whole country, which would ensure that veterans have access to specialist care wherever they live in Scotland. That is exactly what I have been calling for since I came back to the Parliament in 2016. However, the launch of the network has been understandably delayed by the focus on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic—as I say, I totally accept the reasons for the delay. It is great news that the network is to be launched on 19 November and I whole-heartedly commend the minister for his efforts to ensure that that takes place.

I wonder whether, in his summing up, the minister could commit to briefing members who are particularly interested on how the network will operate. That would be very helpful, because there is much in the field to be done.

In June, the Scottish veterans commissioner published an update on how things were going, which covered transition, housing, employability, skills and learning, and health and wellbeing. It was a snapshot of how well Government was doing against previous recommendations. Of the 63 recommendations, 18 had been fully implemented, with two being superseded. In the time available, I will not go into those in depth, but, although there is much still to be done, Graeme Dey should be commended for driving those forward.

I will be retiring from the Scottish Parliament next year, although, because of the new bill that has been published this morning, it will be on 5 May rather than at the end of March. I am pleased to say that, in my time here, I have seen a much-needed improvement in the services that are made available for all our veterans across all parts of Scotland, and particularly in my area in the north-east. I am glad to have had an opportunity to say so.

The Presiding Officer said that I had extra time, which is funny, because I had prepared a very short contribution. The moment that I do that, she gives me more time, but that is the way of life.

I end my contribution to the debate by saying well done to the minister. Members do not often hear that from me, do they?