ForcesWatch comment


ForcesWatch comment

Members of the Scottish Parliament have decided they need to hear more from ForcesWatch and Quakers in Scotland before making decisions about our petition calling for greater guidance and scrutiny around military visits to schools.

After taking oral evidence from the armed forces and the MoD in person on 9 Nov 2017, Holyrood’s Public Petitions Committee agreed that we should be allowed to respond before MSPs consider further steps.

The Committee – in a session on the petition lasting over an hour – quizzed four senior military officers, one from each Service and the MoD.

The public was not allowed to see witnesses’ faces after Parliament accepted a plea concerning personal safety fears (despite some of those giving statements walking to Holyrood in full uniform).

There was also a shake-up in Committee membership – with Michelle Ballantyne, who won a by-election for the Conservatives earlier in the year, replacing party colleague Maurice Corry.

Another Conservative MSP – Edward Mountain – was also present to ask questions. MSPs are allowed to attend any Committee meeting in which they have an interest, but may not take part in decision making.

At no point did any witness giving evidence from the armed forces say that the proposed modest changes suggested in the petition would have a negative or disproportionate effect to the military in terms of recruitment or any anything else.

A number of key points emerged from the session.

Brigadier Paul Buttery, the MoD’s Head of Training, Education, Skills, Recruiting and Resettlement, said the forces only visit schools when invited by the head teacher.

Brigadier Buttery explained that the data they provided the committee, which covers rounghly a 15 month period, shows just over 1,000 school visits in 2016. The Army attended 70 schools three times or more, while the Navy attended 14 and the RAF just 12.

Overall, 98 schools were visited twice by two different services. 22 were attended by the Army, Navy and the RAF. See below for our analysis of the data.

However, pressed by the Labour MSP and Committee Convenor, Johann Lamont, witnesses admitted that in fact the Services write to all schools in Scotland each year.

Therefore it was not a case of the military waiting to be asked into schools, but rather they undertake an active strategy on visits. Also once a relationship is established visits tend to be repeated year-on-year.


Forceswatch Comment

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
From Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen


Matt Haig, an author perhaps best known for his books Reasons to Stay Alive and How to stop time and his work to support people with depression, recently entered the annual Great British Poppy Debate, saying: 

‘I’m not wearing a poppy this year. I think it is shifting from a symbol remembering war’s horror, to a symbol of war-hungry nationalism.’

Scrolling down his Twitter feed, you can see some of the vitriol directed towards him and those who are making the same choice. Most common were remarks along these lines: ‘People died for your freedom, your rights and your family’s rights (you should wear a red poppy out of respect and gratitude to them).’

Others went further, calling him a ‘vile man’ with a ‘warped mind’ who should leave the country, and calling for people to boycott his books. Matt said that he has never been ‘booed’ for anything more than this

Some red poppy dissenters choose to wear a different symbol of remembrance instead – the white poppy – but are almost unanimously attacked for this when interviewed on radio and television shows. Red poppy dissenters, whether they replace it with a different symbol or not, are perceived as cold, ungrateful, unempathetic people, and simultaneously lily-livered ‘snowflakes’ who simply cannot understand bravery and sacrifice.

People respond so aggressively because of a perceived disrespect towards those who have died fighting for Britain – usually in 20th century wars, but also in more recent and ongoing wars.

But if you listen to Matt and many other dissenters like him, they are in fact remembering in a thoughtful, empathic way, and displaying courage in their willingness to endure being attacked, as well as heartfelt respect towards the memory of those who have died. Matt spoke of his Jewish great-grandmother who ‘was nearly murdered by Nazis’ and his great-grandfather who ‘saved lives at Dunkirk.’

For Matt, the red poppy is not the most respectful or fitting way to remember them.

Like many others, he has grown uncomfortable with the way in which red poppy remembrance portrays war, death and destruction.

For some, the Cenotaph’s ‘glorious dead’, the ‘died for our freedom’ rhetoric and the red poppy displays that rival Christmas decorations, seem to embody Wilfred Owen’s war-hungry ‘old Lie’ of ‘desperate glory.’ 

For others, the British Legion’s acceptance of arms company sponsorship, particularly given the arms race that fuelled the first world war and more recently the ongoing war waged on Yemen, is both ironic and distasteful.


ForcesWatch comment

'We're really lucky to be in a movement, and it is a movement, trying to do something about militarism.’ 

Sam Walton of Quakers in Britain was speaking at the Take Action on Militarism launch on 21 October 2017. Just a few days later Sam was exonerated for attempting to disarm a British warplane heading to arm the Saudi-led war on Yemen.

#TAOM2017 launched the Take Action on Militarism pack which is designed to equip and support this movement. See here to download or order hard copies. 

 The pack contains background information, key facts, case studies and tips for action on militarism. It has been produced by ForcesWatch and Quaker Peace and Social Witness. We are distributing copies for free, and we are raising money to help us do so on our crowdfunder page.

At the launch, we heard from 16 year old Scotland Against Militarism founder Jay Sutherland, Penny Walker and Ambrose Musiyiwa from Leicester for Peace, and Bernie Draper from the Merseyside Peace Network. They shared with us their personal stories, anecdotes, thoughts and advice from their local action on militarism: from instigating dialogue about militarised police forces, to flying the Pride/peace flag while protesting Armed Forces Day, to chalking messages for peace on the city centre pavement, to working with artists and engaging with alternative media sources.

Academic and Peace Pledge Union council member Hilary Cornish discussed how the term militarism, like feminism, enables us to see the wider system we are trying to resist, how actions that may be perceived as small and everyday are powerful and important, and how feminism and action on militarism are intimately interconnected.

Coordinator of Veterans for Peace UK Ben Griffin, shared his ‘four pillars’ of a fully militarist state and discussed to what extent the UK has these pillars – the ability to exert military force, the intent to use it, consent from the majority to impose your will on other states using military force, and control of the military over the state. He also emphasised how important it is to think about how you are tackling these pillars – do you want to resist militarism, or perhaps undermine militarism?

Social media trainer Chris Henderson ran a fun and information session on the power of social media and how to use it effectively to campaign, and Andrew Smith, Director of media at Campaign Against Arms Trade, led a workshop on how to enter the coveted space of national press. Inspired by training we received earlier this year from renowned refugee rights campaigner Frank Sharry, organised by the Rethinking Security Group, the ForcesWatch team ran a workshop on developing a communications-centred campaign strategy using the narrative house technique.

cester and from the #TAOM2017 twitter feed


ForcesWatch comment

Douglas Beattie reports on an important campaigning moment.

Members of YSI with Bruce Adamson, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Ronnie Cowan MP and Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International

On the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow earlier this month the Scottish National Party passed a resolution backing raising the age of military recruitment to 18.

This Conference vote (Sunday 8 October) came after two years of hard work by the SNP’s youth wing, the YSI, who had won the backing of numerous members, MSPs and some MPs.

There were passionate speeches on both sides of the argument, but the young delegates won the day with overwhelming support in the hall when it came to a vote.

The key text of the motion read: Conference calls upon the UK Government to work towards raising the minimum armed forces recruitment age from 16 to 18 for all roles that require combat training in line with international standards and affirms that this will form a part of the SNP’s Defence Policy for an independent Scotland.

Work by ForcesWatch was used by those backing the change and the recent report by health professionals’ charity, Medact, on military recruitment was frequently cited.

Rhiannon Spear, national convener of the YSI told delegates that those who join at 16 and 17 are "more likely to suffer PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, commit suicide and more likely to die or be injured in active service than older recruits.”

Quoting directly from the Medact report Spear said the MoD took “direct advantage of how young people’s brains work, and their psychosocial vulnerabilities,” targeting alienated youngsters “searching for their place in the world under the immense austerity pressures of job insecurity and low pay.”

MSP Christina McKelvie said that comparing the military age of recruitment to giving young people the vote – as some on the other side of the argument had sought to do – was “a false equivalence argument.”

She said: “If we give a young person a pencil to go into a ballot box to put an X on a piece of paper, that’s nothing like the same equivalence to handing them a gun, teaching them how to us that gun, dehumanising them to the point that thy will go into combat with that person facing them.”

Media coverage of the vote was extensive with articles appearing in The Herald, The Scotsman, The National, The Times, Daily Record and Common Space among others.

The next day a fringe event was held on the issue heard from Bruce Adamson, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People, Rachel Taylor from Child Soldiers International and Ronnie Cowan MP; one of the leading backers of the policy change at Westminster.

All three speakers welcomed the move by the Conference.

They also discussed the importance of the policy shift in terms of welfare and recruitment practices going forward, plus also how the passing of the resolution may change thinking in the party and beyond at Westminster.

There was also strong backing at the meeting from the YSI and the speakers for a Commission – suggested by the party’s Westminster defence spokesman Stewart McDonald MP – to advise on the wider changes needed in the military.


ForcesWatch comment

This article was first published in Schools Week

Cadet units are not a social panacea but a recruitment tool, says Emma Sangster

An interim report praising the social mobility benefits of the cadet forces was published last week by the University of Northampton.

It states that cadet units can improve attendance and educational achievement, supporting children in ways that schools cannot, and was welcomed by the defence secretary Michael Fallon, who took the opportunity to announce 31 new units in state schools.

The continual promotion of cadets in schools by ministers, at a time when education and other services for young people are being severely cut, suggests that the government feels that it still needs to sell what is primarily a defence policy to the education sector.

This focus on cadets can only be understood in the context of government concerns about the shortfall in military recruitment. The recent report to the prime minister by ex-defence minister Mark Francois, Filling the Ranks, recommends more cadets units in schools, “with a particular emphasis on underprivileged and BAME areas”, and that careers in the armed forces should be promoted.

The MoD’s defence priorities are sometimes adverse to the best interests of the young people with whom it interacts

In fact, military activities in education, have always been about boosting recruitment and creating a widespread positive awareness of the armed forces. The Northampton report itself regularly mixes child development aims with defence aims such as recruitment, retention, financial savings, and promoting the armed forces. Unfortunately, it does not explore whether encouraging school children towards a career in the forces is actually a good thing, despite a body of evidence that military service can be damaging to the socioeconomically disadvantaged or emotionally troubled young people that new cadet units are aimed at.

On the contrary, demonstrating that cadet units are fulfilling ministerial policy statements seems to be a principal objective of the report. It does that emphatically, despite being based on “partial data” and presenting “preliminary findings”. Not a single negative view or experience is reflected in the quotes from cadets, despite plenty of anecdotal evidence from elsewhere that cadet units can be a tough environment for some kids.

cadets, recruitment