The daily challenges faced by the men and women of our armed forces are not confined to conflict zones. With no unionised workforces, no working time agreements, and family lives facing constant disruption, it is a way of life that is alien to many of us. In signing up, service personnel are making a commitment not only to serve, but to surrendering many of the rights most of us take for granted.
So what is the process to affect change when, for example, accommodation on bases is deemed substandard or even “squalid”, as has been recently reported? Who is responsible for ensuring that soldiers on frontline deployment have the required personal protective equipment? What educational opportunities are available for their children who regularly move schools following their parent’s deployment. And when the time comes to finally leave service life behind, how is the transition managed and ongoing support accessed? Armed forces and veterans charities are currently doing incredible work, providing a long-term lifeline for those who require it, but unfortunately many former military personnel continue to fall through the cracks. For this group of men and women, who have no collective bargaining rights, how is change affected?
Whilst on paper the UK government has a duty of care to our armed forces personnel, the reality is often quite different and far too often the UK government has let down our service personnel and veterans. Politicians can easily utter warm words about the Military Covenant and our brave servicemen and women, but to properly support our service personnel, an armed forces representative body must be given a statutory footing. In the 2017 General Election only the SNP considered this important enough to include in our manifesto.
Denmark has taken quite a different approach to defence with their defence forces comprising a large number of reservists serving alongside permanent personnel. The Reserve, which plays a significant role in any military operations, is also considered a bridge between Danish civil society and the armed forces. It brings civil values and ideas into the armed forces and becomes the military’s ambassador in civilian life. The reservists in Denmark have a professional board which ensures their competence and readiness, but importantly, is also able to negotiate conditions with the Ministry of Defence, a situation not currently possible for the UK armed forces.
As we embark on a new Parliamentary session full of the challenges and uncertainties of Brexit, the UK government could make a bold move to provide proper protection for our armed forces personnel. If they can commit to bold action rather than empty rhetoric then our service men and women will experience real progress on the morale-sapping issues facing them daily. Doubtless there will be many arguments as to whether a Danish-type model of collaboration could work here, but proper representation is urgently required and the SNP will be calling for an armed forces representative body to be given its statutory footing.
Carol Monaghan is SNP MP for Glasgow North West and Westminster Spokesperson for Armed Forces and Veteran Affairs. This article originally appeared on Politics Home.