Jim Murphy MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said today at Scottish Labour Party Annual Conference 2013:
I want to start with what most of you will think is good news – I’m going to make a short speech so that we can hear from our panel gusts. I also have to apologise for leaving early as I’m running the marathon on Sunday. For the past three months I’ve had to answer questions about my training and will I beat Ed Balls time of last year over 26 miles. I don’t know about the training but I should beat Ed Balls time even if I was carrying Ed Balls on my back!
But of course this weekend’s race will be in the shadow of the Boston attacks. And it’s right that the marathon security is reviewed and the race goes ahead to show to whoever carried out that attack that they won’t intimidate us out of our way of life.
Marathons usually convey a spirit of competition, but for me recent events have underlined something else – a sense of partnership.
Not just about the pain and fear we share with those in Boston out of a sense of solidarity, but because we know that in today’s world the threats we all face are shared and demand shared solutions.
Threats – from cyber to terrorism to North Korea to climate change – demonstrate two truths: first, that the pace of change is the only constant in a transformative security landscape; second, that in our globalised world the strength of our partnerships determines the power we project and our ability to protect our shores.
Our most important defence partnership is right here at home in the UK. When I visit Afghanistan and meet members of our Armed Forces. I listen to them in the canteens they debate football and have a go at each other and they are proud to be from Lanarkshire or Manchester or Cardiff or Derry. But when times are tough in the dust and the danger they don’t ask the nationality of their comrades. They couldn’t care less because they know that they are better together.
To make up for leaving our nearest military Alliance of the UK the SNP want to half-join the biggest military Alliance of NATO. Yet they refuse to accept the NATO Strategic Concept or meet the NATO funding levels that even the Tories won’t cut. Is it any wonder that NATO have said an independent Scotland would have to apply to join a process that takes years and that they haven’t even heard from the Scottish Government?
The SNP defence policy would see them walk out on the UK and locked out of NATO.
I recently had a TV debate with the SNP Defence Spokesman and when confronted about their NATO policy and the complexity of the world he replied that the SNP had passed a resolution at their Conference. Well we all know that it takes more than resolutionary nationalism in Perth to get your way in the world.
But there is another defence partnership that matters – and that is between our Armed Forces, their families and our country.
Our service personnel have recently been called to action in Libya and Mali and they remain in Afghanistan. We believe in solidarity with those who have served our country. Our Forces are central to our national security and to our national character and it is right that we give them the support they deserve.
And we know in the Labour Party that the wisdom which comes from Service is invaluable. That is why we set up Labour Friends of the Forces, to represent and campaign for the service community within our party. After one and a half years we have [700 members, 100 of whom are from Scotland].
You just saw a video of veterans talking about the struggles some face when returning home. Our country is brilliant at turning civilians into soldiers, but we are not good enough when the time comes to turning soldiers back into civilians. All answers don’t come from the inside of a Ministerial red box – they can come from our instincts and our values. Yes we are out of Office but we’re not totally out of power. That’s why I’m delighted that Labour in opposition has signed up some of the biggest companies in the country to guarantee job interviews to unemployed veterans.
Because it’s simply wrong for anyone who has served in Afghanistan to come back to a heroes’ welcome to be sacked by their Government and expected to simply join the back of the queue at the local Jobcentre. It’s unfair and it’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen and under the next Labour Government it won’t happen.
And let me tell you another thing Labour will not accept – those prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice being left without a voice at the referendum.
Despite their claims, the SNP Government has introduced a franchise which will mean some Scottish members of the Armed Forces who have been moved away from Scotland and lost their Scottish residence will not be able to participate in the referendum.
They do not know how many are in this situation, but we know that some of those heroes prepared to fight in battlefields across the globe have been overlooked by the SNP.
The Armed Forces Covenant enshrined in law states that no-one should be disadvantaged as a consequence of their military service. Amidst the Tory cuts – to war widows’ pensions, housing and allowances – a refusal to allow our Forces a referendum vote has got to be the clearest and most brazen breach yet of the Military Covenant.
Just because the SNP don’t understand defence it doesn’t make this indifference to our Armed Forces excusable. There must now be urgent talks with the Electoral Commission to find out how many people ate effected and guarantee no-one is disenfranchised. Anyone transferred out of Scotland before the referendum should as a one-off be automatically enrolled on the electoral register.
We should be clear to the SNP and say that if you have fought to defend our country’s safety you cannot be excluded from having a say in our country’s future.