Our caring sharing all in this together Tory government wants to spread the benefits of militarism to the poor. Traditionally in Scotland, only the small minority of private schools had cadet forces, teaching kids from middle class backgrounds the rudiments of squarebashing and gun pointing so as to ease their later transition into officers’ commissions when they’d be ordering kids from poorer backgrounds to fight and die for a Crown that doesn’t give a toss about any of them.
It’s entirely possible that working class kids were denied this opportunity because the state couldn’t be sure which direction they’d be pointing their guns in. When I was at a state Catholic school in Coatbridge the 70s, there was a near riot when an army recruitment officer came to give the boys – not the girls, this was the 70s and the girls’ job was to make the tea – a talk on the delights of going to Northern Ireland and shooting at our relatives. It didn’t end well, although you’d think that an army officer faced with a class full of kids of Northern Irish Catholic descent during the height of the Troubles might have been a bit more prepared for the inevitable derision.
In former days working class young men were conscripted so they’d be fighting and dying for a Crown that doesn’t give a toss. No one needed to sell militarism to youngsters then, because they’d be getting a dose of it irrespective of their own views on the matter. But conscription is long in the past, and there is a diminishing appeal in a career which is liable to leave you on the unemployment scrapheap after a couple of years with few appreciable skills. It’s all very well knowing seven ways to kill someone with a ballpoint pen, but it’s not going to get you a job in Scotmid, even though it may be useful when the weans coming out of school shoplift the doughnuts.
Faced with a shortage of willing cannon fodder, the state wants to make more of an effort to sell the attractions of being maimed for the great glory of the British establishment to fresh generations. Since the last time that the Tories were popular in Scotland was during the days of conscription, the current government thinks that it’s a great idea to introduce mandatory marching for kids in state schools in Scotland. That’ll teach them how to be British, so it will. According to a leaked document the British government has decided to target schools in areas of greatest deprivation, areas full of impressionable youngsters denied other opportunities by the same Tory government, who will be most susceptible to the dubious charms of a few years in uniform and then spat out and discarded like spent bullets. Kids whose families are most likely to lack the social and professional connections to complain about their treatment.
The armed forces, the BBC, and the monarchy are the only British institutions left. No one believes the BBC any more, and the only difference between a monarchy and a soap opera is the amount of screeching. The armed forces are all that Westminster has got left to inculcate a sense of Britishness amongst a population for which Britishness is increasingly irrelevant.
Traditionally Scots were over represented amongst other ranks in the armed forces, but seriously under represented amongst officers. It suited the British army to perpetuate the myth of the martial Scot, just one in a long line of marginalised ethnic groups which were used by a more powerful state. They were, in the words of General Wolfe, “hardy, intrepid, accustomed to rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.” Scots and Gurkhas fulfilled that role for the British state, just like the Zouaves did for the French, colonial peoples serving the ends of their colonial masters. The Tories’ latest plans have the bitter taste of a past we had thought was long behind us. But it seems that is Scotland’s role in this Union, to give it our skills, to give it our resources, and to give it our children.
Today is the 25th anniversary of the first Gulf War. The British Legion estimates that of the 53,000 members of the armed forces who saw service during that campaign 33,000, 60%, have been left with lasting medical effects. Yet the UK Government ignores the illnesses, forcing ex-servicepeople to go to court to prove that their illness are a direct result of the conditions under which they served. That’s not a future for anyone’s kids.
Former service people are at a greater risk of suffering mental illness. They are disproportionately represented amongst the homeless. They are more likely to suffer from alcohol or drug problems. They have shorter life expectancies. We live in a state which cares so little for the welfare of former service people that we have charities which raise money to provide services for them which the government won’t provide itself. Yet this is the same government which fetishises the military and fosters a public cult in which it is considered blasphemous to criticise the armed forces.
Don’t dare criticise the cult of command, the top down direction of society, the profitable links between government and an offensive defence industry. Salute smartly and obey. Shoot at those the establishment tells you are the enemy, and then after a couple of years you can face a Job Centre interview which shoots down your chances of success in life.
Today the Telegraph has published a lead story attacking the Scottish Government because an unnamed person in the SNP criticised the Tory attempt to militarise our children, to chew them up in the army machine and to spit them out broken and discarded. Those the Telegraph sees fit to criticise are the people who say this is not a good future for our kids, that former service people deserve better. It plays the dutiful role of an attack dog for the state, biting down on dissent, and refusing to consider the morality of a government which treats the poor as cannon fodder. In the UK, the real sin is to point out the sinner.
Now be a good little soldier, fight and die for the queen, make money for your masters, accept your bowl of gruel. It was good enough for your grandparents, and it’s all your kids have to look forward to. It’s the British way.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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