19 April 2018
I congratulate Alexander Stewart on securing this afternoon’s debate and on his comprehensive and thoughtful speech.
The message that will resound across the chamber today is that we all owe a debt of gratitude and honour to the RAF for the role that it plays in the defence of our nation.
I echo Poppyscotland’s words:
“We thank all those who have served, are still serving, and their families for their service and sacrifice.”
A little more than eight short years ago, I brought to the chamber a members’ business debate to discuss concerns about the possible closure of RAF Kinloss.
The cross-party campaign was supported by all the party leaders at the time: Alex Salmond, Annabel Goldie, Tavish Scott and lain Gray.
I argued then—and I argue today—that armed forces personnel have a social covenant with our country in times of peace and in times of war.
During times of conflict, I always remember the lines from John Maxwell Edmonds that are repeated every remembrance Sunday across Scotland and beyond:
“When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.”
The importance of the social covenant was best illustrated to me 26 years ago, when the American naval base in Dunoon closed, with the loss of 1,500 American personnel.
The local community rallied round and set up a dynamic economic committee that received European and Government funding support to diversify the economy and provide new jobs.
Like most members in the chamber today, my interest in the debate is personal.
My father did his national service with the RAF at Kinloss as a fresh-faced 18-year-old, over 70 years ago.
During my final year of school in the Highlands, I thought seriously about joining the RAF, but instead I chose the less hazardous conflict zones that come with a career in politics.
However, during my time at Westminster, from 1997, I relished the opportunity to serve with the RAF for two terms as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme.
I put on record my thanks to my friend Sir Neil Thorne for his initiative in setting up the scheme at Westminster.
I also welcome the scheme that we have in the Scottish Parliament, and I hope that members on all sides of the chamber will volunteer to take part in it.
During my involvement with the Westminster programme, I had direct experience of RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth, as well as a memorable week in Basra, in Iraq, which is still etched on my memory.
As part of the scheme, I flew in a Tornado fast jet, a Nimrod maritime aircraft and a Sea King search-and-rescue helicopter.
On my last day with the RAF, the Sea King that I was involved with had to attend an emergency in Glencoe.
I vividly remember flying a few hundred feet above Loch Ness on the way to Glencoe and observing at first hand the bravery, expertise and professionalism of the pilots and the winch crew as they saved the life of a young Swiss mountaineer who had fallen and suffered severe facial injuries.
My experience was a brief snapshot, but it gave me a tremendous admiration for the armed forces and for veterans.
We should always remember that people do not stay in the armed forces forever and that our responsibility to people who have served our country does not stop when they leave the services.
The covenant that we make with those in the service community does not stop when they rejoin civilian life.
It is also important that we bear in mind that, as a country, we have invested a great deal of money in training our servicemen and women and that, although we have a duty to ensure that they are looked after, we also have a duty to ensure that that investment in skills and training is not lost to society.
That is just one reason why it is important that we ensure a high-quality transition from the services to civilian life.
I warmly welcome the debate to mark and salute the centenary of the RAF.
RAF100 will consist of a wide-ranging group of community, regional and national events.
Today, let us all unite in congratulating the RAF and praise the personnel of the past, the present and the future.
That the Parliament acknowledges the centenary of the founding of the Royal Air Force (RAF) on 1 April 1918;
notes its role in many conflicts, including the Second World War;
acknowledges that, by denying the Luftwaffe air supremacy during the Battle of Britain, it helped prevent the German invasion of the UK;
notes that the two Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons, 602 (City of Glasgow) and 603 (City of Edinburgh), which were established in 1925 and remain active,
played a significant role in that conflict, including bringing down the first enemy aircraft in the UK over the River Forth in 1940;
understands that many air bases have been established in Scotland because of its strategic importance, with those at Lossiemouth and Leuchars still in use;
notes the founding of the RAF Regiment in 1941, to protect airfields from airborne troops, and the support that was provided by the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and Princess Mary’s Nursing Service;
acknowledges the establishment of the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF) in 1949;
notes that the first female officer trainees enrolled in 1970 and that the WRAF merged with the RAF in 1994, with the ban on women serving in close combat units being lifted in July 2016;
considers the RAF to be an agile, adaptable and capable service that makes a vital contribution as a force for good in the world by delivering flexible air power wherever it is needed;
notes what it sees as its multi-faceted roles in the UK and across the world; acknowledges that its past and present bases and operations around include the Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, Cyprus and many others;
welcomes its role in keeping UK airspace safe and its commitment to providing opportunities, apprenticeships and careers for men and women in many diverse trades and specialities, including technical and engineering, aircrew, air operations and support, logistics, medical, personnel support, intelligence and force protection;
understands that the centenary is to be marked as “RAF100” in a programme of events that will salute the service;
notes that these will include community, regional and national events and activities that will run from April to September;
acknowledges that there will be a centenary parade and flypast over London on 10 July 2018;
wishes all involved with the celebrations the very best in their endeavours;
looks forward to the many planned events; congratulates the RAF on its 100 years of years of service, and praises its personnel, past and present.