Anyone who has been active on Twitter or has read The National in the past week, will have seen Stewart McDonald MP’s idea to create a Scottish Resilience Agency to ensure that in the event of emergencies, we have the people ready to help our public services cope. After seeing around 80,000 Scots sign up to the Scottish Government’s Ready Scotland volunteer campaign, to help our communities through the Covid-19 pandemic, it is clear that there exists a readiness to step up and help our fellow Scots in an emergency. This is something that Stewart himself said, and something I certainly agree with. The question, he said, was ‘how do we build on that to equip us for the future?’ Enter Resilience Scotland, which would help our public services cope, should an emergency situation occur.
Opposition to this has manifested itself in a letter, signed by 52 (at the time of writing) young SNP members, which was sent to the press before any serious discussion of the policy had taken place. Much of this opposition relates to the idea that this agency is a form of ‘National Service’, that represents a “slide into militarism”, and undermines our public services. This is a concern that is absolutely valid, however the counterpoints were published even before the letter was sent to The National.
Stewart McDonald MP stated that “…examples from Northern European neighbours show that it is precisely the existence of well-funded public services that enables the delivery of such sound resilience. You cannot successfully have one without also having the other.” (The National, May 9th) Further, any agency designed to enable volunteers to help our public services in a crisis, would not be used to “plug the gaps”; rather to create emergency capacity to enable our services are not overwhelmed. An example of this that already exists in Scotland, is a Retained Firefighter, who “…may have full-time employment outside of the fire service but responds to emergency calls within their local area, as and when required.” (Retained Firefighter Recruitment Information, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service). The aim would be to scale up capacity in our public services in tandem with increasing our voluntary capacity, so that we do not need to call on our Resilience Volunteers – but if absolutely necessary, we have the capacity to ensure our services can continue to operate in a crisis.
As for “militarism”, Stewart has categorically said that “This isn’t about training people in arms…” (New Statesman, May 1st), rather it is about building on the volunteering infrastructure that already exists; increasing our ability to respond as a society in an emergency. My grandad did actual National Service in the 1950s, when that kind of blatant militarism still existed in the UK. Plucked from Coupar Angus farmland and put in uniform, he learned how to drive a Centurion tank before he could drive a car. National Service is, indeed, militarism – and a kind of youth-based conscription that does deny young people the right to independently decide the direction of their lives. However, that is not what is being proposed. Any resilience agency would be entirely voluntary, and purely driven by the need to bolster our public services for emergencies, which is utterly incomparable with the conscripted armed service that existed in the 20th century.
The proposal on the table therefore does not represent a descent into the militarisation of our public services, or an undermining of the values that underpin them. It is an idea – still in its infancy – that seeks to explore how we can operate properly funded, resourced, and staffed services; while at the same time having extra capacity in place as a reserve. This is categorically not an attempt to reintroduce conscription – it is a serious proposal that, in tandem with scaling up investment in state-run services, could enhance communities’ ability to respond to a crisis, and provide Scots of all ages the opportunity to pitch in for their fellow citizens when most needed. I look forward to further discussion of this with interested parties in the future.
By Llyod Melville
Member of Young Scots For Independence