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Some people have been asking what Scotland’s military forces would look like if next year’s referendum should come out in favour of independence. Would the old historic names come back? I would say; why not? But that’s not the important thing. The important thing is that the battalions of the Scottish Defence Force, let’s call it, are well funded and well trained. They could even be well-paid. Scotland will never win a war on its own – but then again neither will the British. The British Military has become an auxiliary force to the United States – much like the German spearmen and North African horsemen who served alongside the Romans. At least a Scottish Defence Force might have chance of defending Scotland to some extent. No-one in their right mind believes the tiny Canadian military can defend their country without American help. So, what Scotland needs is a defence force which can be easily integrated into larger force – be it American, NATO or even with our former United Kingdom partners. I would suggest looking to the Republic of Ireland or New Zealand when it comes to a model for the SDF’s land force component. Perhaps Norway for naval capacity and a token air force, possibly heavily integrated into a joint airspace defence pact with neighbours.  It has been suggested that a Scottish Defence Force might have problems recruiting enough men and women to sustain itself. The critics point to the problems the British Army is having at the moment recruiting enough men for the Royal Regiment of Scotland. But perhaps recruitment for the SDF might actually be easier because it would treat its military personnel better than the present-day London-based Ministry of Defence does at the moment. That, sadly,  would not be difficult.

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When the Victoria Cross was first instituted in the 1850s several of the first recipients were selected by regimental vote. Maybe it’s time that the modern British Army reserved a couple of medals per tour which would be awarded based on a secret company/battery/squadron ballot. I’ve said before that gallantry medals can go to the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Many regiments now proudly boast of the number of VC winners who have served in their ranks. But this ignores the fact that some excellent fighting regiments had far higher expectations of what constituted outstanding gallantry. What the Camforth Highlanders believed was a soldier simply doing what was expected of any member might well be regarded as outstanding bravery in the ranks of the Royal Blankshire Regiment and worthy of a VC. The only awards that are worth anything are those that come from a peer group. The most qualified peer group is often the opposing side – but they seldom send in bravery commendations for their enemies. Many bosses, in this case the officers, have little idea of what’s really going on lower down the food chain. Some bosses use awards to reward toadies and sneaks. There’s nothing like a Military Cross for boosting a mate up the promotion ladder. Of course there are exams to be sat but there are a lot of people passing those exams and a little extra boost from a crony does no harm. I can’t help feeling that the danger involved in making a couple of awards on the basis of what some might say is a popularity contest still beats the somewhat political way in which they are sometimes handed out at the moment. I can think of at least one reasonably recent VC that was awarded for something that wouldn’t even have earned a mention-in-dispatches during the Second World War. That’s not to say the winner was not brave, just no braver than many others who received no recognition at all.

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The British military is now investigating whether stimulants or body building steroids played any part in the July deaths of three Territorial Army Soldiers - Corporal James Dunsby, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts and Trooper Edward Maher -who collapsed while trying out for the Special Air Service in the Welsh Mountains. If true, this would be a very scary development. How long before British soldiers going into action start throwing away ammunition to make more room in their webbing pouches for pills? If folk need pills to get them through the selection test, they’ll probably need them to meet the physical demands of the job as well. And if steroids are involved, then there’s a danger of soldiers suffering from psychotic ‘roid rage. It’s probably not a good idea to give people prone to psychotic episodes weapons. A US Staff Sergeant, Robert Bales, is claiming that steroid use was contributed to him going on a murder spree in Afghanistan which cost 18 people their lives. Of course, I always take the claims made by US defence lawyers with a pinch of salt. Their clients’ actions are always someone else’s fault. The first thing these folks do is blame the victim. When US pilots bombed a Canadian training exercise in Afghanistan in 2002, killing four soldiers and maiming several others, it was claimed that stimulant pills provided to them by the air force were to blame, or even better, the Canadians had opened fire on the US F-18s. The Canadians say that they were unaware that the American planes were even overhead until 500lb bomb hit the ground. But back to the steroids. The shame of what is going on is that there use by British soldiers has more to do with personal vanity than building strength. Perhaps now that soldiers will no longer be dealing with the mind numbing boredom of off-duty life Afghanistan by pumping iron this fad may die out. But sadly I doubt it.

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Two weeks ago I commented on the sacking of two United States Generals as a result of a Taliban attack last year which pretty much put a squadron of Marine Corps Harrier jump jets out of action at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. I suggested that it was unlikely that any British officers would suffer a similar fate. According to the Independent on Sunday, not only were none of the British officers responsible for overall security at Camp Bastion fired, they have actually been promoted. In the United States military mistakes and incompetence have consequences – even for those high up the food chain who probably had no direct involvement. US President Harry Truman, supreme commander of the US military, had a sign on his desk reading “The Buck Stops Here”. Someone must be to blame for only 50 British soldiers being asked to guard 37 kilometres of perimeter fencing around Camp Bastion. Someone must be accountable for the refusal to put out more wire around the perimeter after the fence had already been breached three times. Someone decided putting British troops in five of the 24 guard towers would be sufficient. When the attack occurred just over a year ago I warned that it was foolish to underestimate the military capabilities of Terry Taliban. It would seem that it was far easier to get into Camp Bastion than I realised and perhaps I’d over-estimated the Taliban’s abilities. I’m puzzled as to whether the British do not accept that bad mistakes were made or whether they just don’t care. The British squaddies risking their lives in Afghanistan and our allies all deserve better.

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I have complained before about the increasing tendency to encourage broadcast journalists to engage in banter between news items. Quite frankly, I don’t care if the weather forecaster has two children. I’m interested in the weather. Full stop. Weather forecaster, if you’re not forecasting the weather, you’re wasting my time. I don’t know if broadcast bosses are encouraging this tendency to spout trivia because it is a cheaper way to fill a programme than actually seeking out real news. I feel sorry for many of the folk involved in the banter because when they go off script they show themselves to be inarticulate, boring, shallow and sometimes rather stupid. Things get worse when they give their ad hoc opinions on news items. I recently heard a presenter on the BBC World Service, oh let’s name names – Razia Iqbal – expressing great satisfaction that four of the six finalists in the Man Booker literary award were women. If that’s not a blatantly sexist comment, I don’t know what is. As far as I am aware, women writers are not at a noticeable disadvantage when it comes to the Man Booker. Suppose all the authors on the shortlist had been men and I said on the radio that that was “just as it should be”. Do you think I’d get to keep my job on the airwaves? Do you think I’d be hounded off of the radio? Sexism and racism are sexism and racism no matter the gender or ethnic background of the source.

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