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The Working Life of Christina McKelvie MSP
28th June 2012

I was asked recently why I supported armed forces day given my obvious anti war stance. I believe that war is the last resort and that every effort at a diplomatic solution should be exhausted first before engaging in an act that inevitably results in loss of life and limb. With that in mind I thought long and hard at why I support veterans and their families given this pacifist principle.

I came to conclusion that although I may not support Governments in their decisions to go to war, I wholeheartedly support the care and support our armed forces deserve when they do have to undertake the risk of that frontline. I have very strong views on the need for war in Afghanistan and Iraq but that will not prevent me from ensuring that our service people who do have to go to war get the proper support they need to deal with the effects of war or conflict around this world. I am not naive to suggest that the world is a safe place and that we do not face the challenge of oppression and aggression around the world. If our service people do need to go into these situations then we have a duty to care for them and their families.

Recently I met an amazing woman; she might not describe herself in those terms but I think she is amazing. Ann Harden lost her brother David a member of 2 Para in the battle at Goose Green and Darwin on the 28th May 1982. Let me put this story in context; I had the great privilege to be invited to join a delegation from across the UK to celebrate Liberation Day and remember those who lost life and limb in securing that liberation in the Falkland Islands. I spoke with Ann and she asked me to honour her brother David and the other fallen when I attended the many memorial services over the 3 days I would be there. There cannot be anything more compelling than the stories of our service people who in the face of great danger show determination and courage. There is also nothing more compelling than the story of the families of those left behind if indeed that ultimate price is paid. I was humbled and honoured to do this small duty for Ann and her family. I wore Annís Elizabeth Cross to Christ Church Cathedral in Stanley with pride and I hoped that in some small way Ann felt she was part of the remembrance events.

I was a teenager when I watched the events unfold in the South Atlantic in 1982, the Argentine army had invaded the islands and claimed them for Gaultieriís Argentina. The Falkland Islanders seeing themselves as British called on the then UK government to help. Our service people were dispatched to the South Atlantic to liberate the Islanders from the invading army. One veteran recounted his story to me; he said that the closer the ship got to the Falkland Islands the busier the prayer services got, there was a feeling that it would not go as far as all out war and that Argentina would pull back. I also spoke with a veteran who was severely injured in the same battle David Harden lost his life in and he has suffered years of survivors guilt. He believes that the support he received from a number of agencies has helped him to lead a good life.

My impression (and Ann Hardens too) of the Falkland Islands was of a place barren and windswept and full of sheep and war graves. What I experienced was a place of beauty not unlike some of our west coast Scottish isles. A place full of warm hard working people who expressed gratitude at every turn to the service people who liberated them on the 14th June 1982. A place where the fallen are not forgotten and remembered with pride. A community of three and a half thousand people who all rely on each other and remember every day the price paid for freedom.

I did get a couple of hours out of one of the days to fulfil one of my passions; wildlife observation. I got along with one of the locals to the king penguin colony and managed to snap some great photos to add to my good memories of the Falklands.

I went to see Ann when I got home and I shared with her all my experiences with the people, the veterans and the wildlife. I gave Ann a number of keepsakes which will hopefully give her another view of the Falkland Islands.

This leads me to this week and armed forces day I am delighted to be hosting a debate in Parliament this Thursday, welcoming the report by CAS on the very positive outcome of the ASAP (armed services support project). ASAP has been piloted in a number of areas including in Hamilton. Itís a partnership with PoppyScotland and Citizens Advice Scotland The Armed Forces Advice Project (ASAP) was established in 2010 to provide advice and support for all members of the Armed Forces community, whether they are serving personnel, veterans or their families. ASAP is delivered by the Scottish CAB Service, a highly trusted network with decades of experience delivering a free, independent, confidential and impartial advice and information service to the general public.

[The ASAP Project Report can be read here in pdf format]

In the period July 2010 Ė March 2012 (the first 21 months of the project), ASAP advisers assisted 1,769 clients with over 6,000 issues. Around 84% of clients were either veterans or their dependants, while the majority of the remaining 16% were serving clients or dependants.

I hope you will agree that this is a very worthwhile project and something I think is my duty to raise in Parliament. So this week when I think of liberation and freedom I will be thinking of Ann, David and the many, service personnel and families who put their life on the line for that freedom.

You can watch the debate here;

Take care and I hope the sun shines on you this week.

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