JOHN Reid’s use of D-Day as a campaign theme in the independence referendum yesterday drew a stinging rebuke from Scottish nationalists.
They said he was wrong to “politicise the sacrifice and heroism of brave soldiers” who fought on the beaches of Normandy 70 years ago. The Yes Scotland statement was restrained, but privately senior nationalists are furious that Reid would do such a thing. Their outrage is sincere, but is it justified?
The problem with the nationalists’ position is an obvious one. If Reid is wrong to bring today’s politics into the D-Day commemorations, then almost every single global head of state who attended last week’s ceremonies in France is equally deserving of the SNP’s outrage. Because in almost every speech by a national leader in recent days there has been an attempt to apply the lessons of D-Day to contemporary political life.
US president Barack Obama used his eloquent speech as a riposte to those isolationists at home who, in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan, have set their face against any further American military action overseas. Obama used the example of America’s key role in D-Day to put the counter argument – that the US had a bounden duty to act abroad in the interests of democracy. “In a time when it has never been more tempting to pursue narrow self-interest and slough off common endeavour,” said Obama, “this generation of Americans – our men and women of war – have chosen to do their part as well.” Was Obama wrong to say this? French president François Hollande called on today’s generation to fight today’s threats to peace with the same vision and courage as the D-Day Allies. These threats, he said, included terrorism, global warming and mass unemployment. Was Hollande wrong to do so?
A number of speeches in Normandy last week celebrated the triumph of democracy over fascism, and hailed the post-war unity of Europe – just a matter of days after far-right political parties intent on splitting the European Union triumphed across the continent in the European Parliament elections. And a subtext of more than one speech was the threat to peace posed by Russian president Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea, seen by many as an echo of Hitler’s actions over the Sudetenland in the crisis that precipitated the Second World War. Were these parallels inappropriate in the circumstances – or all too appropriate?
That these leaders made these speeches should not come as a surprise, nor should it be a trigger for outrage. It is naive to think that D-Day or the First World War can be looked at only through the long lens of history. It is not only naive, it is also foolish. History is there to be learned from, and for its lessons to be applied to how we live our lives today. What is the point of history if we cannot make use of its warnings and encouragements in contemporary circumstances? It was not for nothing that the most lauded BBC documentary series of the 1990s was called The Nazis: A Warning From History.
The idea that our military past is somehow above politics is a difficult one for the SNP to sustain. For many years, it has used the disbanding and merging of the Scottish regiments as a very effective political weapon, suggesting the changes – which the Ministry of Defence say are necessary in the face of declining troop numbers – dishonour the men who fought and died for those regiments down the years. Restitution of the regiments is being used as an argument for independence, as is UK involvement in “illegal wars”. Is this not politicisation of our armed forces?
The SNP is entitled to challenge Reid’s contentions, but it cannot credibly challenge his right to express those views in the referendum campaign. The right to robust democratic debate is, after all, one of the very freedoms that on D-Day the Allies were fighting for.
Opposition to e-cigarettes goes up in smoke
ANY NHS acknowledgement of the positive use of e-cigarettes in tackling tobacco addiction is most welcome. At last, after months of nonsensical opposition from various agencies and experts charged with improving the nation’s health, some common sense seems to be creeping into the debate.
The arguments used by those opposed to e-cigarettes are less than convincing. They seem to regard these devices as an “entry level” activity that could lead to young people moving on to tobacco cigarettes, having been first seduced by the physical action of “smoking”. They quote anecdotal evidence to support their case, but because e-cigarettes are a relatively new phenomenon it is hard to prove or disprove their contention. Granted, there are some legitimate concerns here – one of them being the possibility of young people becoming hooked on nicotine by using e-cigarettes. But even so, nicotine addiction is a far less worrying public health concern than the wholesale death and disease caused by addiction to tobacco.
The cost of tobacco addiction in blighted lives across the world is mind-bogglingly huge, and all too apparent here in Scotland.
If we have available a useful device that allows people to wean themselves off cigarettes, improving the success rate of those trying to quit, then that is a potential benefit that must not be squandered with mixed messages from health professionals.
There might occasionally be a practical case for banning e-cigarettes from airplanes, airports and sports stadia, where it is difficult to immediately ascertain whether the smoke is from an electronic or a traditional cigarette. But an unnecessarily censorious tone from public health bodies can only be detrimental to the nation’s health.
The vast majority of those taking up e-cigarettes are smokers trying to quit, to improve their health, their wellbeing and their life expectancy. Some with families are using e-cigarettes to spare their children the dangers of second-hand smoke.
Surely the priority should be to help these people, not wag fingers at them? It is time our health professionals regarded e-cigarettes as a potential for good, not harm.