ON REMEMBRANCE Sunday the purpose and poignancy of ceremonies across the country never fades. We remember those in wars and conflicts round the world who gave their lives for their country and to keep us safe. And the ceremonies are as relevant as ever, with the continuing sacrifice made by our armed forces in Afghanistan. The latest death of a soldier less than a month ago brings the total sacrifice there since 2001 to 445.
So this act of remembrance is forever salient and relevant and the ceremonies across the country have a major part to play, not only in bringing us together in an act of national remembrance, but also as a reminder to the country as a whole of the colossal sacrifice made on our behalf.
In Scotland, First Minister Alex Salmond and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael laid wreaths at the Stone of Remembrance in Edinburgh. Messages for servicemen and women past and present are also on display in Fields of Remembrance in Edinburgh where some 10,000 crosses are on display in Princes Street Gardens, and 2,100 crosses in Inverness. The Royal British Legion Scotland Remembrance Day parade of veterans, serving military detachments and cadets marched from St Giles Street to the Stone of Remembrance at the City Chambers, followed by a service at St Giles’ Cathedral. Wreaths were laid in George Square in Glasgow, while in central London a two-minute silence was observed, before the Queen laid the first wreath at the Cenotaph.
The remembrance ceremonies had particular salience this year, coming as they did on the eve of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Over the coming months, books, films, lectures and documentaries will testify to this most monumental sacrifice. As a result, our understanding of the scale of this conflict will move us on from the fashionable approach in the 1960s to treat it all as some surreal and meaningless slaughter. Slaughter there certainly was. Our national story is no simple affair of a people protected by the circumstance of island, but by enormous blood sacrifice and astonishing bravery against enemies who posed a fundamental threat to our security, our history, our freedoms and to our way of life.
In the 1914-18 conflict, more than 956,000 UK and Commonwealth service personnel gave their lives, some 565,000 of these on the fields of Flanders and France. Some 526,000 have no known graves. A total of 188,000 were buried but were not identifiable and 338,900 were not buried at all.
These are numbing figures, impossible to comprehend and bringing grief and loss to millions. As the years pass, it becomes easier to forget how massive this sacrifice was and to consign it to a faraway history. That is why the need to inform and educate each generation becomes ever more important. It is precisely because of this that we have a compelling duty to remember, this year, every year and never to forget.
Flagging up patriotism warning
ALL involved in the referendum debate have cause to note the warning by Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael against mixing politics with patriotism. He is concerned about attempts by a few to portray those who do not wish to become independent as being somehow less Scottish than those advocating that we go it alone, a suggestion which shows a lack of respect to those Scots who sincerely believe the future best lies in remaining within the union.
Over many decades we have sent MPs to Westminster who have defended Scottish interests and whose memory would be insulted by the inference that they were somehow second-class Scots. But the problem with dragging politics into patriotism is not just that it imputes a lack of Scottish pride and belief to those who are proud and passionate of their Scottishness.
This is indeed, as Mr Carmichael is set to warn this week, to enter into dangerous territory. It risks lowering the debate on the independence referendum to that of a football terrace slanging match. We have surely more important things to analyse and discuss than the supposed lack of patriotism by those taking part in this most important of debates.
Everyone entitled to take part in the ballot has a right to choose whether we should be voting for or against. There are valid arguments for both positions, as some of our more candid politicians on both sides of the debate have admitted on occasion, and going one way or another does not make us any more – or less – Scottish. Arguments cannot be won or resolved meaningfully simply by calling our opponents’ patriotism into question, and Scots should guard against being divided in this way.