MORE than 35,000 people braved torrential rain to mark the contribution of servicemen and women past and present at Armed Forces Day in Stirling.
The Princess Royal, Prime Minister David Cameron, First Minister Alex Salmond, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael lined up to salute the UK’s forces as they paraded on site.
Mr Salmond and Mr Cameron put their political differences aside and shared a firm handshake ahead of the parade.
The dignitaries were left bemused by a stray veteran who broke ranks and approached the Princess Royal, the First Minister and Prime Minister for a conversation, apparently chatting jovially before being spirited away by police and security services.
Crowds enjoyed piping, parades, a parachute display and exhibitions by Typhoon and Tornado jets, with Stirling Castle providing the backdrop.
Torrential downpours forced many people to take cover for much of the afternoon, but the rain abated slightly for grande finale performance by the world famous Red Arrows Display team.
The Princess Royal said: “This event celebrates and expresses appreciation for the outstanding contribution the armed forces make to the country, and recognises the serving personnel, reservists, cadets and veterans from all three services, and their families.”
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, vice chief of the defence staff, said: “We have had nothing but a warm welcome from everybody from the provost down in the city of Stirling. We could not have been made more welcome.”
This is the final Armed Forces Day before British forces pull out Afghanistan, but Sir Stuart said they will remain busy in Caribbean, fighting narcotics and piracy in the Indian Ocean, policing the skies in the Baltic and standing ready to respond to events around the world.
Cameron, Salmond attend
Mr Cameron said: “I think Stirling has put on an absolutely brilliant show. The crowds are much bigger than expected.
“I think a lot of people want to show their respect for the armed forces, what they do, the values they bring to the country and also to say thank you to their families.
“But there is a bigger message I think, perhaps, this year because we can consider what Scotland brings to the UK armed forces and what being part of a bigger entity brings for Scotland as well.
“My message is always that Scotland gets the best of both worlds, and that’s what we want to see.
“More power through the Scottish Parliament to make its own decisions, but also the benefit of being part of a larger United Kingdom with - one advantage - these armed forces which can help protect our values and keep us safe.”
The Ministry of Defence put the attendance at between 35,000 and 50,000 people.
Mr Salmond said: “It’s fantastic that so many people came out to recognise those who serve.
“It’s a fantastic occasion, and great for Stirling with Armed Forces Day and Bannockburn Live in the same weekend. The city of Stirling is the epicentre of events.”
He said an independent Scottish defence force would “make a significant contribution” to Nato and international peacekeeping missions.
“We have no pretensions to be a world power,” he said.
“We are not going to participate in illegal invasions of Iraq, or things like that, but we will be making a valuable contribution with our friends and allies.
“Of course it’s important to remember that it will be Her Majesty’s Armed Forces in Scotland.
“David Cameron is not head of the army, and Alex Salmond is not head of the army, Her Majesty the Queen is head of our armed forces and will continue to be in an independent Scotland.”
Mr Carmichael said: “This is an occasion when the whole community can come together, see what the modern armed forces are all about and where they can also demonstrate the respect I know there is out there for the courage, professionalism and dedication of our armed forces.
“As part of the UK, the Scottish regiments are completely integrated in one of the biggest, most well-respected, most professional and focused fighting forces in the world.”
He said armed forces both in Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be “incredibly diminished” if Scotland votes for independence.
“You wouldn’t ever recreate something that was as good as what we have,” he said.
“It’s another reason why people will want to think very carefully before they cast their vote on September 18.”
SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said: “I am delighted that Armed Forces Day has been such a success - it is an important opportunity to show respect and admiration for our brave services.
“It is disappointing that David Cameron has attempted to politicise the event, which is an error of judgment on his part.”
Stirling Council leader Johanna Boyd said: “It’s been an absolutely fantastic weekend for Stirling, a really superb success.”
The annual celebration is being held in Scotland for a second time, on the same weekend Stirling marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
The two-day Bannockburn Live event will feature a re-enactment of the legendary clash which saw Robert the Bruce defeat the English army led by Edward II in 1314.
Despite the events being held so close to one another the potential for them to be used by independence and unionist supporters as the countdown to September’s referendum continues has been dismissed.