Siol nan Gaidheal

The word conscription carries an emotive and very negative charge. It conjures up images of young  men forced away from home to serve in the armed forces of a failing world power in the four corners of its washed-out empire. Poor quality equipment, ill-fitting uniforms, uncomfortable and dangerous conditions and the stiflement of the absolute power of a cadre of unaccountable warped-minded English-Public-Schoolboys of ambivalent sensitivities must have contributed to a life-long emotional scarring of all those dragooned into taking part. In popular parlance, conscription has become almost a bad word. Even the Brit euphemism by which it was meant to enjoy a new acceptability has since become almost comic, such was its impact upon the imaginations of a generation. National Service was a nightmare for those called up from Scotland and may well have contributed to the contemporary growth of Scottish National Identity. Who would not find their Scottishness amplified under conditions of such Dad's Armyesque and crickety plumminess. I Say! You There! Carry On!

Whilst it might be ostensibly un-P.C. to talk of conscription, we believe that it may be time to look for answers to the difficulties posed for society, by youthful storm and stress, in solutions of a common-sense nature, though informed by appropriate social theory and underpinned by all that has been learned from current education, social work and criminal justice practice. Our challenge concerns the way that we might balance our developing cognizance of the significance of the less articulate individual's clamour for societal acceptance and participation set against the straining popular tolerance of the material dangers posed to the civil equilibrium by those who have fallen through one of several gaps in the educational net or have been effectively excluded by plain economic disadvantage.

That is to say that this idea of ours, on the compulsory enrolment of young people, has to do with extending a further means by which to bring in those who earlier may have become effectively excluded from full participation in society. It offers a further opportunity for basic education to those who may have missed out on earlier chances, for whatever reason. It provides a forum for social education in a secure yet dynamic context which is manifestly owned, resourced and maintained by and for Scottish society. At the simplest level, it contrives to provide a basic wage to those who have no personal or familial experience of the benefits of such an arrangement.

As to the cost of all of this, think only of the offset in savings which could be facilitated in the heavily budgeted areas of social work, community education, policing and criminal justice by a close and purposeful supervision of those between the ages of 16 and 19. Consider also, the inestimable cost in productive lives lost to each generation through the cloying frustration of non-participation in society. We envisage a renewed Scotland in which there will be less youth crime because the social inequalities which foster offending behaviour will be addressed in terms of practical solutions and our ideas outlined here constitute a proposal to create progressive change in such a spirit.

There can be little doubt that highly motivated young people who have sailed effortlessly through the school system winning accolades, and who are clearly destined to succeed in tertiary education, would derive scant benefit from a disruption to their educational careers. However, it may be that such, with the possibility of annulment of their compulsion (upon application), would still choose to serve their country by joining the postulated scheme. Those who are committed to some appropriate and clearly demarcated vocational pathway, would be similarly able to petition for annulment of their obligation to take part in the scheme which we propose. Those who are disabled would likewise be eligible to withdraw. However, those who experience disability of whatever kind have not traditionally been excluded from participation in Scottish society and we envisage a conscription which would broaden rather than narrow the expectations of all of our people regardless of any inherent or seemingly evident disadvantage.

What we actually propose here is a compulsory (within the parameters described) scheme of enrolment of all young people, male and female into a two year long participation in a form of military service (operated under the auspices of the combined defence forces) covering basic military training and a tour of duty throughout Scotland, working on the type of appropriate projects which would tend to enhance their understanding and appreciation of our National Territory and our historic progress as an Ethnic and Cultural Community. This would entail a practical involvement with all the aspects of the cultural reconstruction of our nation. Areas of work might vary as widely as surveying for our new national mapping agency, tree planting, flood prevention, enhancement of the rural social environment, hands-on help in areas of urban regeneration. The overall approach would require a multi-disciplinary personnel, drawn from Social Work, The Probation Service and Education as well as from the Armed Forces themselves. Growing popular competency from all this would promote the themes of social education, environmental understanding, community health, historiography and settlement patterns, Gaelic and English language and general communication skills; in other words all the aspects of what might be understood to be good-citizenship.

There would be a uniform (nor need it be at all drab), with all that such can offer in the indices of equality, group membership and motivation. It is possible to imagine a well designed range of uniforms for modern times, which would raise rather than lower the self-esteem of the wearer. The contemporary Italian conscript knows the sense of pride which may be engendered by a uniform which provides a mark of personal as well as national distinction; nor would hairstyle, earrings or personal preferences for facial hair or make-up (for males and females respectively - it must be hoped!) be an issue.

Great sensitivity and clear planning would be required in order that those who have missed the opportunity for a good foundation in basic education could be nurtured and allowed scope for optimum learning opportunities. It would be a great pity if such a two year period was to serve in any way towards replicating the conditions under which their exclusion had been effected in earlier life experience. This proposed scheme would catch many at a time when research indicates that dawning maturity begins to support an appreciation of the benefits of good basic education, and it must be made available in an easily accessible format.

In order that this scheme would not damage the social fabric, and that patterns of family life, however the family is defined, would not be disturbed, we propose a Monday (reporting on a Sunday night) to Friday commitment from participants in the scheme. This would allow for the most appropriate level of intervention in all cases. Pitched at this level, the programme would tend to support rather than undermine family membership and the dynamics of the home situation. Additionally, since youth unemployment and youth homelessness are clearly within the frame of such a concept, special arrangements must be in place in order to address these issues proactively and in a constructive manner. That any young person in our society is without the security of a home is anathema to the philosophy of Siol nan Gaidheal and is an indictment against our hugely wealthy country. Before the planning stage of including young homeless people in our proposed enrolment for military service there is a need to identify permanent accommodation for each and every one of them. The stigmatising effect of being left behind every weekend when colleagues return home may be surmised. Such an unhappy situation would require to be circumvented during the initial stages of conceptualisation for the threat which it would pose to the inherent inclusivity and egalitarianism of the scheme.

In conclusion, our proposals are not about militarising our population or about engendering an attitude of imperialist elitism, but rather about tackling marginalisation by socialising and training our young people in a fraternal spirit of sound democratic and patriotic citizenship and a participative, proprietary and immediate sense of involvement in the cultural processes of society.

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