National service: Which nation? Serving whom?

When Better Together reeled off their list of the supposed benefits of being part of the UK for Scotland, they did not include conscription, compulsory service in the armed forces, as one of the attractions of the British state. And with very good reason, because being forced against your will to enlist in the army, pledge allegiance to King Sausage Fingers, and participate as cannon fodder in one of the many conflicts that the United Kingdom gets itself involved in due to its post imperial dementia is even less attractive to your average young person in Scotland than scooping up a big pile of dog shit in their bare hands and enthusiastically giving Rishi Sunak a big round of applause.

On Wednesday General Sir Patrick Sanders, the chief of the General Staff and the most senior military officer in the UK described the people as of modern Britain as part of a “prewar generation” who may have to prepare themselves to fight in the coming years in a war against an increasingly assertive Russia – a country suffering from its own post imperial dementia. The general looked to example of Sweden, which is on the verge of abandoning its traditional neutrality and is set to join NATO, Sweden has just reintroduced a form of national service . He said that Britain needs to take “preparatory steps to enable placing our societies on a war footing”. The general has long complained about the falling numbers of people voluntarily enlisting in the armed services, and it appears that he now wants to inject the possibility of the return of conscription into political discourse.

This intervention appears to have been coordinated with Conservative politicians like Penny Mordaunt, who this week published an article in the Sunday Times calling for the British armed forces to “keep pace with the growing capabilities of other nations.”

If the Tories want to bring back conscription in Britain, it should be for aging Brexit supporting British nationalists so that they can clean up the mess they created, because it’s always the generation that doesn’t expect to be called up themselves who are the ones who are most keen to send young people off to be brutalised in what is essentially a form of military slavery. All those Better Together types can go first and while they cower in a muddy trench being yelled at by a sadistic sergeant on a power trip while subsisting on tasteless field rations sourced from a company whose director is a school friend of the defence minister, they can tell the rest of us about ‘Union benefits’.

I really don’t understand why they bother. This government has already destroyed the NHS, has trashed a social security system that once provided a safety net for those in need, filled rivers with sewage, presided over soaring destitution, created a housing crisis and ruined public transport. The only consolation is that even the most desperate despot is going to think the UK is too crap to bother with.

If conscription does indeed make a come back in Britain, we can expect the news to be swiftly followed by the revelation that a hastily formed company which Michelle Mone strongly denies any connection with has been awarded a contract for £200 million worth of body armour sourced from a sweat shop in China.

It is arrogance and delusion of a very special kind for the Conservatives, whose economically divisive policies have destroyed social cohesion and politically alienated millions of people to imagine that there is still such a thing as a united Britain that people, particularly young people who have borne the brunt of Tory policies and who find themselves trapped in low paid jobs, lumbered with debt and with little prospect of buying a home of their own, would feel it’s worth risking their lives for. The British establishment wants young people to take up arms to defend a British state that is determined to exploit the last drop of oil in the North Sea, to hell with a climate crisis that threatens to rob those young people of a future.

And that’s before we even consider the millions of us, particularly in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who do not regard ourselves as British at all, and see the British state as a corrupt and dysfunctional institution which exists in order to further enrich the already wealthy and on the international stage acts as a proxy of the Pentagon dedicated to maintaining inequality and neo-colonialism.

We don’t live in the 1950s any more and British deference culture now exists only in the nauseating sycophancy with which the BBC treats the money grabbing chancers of the Windsor clan. The response of the average working class kid, particularly in Scotland, to being told that they are being called up to fight for King and country would be to reply: Not my king, not my country. In 2014 Better Together never told us that the choice that the British state would offer young people in Scotland was a choice between signing up for a foodbank or signing up for the army. If they had done the outcome of that year’s referendum would have been very different, and it’s precisely because that’s the choice that’s on offer today that they are so terrified of another independence referendum.

The only reason that the political ground is currently being prepared for discussion of some sort of national service (a phrase which itself begs the questions – whose nation? and in service of whom?) is because the British state remains hell bent on getting involved in wars in far away countries in order to maintain the British nationalist fantasy that the United Kingdom is still a global player with a significant military influence on the geopolitical stage. It’s a delusion that results in young working class people killing and maiming in order to further the interests of wealthy upper middle class men, and being killed, maimed or left with mental health struggles themselves. Then they are returned to a Britain where they are statistically more likely to suffer addiction problems, homelessness, and poverty and we get the promotion of charities to step in and fulfil needs for ex service people because the state has shamefully abandoned its responsibilities for them.

They say ‘bring back National Service’. I say bring back secure well-paid jobs, final salary pensions, clean rivers, union rights, the right to protest, properly-funded NHS and social care, free tuition, student grants, affordable rail fares and social housing, and a social security system that allows everyone to live in dignity. If the state wants citizens to defend it, then the state needs to make itself worth defending. The British state fails miserably on that count.


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