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Politicising armed forces must stop

THE first casualty of war may be truth, but even in peace time the real facts can be hard to find when military matters are involved.

This weekend in Stirling, both Nationalists and Unionists are staunchly denying that the event closest to their hearts has anything to do with the independence referendum.

When it was set in motion several years ago, many in favour of Scottish independence may have hoped that the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce's victory over the English forces might tilt things just a little in their favour.

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Likewise, the decision to hold Armed Forces Day in the same town at the same time was a blatant attempt by Unionist politicians to neutralise the potential political impact of Bannockburn.

Indeed, when it was announced last year, the Conservative defence secretary Philip Hammond said with unusual candour that Armed Forces Day would "underline the strength of the Union".

As we report today, the Westminster Government is now denying there is anything untoward in disseminating pro-Union "information packs" to civilian and military service personnel, at the same time as reminding them of the process for registering to vote in the referendum.

This is in spite of the 40-year-old Queen's Regulations prohibiting "all forms of political activity" in service establishments.

The SNP agree with one recipient of the 'Our Place in the World' material, who called it "propaganda".

The Nationalists level the serious charge that it is the politicisation of the armed forces.

The Westminster Government's response is that it is not politicisation, merely informing employees. The Westminster argument moves from the bizarre to the frankly unbelievable when it goes on to suggest that it cannot be promoting one policy over another, as the government only has one policy in the area - to retain the Union.

This not only ignores the Scottish Government's different policy, but implies Westminster policy is forever non-political so far as the services are concerned, whatever it might be.

This is simply nonsense. Promoting a particular side of the independence debate is clearly political and Westminster should recognise it as such.

Given their special position, it is wrong to circulate such political material to the armed forces. And it would be wrong to now circulate pro-independence material, even to balance the argument

Instead, Westminster should drop the pretence and guarantee no further abuse of the rules designed to protect our service men and women.

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Local government

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