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Scottish Parliament Speech: Former Gurkha Soldiers' Rights (June 2009)

See this speech in context on They Work For You.

I, too, thank Jim Tolson for securing the debate. I agree completely with the sentiment in his motion. We have heard statistics on the Gurkhas, but Scotland has an almost direct literary connection with that society through George MacDonald Fraser, who I regard as one of the greatest Scottish novelists of the 20th century, with his stories of the great game.

The Nepali community is a fixture of contemporary Scotland that I believe is of increasing importance. Like the Scots, they are a martial people who have loyally served in two world wars. However, they can still find it difficult to cope with a fast-changing subcontinent.

I have a certain personal link with that, because my late wife was a Buddhist. She was a rather odd type of Buddhist: an Anglican Buddhist - there is such a thing. Her belief gave her great satisfaction and great courage when coping with the illness from which she died. It is a personal link with that type of belief.

Along with Buddhists in this country, I recently played some part in trying to strengthen the Nepali community here and to retain in it the activist Kishor Dangol. Through him, I have come into contact with the Nepali community as a whole, which is one in which serving Gurkha officers and retirees are blended with entrepreneurs, doctors, medical men and people working in social work. They are a resilient and logical group of people. I was struck by how logical and well organised their plea was. They would like a Nepali centre in Scotland, which they are prepared to organise completely themselves. They are anxious to serve our country as well as their own tradition. They are a very logical and possessed group, and in many ways they have coped much better than others with the aftermath of the experience of modern war. They seem to have a resilience that aids them in dealing with that.

That area of the Himalayas has contributed two links to the subcontinent in which Scotland has had a role: one is military, the other botanical. Would it not be marvellous if we could get a solution from the present-day Nepalese to our problem with the rhododendron, that curse of the Highlands and a upas tree of our own growing? I think that we probably will get that action because the Nepalese are accustomed to that type of landscape and territory. Members have referred to the notion of the Nepalese taking their place among the folk of the Highlands.

We ought not just to welcome the deal that has been done, which has erased a very bad chapter in our treatment of our former soldiers; we should try to bring the Gurkhas into our society in Scotland so that we can profit from their hardiness, effectiveness and awareness of the natural world. We should express respect for the services that have been done to Britain and Scotland by the Gurkhas and the Nepali community as a whole. I hope that we develop that co-operation in the future.

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