Like many others, I’m struggling to know why the Royal British Legion Scotland (RBLS) has felt it necessary to adopt ‘Legion Scotland’ as its so-called trading name. I’m struggling to know why they need a trading name, but we’ll come to that.
The controversy, for there is one, has only emerged in the run up to this year’s Remembrance commemoration. There’s already plenty of comment about the subject online. I confine myself to three points here – what they’ve done, why they might have done it, and – most importantly – its potential and probably unintended impact.
First, the charity’s formal name has not changed. They explain all this and much more in a recent undated media release, presumably put out to counter the criticism of what they’ve done. It’s easier, and fairer, to quote in full than pick out individual points:
In order to focus more on our core values of looking after the needs of the ex-service community in Scotland back in the spring the charity introduced a new day to day name. We have not removed ‘Royal’ or ‘British’. Royal British Legion Scotland is still our legal name, and one of which we are very proud. As a charity we aim to do all that we can to help all Scottish ex-service personnel whether they left service 50 years ago or yesterday. With your help we can do so much more.
The new day to day name of ‘Legion Scotland’ which was approved by the National Board of Trustees (NBT) who are elected by the membership of the charity, makes the charity more relevant for all veterans. In day to day conversation people referred to the organisation as ‘The Legion’ anyway, and to clearly differentiate ourselves from The Royal British Legion group of charities, which is a completely separate charity, we added ‘Scotland’ to this, hence Legion Scotland. The aim of using this new shorthand name, along with the introduction of a range of new and enhanced services to help the Scottish ex-services community, is to be in a better position to help all veterans. We want to make sure that every single Scottish veteran knows that we are here for them, and are committed to providing the very best we can for them.
During this remembrance week, we hope that everyone will focus on honouring those people who have given their lives for our country. Let’s come together here during this time to focus on that. Going forward, we hope you will support us to continue to be even stronger as we continue to put veterans and their families at the heart of all that we do.
My educated guess at the real reasons behind the change is two-fold. First, back in August 2013 they put out another media release headed Scottish veterans’ charity moves with the times as it drives its publicity in new direction in which it announced, amongst other things, that it had appointed its first ‘Head of marketing and fundraising.’ From this action, I suspect many things flow, not least the public-facing name change and what is their new website. Second, behind that action is likely to be some sort of self-analysis about their current relevance and future problems. These in my view are likely to focus on the combined issues of a long term decline in the numbers of ex-service people and a fading attraction for younger veterans of the traditional local branches, essentially social clubs based around a bar with reasonably-priced drink. Nothing wrong with that, by the way.
There’s nothing wrong in principle with a name change either. I used to be a member of a charity called the Henry Doubleday Research Association, a totally opaque name for an organisation that sensibly re-branded itself Garden Organic. But most people probably know roughly what the RBLS does and ‘Legion Scotland’ won’t enlighten them any more. I’m also not convinced by the ‘everyone calls it The Legion anyhow’ argument. I once lived in a small town in Yorkshire that had three in effect drinking clubs – what their denizens called ‘the Cons’, ‘the Comrades’, and yes, ‘the Legion.’ No need to guess at their full titles and not one of them felt it necessary to adopt a ‘trading name.’
There have been mutterings on social media about a nationalist plot behind the name change but I don’t subscribe to that on the evidence available – yet. One trustee (I don’t know who) was said to be a particularly strong nationalist. Well, with twenty-one trustees, you’d expect some to be although my amateur guess is that ex-forces personnel are likely on average to be less in favour of separation than the population as a whole. It is difficult in particular to imagine that their president, Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin KCB CBE MA, educated at an English public school and with the trappings of what some would call the Britnat state, is likely to be intent on transforming the RBLS into a Trojan horse for nationalism.
So on balance, I suspect the small controversy that is currently attending the Royal British Legion Scotland is likely to be an example of cock up rather than conspiracy, or to put it more politely, the unintended consequence of an action taken for other reasons.
But here’s the problem – there are other unintended consequences and they focus on the SNP’s agenda of separation.
That, for example, is why the Scottish government have a minister for veteran affairs even though they have no responsibility for defence matters.
That is why, at this year’s Remembrance Sunday commemoration in Edinburgh first minister Alex Salmond said amongst other things
The people of Scotland will always honour, with respect and appreciation, the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf … Scotland, in common with so many other nations, suffered an appalling loss of life in the Great War, and its effects on Scottish life were profound and long-lasting. Not one single community was untouched by the conflict, and rural Scotland suffered particularly severe losses. It takes an incomparable event to bring a whole nation to a halt …
He seems to have completed his peroration without one single mention of Britain and I have no doubt that the ‘whole nation’ he referred to was Scotland. It was as if Scotland had fought in the Great War as an independent state.
And that’s why I think the Royal British Legion Scotland have made a mistake. A body of ex-service people who by and large probably see themselves as both proud Scots and Britons have played into the hands of a minority who want something completely different and separate. If that’s what they want and what they intended, good luck to them. But I suspect it’s not.