WHO is Britain’s highest-paid public servant? Clearly not the Prime Minister – who receives £150k including their MP’s salary – otherwise I wouldn’t be asking. Nor is it the head of the English NHS, Simon Stevens (an old mate of Boris Johnson), who is on circa £200k. The answer is Tony Douglas, who, until the start of 2018, was chief executive of a body called UK Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), part of the Ministry of Defence.

Not to beat about the bush, Tony was the man in charge of buying Britain’s jets and warships. As such, he earned a salary of £285k plus an annual performance-related bonus of another £250k. Mr Douglas has recently left for a new job in Abu Dhabi. He has just been replaced by a former air marshall whose salary arrangements remain under wraps.

The very fact that we pay folk such as Tony Douglas more than our Prime Minister should be at the forefront of our minds as we remember the centenary of the Armistice and the deaths of 745,000 British soldiers in the First World War.

The Great War is not history. Rather, the world is hell-bent on repeating all the same mistakes that led to that earlier disaster; only next time there will be nobody left in the radioactive ruins to sign another armistice and the nuclear winter will kill off all the poppies.

The world is in the grip of a new arms race, force-fed by the need of big business to rebuild its profit base after the global crash of 2008. Last year, Western private defence companies reported aggregate profits of $77 billion, an 18% jump. The average profit margin was 10.6%, a peacetime record.

The excuse for this weapons build-up is – supposedly – the threat from China and Russia. But at root, international tensions are caused by the commercial rivalries that lie at the heart of the capitalist trading system. So it is no surprise that the contemporary world looks alarmingly like the one that existed in the years before the Armageddon of 1914.

The US and Chinese military build-ups are well known. But the UK is also a major player. Britain’s latest arms procurement plan was published last week. It got scant publicity despite – or because of – the welter of media coverage of the Armistice commemorations.

The plan is published under the signature of Stuart Andrew MP, the latest in the revolving door of faceless defence procurement ministers. A Brexiteer, Andrew is famous for being head-butted by former Labour MP Eric Joyce in a House of Commons bar.

Mr Andrew (or his expensive MoD ghost writer) tells us that “since 2015 the world has become more uncertain, volatile and dangerous at a faster rate than predicted”. Presumably that’s a reference to Donald Trump being elected. His conclusion: “To ensure we maintain military advantage against our adversaries and competitors, we must now add capabilities”.

My translation: we need even more bombers, subs, tanks and nukes.

Mr Andrew proudly tells us that the UK is buying arms worth £186bn. That bill is bigger than the GDP of 165 of the 197 UN member states. It includes £45bn on new submarines, a stunning £25bn on computers, £20bn on new ships, £19bn on transport and refuelling planes, £18bn on tanks and army kit, £18bn on jet fighters, £10bn on helicopters, plus another £14bn on assorted weaponry.

There’s just one wee problem in the small print: a shortfall in the MoD kitty of £7bn to meet the bill for new weaponry. But don’t worry, the Chancellor magicked up some extra cash in the Budget.

Such shortfalls are the norm at the MoD. But you can’t put all the blame on DE&S, or on whatever hapless junior minister is left carrying the political can. The truth is that MoD cost over-runs are basically the result of arms manufacturers padding their bills. This is made easy because most of the folk selling weapons to the MoD are former senior military personnel who, on retirement, eke out their pensions by taking lucrative advisory positions with defence contractors.

There has been a significant change in UK defence purchases in recent years. Namely, the huge chunk of UK weaponry being purchased from American companies. The US President regularly bemoans the failure of Nato member states to meet the defence spending target of 2% of GDP. But this Trumpian bleat has nothing to do with the American taxpayer “shouldering the burden” of defending Europe. Instead, it is the US putting pressure on Nato to buy more US arms. The UK has been first in line.

A quick flick through the latest MoD spending plan reveals a host of US defence companies who benefit from British taxpayer largesse. Take Boeing. When I was elected as an MP, it surprised me that the main House of Commons internal magazine (The House) was financed by Boeing. But Boeing is the maker of the MoD Apache helicopters, Poseidon maritime reconnaissance aircraft and F-35 fighters.The US military-industrial complex will go on spending American tax dollars on weapons – Trump has increased defence spending by 10%. This is because it underpins the American economy. Some 13% of US manufacturing employment and 10% of manufacturing output is in the aerospace and military sector. Thanks to Trump, last year saw a sharp rise in profits.

My paternal grandfather Tom was invalided out of the First World War after Ypres, while my fraternal granny’s first partner never came home. Granny’s best friend, Mrs Kirkwood, was a Great War widow. To me she seemed ancient, but she could not have been.

There were pictures of the uniformed ghosts in most Glasgow homes back when I was a child.

I cringe when I hear the media refer to the so-called sacrifice made by those who died or had their lives changed forever. No, they were sacrificed – for profit.

The Great War really ended when the Russian, French and finally the German soldiers threw down their guns and went home. Enough is enough. Let’s say no to the new arms race. Here in Scotland, we might start by SNP members reconsidering the party’s decision to join Nato after independence.