Members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have backed a new policy put forward by the party’s youth wing to raise the minimum military recruitment age for all combat roles to 18.
The plans, which would only come into legislation in the eventuality of Scottish independence, would depart from current restrictions set by Westminster that allows teenagers as young as 16 to register.
Addressing delegates in attendance at the opening day of the party’s national conference in Glasgow this week, Rhiannon Spear, national convener of the Young Scots for Independence (YSI) spoke of the risks to the mental health of those joining before their 18th birthday.
Spear argued her case on the basis of evidence which shows that younger cadets were, “more likely to suffer PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, commit suicide and more likely to die or be injured in active service than older recruits.”
Spear also accused the Ministry of the Defence of, “preying on 15, 16 and 17-year-olds at their most vulnerable time.”
These comments come in reference to the Ministry’s previous policies of extensive advertising on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, specifically targeting young adults considered as vulnerable to the stress of exam results and future prospects.
Under the aforementioned current national law, the United Kingdom remains the only nation within both the European Union and Nato to allow recruitment of teens under the age of 18 into the various branches of the countries armed forces. Furthermore, this cap is not even limited to 16, as provisional applications can be made by those aged as young as 15 years and seven months.
Statistics released by the Ministry of Defence show that 2,250 individuals classified as ‘minors’ under the age of 20 were recruited nationwide last year, with 1,000 of these cadets then stationed into the army.
Spear’s comments also come off the back of a wider national campaign lead by experts related to the issue. Only last month, a group of 52 specialists in fields including military affairs and international law released an open letter to the SNP claiming that current provisions allowing full-combat training for those under 18 is a breach of international norms.
However, the YSI’s proposals were met with some criticisms from senior figures within the party. Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South and defence spokesman for the Scottish government, responded to Spear’s speech by instead favouring a potential amendment to current law that would only raise the ‘active duty age’ to 18.
In addition, Carol Monaghan, MP for Glasgow North West and armed forces spokeswoman of the SNP, argued that raising the minimum recruitment age would instead be counter-intuitive by denying new opportunities to young people who seek alternatives to other institutional choices.
Yet when voting was opened up to decide the proposals, conference delegates elected to defy the advice of senior officials in favour of the youth wing’s proposals.
Other significant topics covered by the YSI at the conference included proposed measures on drug reform and discussions on period poverty affecting young people.
Image: Ninian Reid