SNP Youth disappointed as party MPs block military recruitment motion 


SNP National Council knocks back motion on raising age of military recruitment 

SNP YOUTH LEADERS have called on a number of their party's leading MPs to rethink opposition to raising the age of British military recruitment from 15 to 18.

A number of MPs lined up to oppose the youth motion at SNP Council last weekend in Perth, where party leaders consider key internal matters and policy motions.

Young party members are campaigning for the party to oppose youth military recruitment, which has been linked to exacerbating health risks in recruits. Military leaders are also accused of taking advantage of vulnerable teenagers through the practice.

The campaign has picked up the pace since February when over 1,000 people supported a Scottish Parliament petition in concern over military targeting of Scottish school children.

SNP MSPs put their weight behind the connected issue of youth recruitment, which allows children as young as 15 years and 7 months to begin the process of signing up to the armed forces.

"I am perplexed as to why an elected body of MPs chose to speak against a motion put forward by the youth wing on issues that impact young people without any discussions with the youth wing.” SNP Youth convenor Rhiannon Spear

But in Perth on Saturday (3 December) a motion to advance the campaign as formal policy was shot down as party deputy leader Angus Robertson, MP colleague Owen Thompson, and fellow Westminster MP Corri Wilson combined to oppose the policy change.

The decision has caused consternation elsewhere in the party, with fears that some MPs are not reflecting the interests of the wider membership. However, SNP sources have told CommonSpace that other MPs – who did not speak out in Perth – are privately supportive of the campaign. The opposition has left youth campaigners “perplexed” and “embarrassed” over the National Council outcome. 

SNP Youth Convenor Rhiannon Spear told CommonSpace: “As I said on the day the remit back was disrespectful to both our party's internal democratic processes but also the young people who had dedicated so much time to this issue which we all feel so strongly about.

"I am perplexed as to why an elected body of MPs chose to speak against a motion put forward by the youth wing on issues that impact young people without any discussions with the youth wing.”

“Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.” Medact report conclusions 

Rory Steel, SNP Youth vice convenor, added: “Many members are utterly devastated that the motion did not pass – especially due to the extent of the opposition from our own MPs which was undoubtedly a deciding factor. We had asked for meetings with the SNP Defence team prior, but these requests were ignored.

“If passed, this would have been a major move towards protecting our young people and bridging the educational attainment gap which is the key to social mobility and a top priority of the SNP and Scottish Government. I’m embarrassed that our party has agreed to continue to support under-18s joining the military which puts them directly in harm’s way and can be detrimental to young peoples’ life prospects.

“We plan to regroup and see what we can do to bring the motion back to members. This is not an issue we are prepared to be silenced on or walk away from.

“Raising the recruitment age is not contradictory at all with giving votes to 16 year olds. Voting is about being included in the political and civic process of your society.

“While 16 year olds do have the right to choose their own career, we have to accept that a career in the armed forces is an extremely exceptional career path like no other with unique dangers and risks, including a higher likelihood of death and injury compared to recruits who join in adulthood.

“On that basis, each issue – whether it be voting, a military career, smoking, or drinking – has to be assessed on its own merits.”

CommonSpace contacted various SNP Westminster sources in search of an explanation for why the policy had been opposed. Military affairs spokespeople Brendan O’Hara MP and Kirsten Oswald MP did not provide a response – and passed the issue to the party's press office.

A SNP spokesperson told CommonSpace: “The issue was remitted back by the National Council  to be looked at in more detail.”

British military targeting of youth recruitment has been a long running issue of consternation for peace campaigners. Research, recently strengthened by a report from health experts Medact, links underage recruitment to increased risks of mental illness and debilitating physical injuries.

It concluded that: “Child recruits are more vulnerable to PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, death and injury during an armed forces career when compared to adult recruits.”

Eighteen backbench SNP MSPs supported a motion in the Scottish Parliament raising concerns over the report’s findings. 

Recent figures found that 16 year olds were the largest age segment for recruits into the British army, representing 24.1 per cent of the total for 2015-16.

Campaign groups Forces Watch and the Quakers have brought a petition to the Scottish Parliament over concerns at the excessive targeting of young people with military visits and propaganda style material glamourising a life in the military.

The review of the petition, which calls for greater transparency and guidance surrounding visits, has been extended twice for further investigation by MSPs.

CommonSpace previously shared the story of young military recruits Conor McAllister and Geoffrey Martin, who both felt betrayed by military leadership and the government following their spells in the military.

179 serving UK troops died in Iraq during ‘Operation Telic’, while those suffering from post-dramatic stress is estimated to be far higher. The war in Iraq – where hundreds of thousands of civilians died – was also criticised by military groups over a failure to equip military personnel with the correct gear and safe transportation.

SNP Youth, in conjunction with various campaign groups, plan to continue their campaign.

Picture courtesy of Wellington College

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