Ban on military recruitment of under 18s passed overwhelmingly at SNP conference

SNP Youth campaign to increase minimum age for armed forces backed by members

A RESOLUTION to raise the minimum age of military recruitment from 16 to 18 was passed overwhelmingly by SNP members at the conference on Sunday (8 October), marking a change in position for the party, which voted against a similar resolution last year.

The resolution was proposed by Young Scots for Independence, the youth wing of the SNP, which has campaigned on the issue over the past two years, and backed by numerous MSPs and MPs.

An amendment to the resolution – overwhelmingly rejected at the conference - was put forward by MPs Stewart McDonald and Carol Monaghan, which would have called to raise the active duty age to 18, in contrast to the resolution which referred to the recruitment age for all roles which require combat training.

"We believe that an independent Scotland should join the world in the norm that young people are recruited from 18." Councillor Rhiannon Spear

SNP councillor for Greater Pollok and national convener of the SNP Youth branch Rhiannon Spear told CommonSpace: “We are absolutely ecstatic that the party and the members of our party have chosen to trust our young people, have chosen to act on their behalf today by supporting our motion and rejecting the amendment.

“Now we have fully mandated our Westminster politicians to join with our colleagues in Plaid Cymru and call for the raising of military recruitment age for all roles that require combat training. This will now be the SNP party policy, that the SNP believes that all roles that require combat training should be recruited from 18 and above.

“And for us a lot of that was about creating a vision of what an independent Scotland’s defence force would look like and we believe that an independent Scotland should join the world in the norm that young people are recruited from 18.”

Spear delivered an impassioned speech during the debate, citing unscrupulous recruitment practices which target vulnerable and alienated young people, primarily from working class backgrounds, and highlighting research which suggests a number of adverse impacts of early recruitment.  

She said: “The Ministry of Defence literally say that recruiting 16 and 17 year olds to is to mitigate for a shortfall in recruiting for the infantry, the most dangerous role.”

Spear noted that the UK is the only EU or NATO country which currently recruits at 16 – and that 15 year olds can even be recruited in advance of turning 16.

Responding to the proposed amendment, she said “this position is no different to the UK government” and that it did “nothing” to address the issues at the heart of the resolution.

"If we give young people a pencil to go into a ballot box, that is nothing like equivalent to giving them a gun." Christina McKelvie MSP

Christina McKelvie also spoke in favour of the motion, and said that she wanted to dispel any “false equivalence” between the right to vote and military recruitment age.

She said: “If we give young people a pencil to go into a ballot box, that is nothing like equivalent to giving them a gun, teaching them how to use that gun.”

McKelvie added that the values instilled by military training and culture, such as aggression, the use of dominance to overcome difficult situations, and “unquestionable obedience”, were not values she wanted to teach to young people.

Stewart McDonald MP, the SNP’s defence spokesperson, argued the case for empowering young people to make their own decisions, recalling his own experience of considering joining the military.

He said: “For me as a 17 year-old that was my decision it wasn’t anyone else’s.

“For decades we have sought to empower young people, to be married, to vote, and yes, to take part in that ultimate act of citizenship.”

McDonald announced that he and Carol Monaghan MP will set up a commission to look at broader issues around military working conditions, including the pay cap, accommodation, and the lack of access to a trade union.

“The Ministry Of Defence are the absolute belly of the beast of Westminster.” Stewart McDonald MP

McDonald insisted that he was not defending the status quo, adding: “The Ministry Of Defence are the absolute belly of the beast of Westminster.”

However, he argued that the resolution was “out of step” with the veterans’ community, and that it did not take account of the complexity of the issues.

Carol Monaghan also argued against raising the recruitment age, describing the experience of a former pupil who joined the military and told her that if he hadn’t, he would “be in Barlinnie”.

Monaghan used this as an example of the positive benefits of the military for young people in difficult circumstances. “It can be the saving of them”, she said.

Meanwhile, she argued that more focus was needed on wider reforms to the Ministry of Defence.

Others speaking in favour of the resolution highlighted the fact that young people are not legally allowed to drink, smoke, watch certain films or play video games with violent content until they turn 18.

Cailyn McMahon, a member of the SNP Youth wing, said that “rights should not be given at a blanket age”. She added: “Our party is committed to supporting the EU and our party is committed to supporting the UNCHR, so there is no reason for our party to not be committed to making it 18.”

Following a vociferous debate, members voted against an outright rejection of the resolution and the amendment, before the resolution itself was passed.

Picture courtesy of Defence Images

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