SNP under fire over votes for teenage soldiers

A BORDERS ex-army officer has accused the local Scottish National Party of misleading voters with claims that teenage boys in uniform are really “fighting” soldiers and as such should be allowed to vote.

Neil Ballantyne, who runs the Ballantyne’s of Walkerburn military figurines firm, is a former Parachute Regiment officer who lives in Ettrickbridge.

Mr Ballantyne, who has two sons who have been deployed on active service while in the military, was so outraged by statements contained in the SNP survey, that he contacted TheSouthern.

“There is a printed leaflet being passed around Galashiels by our SNP prospective council candidates that states that it is the view of the SNP that 16-year-olds who join the army are ‘fighting’ soldiers and as such should therefore have the right to vote,” said Mr Ballantyne, whose wife, Michelle, is also standing – for the Conservatives – in next month’s local authority elections.

“It is also clear that the nationalists, even on their main national website, are using this logic as a major part of their argument to squeeze down the voting age in the 2014 independence referendum to include 16 to 18-year-olds.”

Mr Ballantyne pointed out that while Britain’s armed forces accept youngsters from the age of 16 into training as junior soldiers, they were not permitted to be deployed on operations.

“Young soldiers – under the age of 18 – are not legally allowed to fight and have to remain at their home base whilst the battalion or unit deploys. On their 18th birthday they are called forward to join their parent unit,” he said. “In my time in the army, the regimental staff were extremely particular if you were under 18 – you stayed in barracks no matter what the situation.”

However, when contacted by TheSouthern, SNP councillor John Mitchell, who represents Galashiels and District, said no offence was intended and there was no attempt to deliberately mislead people.

“We recently distributed 5,000 copies of our survey. In it there was a statement that since 16-year-olds can join the army and fight for their country, because they can pay taxes, then they should be allowed to vote,” explained Mr Mitchell.

“Even if you only cook or clean in the army, you are classed as technically ‘fighting’ for your country. But several people have since highlighted this particular phrase and pointed out that since the Falklands War – when I think someone quite young was killed – the rules have changed over who can and cannot be sent to actually fight. It was just semantics really, but we have apologised for any misunderstanding.”

But Mr Ballantyne said the precedent for this policy on age limits was set during the First World War when it was understood that young men, who did not yet have the right to vote, could not either be sent to war, or vote to send others to war.

“The key here is ‘over 18’. The days of ‘boy’ soldiers seeing active service on the front line at Waterloo or Rorke’s Drift a re gone, this was a turning point in our society,” added Mr Ballantyne.

“My concern is that either the SNP haven’t bothered to find out the facts concerning the role of our under-18s in the British armed forces; or that they have found out, but find their own argument just too persuasive to be bent by the truth; or finally, and this is even more concerning, is that in the independent Scotland that the SNP envisages, they plan to send 16 to 18-year-olds, as voting adults, into military action.”