THERE were tensions within the SNP’s Westminster group during a debate on the age at which the army recruits.

Although party policy is to back the current system that lets 16 and 17-year-olds sign up, there was a mini-rebellion from some MPs who tried to put forward a counter argument in the Westminster Hall session yesterday.

However, Stephen Paterson, of the party’s defence team, denied his colleague Ronnie Cowan a chance to speak, by taking up most of the time allocated to the SNP, instead of splitting it. The Tory chair of the debate told Cowan he had 30 seconds to make his case by the debate chair, which was then reduced to 10 seconds after he complained.

Tommy Sheppard, the Edinburgh MP, who also wants to raise the age of recruitment, could be heard shouting: “This is farcical”.

MP Mark Pritchard, chairing the debate, told Sheppard to stop his “back-chat”.

“Mr Paterson decided to give a longer speech than Mr Cowan would have liked, but that is their decision,” Pritchard said.

Kirsten Oswald, SNP spokeswoman on armed forces and veterans, then declined to take an intervention from Cowan.

There have been tensions in the party over the army recruitment age for some time. At the party’s ruling National Council last year, an SNP youth motion calling for the recruitment age to be increased to 18 was halted by the Westminster group.

The debate in Westminster yesterday was pushed for by a Plaid Cymru MP and based on a report by medical charity Medact, which said young recruits were more likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, alcohol abuse, self-harm, suicide, and death or injury during their career when compared to adult recruits. A motion in the Scottish Parliament based on that report was backed by 18 SNP MSPs.

Meanwhile, a report that Maxwelltown High School in Dumfries was to become the first of several Scottish state secondary schools to have their own cadet units was dismissed by the Scottish Government.

An official said the school wouldn’t adopt the system which operates in English schools and some Scottish private schools, but teachers would work with the “voluntary youth org-anisation” and offer pupils a course they could choose to study.

A Scottish Government spokesman told The National: “These claims are wrong. There is no change to Scottish Government policy and there is no proposal being progressed to introduce the UK Government scheme and establish cadet units in Scottish schools.”

“The pilot at Maxwelltown High School is significantly different from the UK Government scheme, which we have made clear is not suitable for introduction in Scotland’s schools because it does not contribute to the curriculum. Schools will not host a cadet unit. Instead, the Army Cadet Force will work with local authorities to offer a syllabus as an elective subject taught as part of the school timetable.”

The SNP’s youth vice-convener Rory Steel said they are uncomfortable: He said: “When people can join the armed forces as young as 15 years old, it is extremely concerning that the Ministry of Defence is trying to gain access to Scotland’s schools and young people – particularly those in deprived areas.

“The MoD has admitted that it is targeting under-18s for the infantry – the role with the highest rate of death and injury – to make up for the shortfall in adult recruits.

“Its recruitment materials are also targeted at the ‘academically disengaged’. When the propaganda of patriotism is stripped back, its motivations are clear – get young working-class Scots on the frontline. Our country and movement have a strong record on human rights and young people’s rights. We want that to continue and The SNP Youth therefore oppose plans to include the armed forces in school curriculums.”