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UofG students criticise conscription

By Aaron Purba

It has been over 60 years since military conscription ended, and with tensions across Europe continuing to escalate, just how likely is it that British citizens will be called up for military service in the UK? Is the military just trying to strike some fear into British citizens, or is this just an empty threat?

National Service, the system of voluntary or mandatory conscription, ended in the UK in 1963. While there are currently no plans to bring it back, Senior Army Officer and Chief of the General Staff, General Sanders, recently spoke about the possibility of military conscription in the future. Sanders, while addressing 1,000 top military leaders, government officials and arms suppliers from across the globe at the International Armoured Vehicles Conference (IAVC) in London, claimed that if a war were to break out right now, “troop numbers would be too small”.

While Sanders stopped short of calling for conscription, reports claimed  that he is a believer in a “professional army made from volunteers”, something which could be implemented should the military be too small and the UK became involved in a large scale war. Mandatory conscription is not currently in effect in the UK, but Parliament can pass a bill reinstating it should the country face a national crisis.

The Glasgow Guardian spoke to some University of Glasgow students about their opinions on the possibility of conscription. Jocelynn*, a second-year student studying French and Politics, said: “In all honesty, I found it pretty poor from the likes of a military general so high up. If anything, someone [in his position] should be challenging the likes of the government, the people who would be getting us into these wars in the first place. I’m also not a fan of the people saying that our generation is not equipped for war and things like that, because what does that even mean? Why should I be dragged to war because the incompetent government, that I happen to fall under, cannot get along with other nations?”

Another student, Brian*, who studies History said that “It’s a sad case of affairs. I think people forget that the World Wars were not that long ago, so surely, you’d hope after everything that happened and all the effects that were and continue to be felt, governments and people in power would do anything to avoid what would end up being a massacre of civilian lives […] The UK is lucky enough to be wealthy enough that I believe it creates alternative pathways to things like war. I find it understandable when countries like Sudan, Syria, Palestine go to war – each for their independent reasons – but primarily as states, they do not have the alternative options to rebel. Fighting, blood and violence are some of their few choices, so as a more economically developed country, we must choose the safer methods, purely because we can.

The British Army itself has seen its size reduce from over 100,000 trained regulars in 2010 to currently approximately 73,000. General Sanders has said the British Army would need to grow to be 120,000 strong, with an addition of reserves within the next three years should conflict continue in Europe. In response, these statements have been labelled as “not helpful” by the government in Downing Street.

National Service still remains a thing of the past for many British citizens. Whilst rumours of the imminence of National Service were dismissed by Downing Street, growing tensions in Europe still begs the question – are we really that safe from war?*The names of interviewees have been withheld due to their requests.


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