PRIMARY school children will no longer be arrested and treated as offenders after MSPs unanimously backed moves to raise the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12.

Children’s minister Maree Todd hailed the “landmark” legislation after it passed its final stage at the Scottish Parliament – increasing the age of criminal responsibility to the highest in the UK.

But critics said it was a “dismal” day for Scotland as the move did not go far enough, with child welfare experts arguing the age should be at least 14 and ideally 16.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “How can we stand in judgement over countries like Russia, or like China, over their human rights abuses, when they have higher ages of criminality responsibility than we do?”

Speaking after the debate, he said: “I’m utterly crestfallen at the SNP’s decision not to meet the UN’s recommendations on the age of criminal responsibility.

“It felt like we’d won the argument. But the government bottled it and decided their re-election was more important than children’s rights.

“They have without a doubt sunk any suggestion that Scotland can be a world leader on human rights.

“Any time we take issue with Russia or China on human rights matters those countries will be able to point out that they have a higher age of criminal responsibility than we do.

“The SNP have no cause to speak of this with pride. I will remind them of it every time they try to proclaim their credentials on children’s or human rights in future.”

Ms Todd said Mr Cole-Hamilton has “weakened his own arguments” by comparing Scotland to “countries with a human rights record like China”.

She said: “Today is a historic day. This ground-breaking law delivers a bold, progressive, child-centred approach that will make a real difference to children’s lives.

“We can be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the UK.

“Currently young children can be left with criminal records that can follow them into adulthood and affect their chances of getting training or a job. The measures in the Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill will end that.”

Earlier this week, Ms Todd announced a new advisory group which will examine if the age should be raised to higher than 12. Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility has been eight for the last 87 years.