MSYPs, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is now time for me to make my last speech to SYP since I first stood for election 5 years ago and while I’m sad to be leaving, I’m also proud and optimistic because I’m really glad to say the SYP I stood for election to as a 14 year old is not the SYP that I’ve led over the past year as Chair.
We’re better, so much better than then. We now have a much stronger mandate to represent young people with 2011′s elections gaining over 63,000 votes and there now being a representative from every part of Scotland.
Today, we achieve real change for Scotland’s young people with this year seeing the achievement of real progress for young carers, the introduction of Votes at 16 for the referendum and of course, the introduction of same-sex marriage in Scotland. If I’m honest, it’s probably that last, and I think greatest achievement, so far, that I’ll be most proud of from my time as an MSYP.
What that campaign showed me is that for young people, there is no great divide between us. We believe in fairness and freedom as a generation, that campaign showed that we weren’t afraid to get out there and to stand up, as young people, for what we believe is right. On a personal note, and on behalf of those young people, myself included, who thanks to the hard work and campaigning of this membership and the one before can now enjoy the same rights to marry regardless of sexuality, can I say thank you and I hope you all can take a little bit of pride in knowing that you have made a real difference for a lot of young people.
This September, our ability to make a real difference for young people will also be on display when thanks to our hard campaigning work, we helped ensure 16 and 17 year olds will get a say on the future of their nation. And if I can ask you one favour, after the referendum, it’s this – when young people have turned out in their thousands for the referendum and have cast the most important ballot of the next 30 years, ask your Parliamentarians why exactly some of your constituents got to vote on the future of their country but can’t vote to decide their MP, MSP or Councillor. Whatever the result of the referendum, the campaign for Votes at 16 will face a now or never opportunity to secure Votes at 16 for generations to come, let’s make sure SYP is at the forefront of clinching that final, lasting victory on the voting age.
And this year’s campaign, Care.Fair. Share., exemplifies the idea that young people have a real calling towards fairness and social justice. Most of us in this room aren’t young carers but we’ve spent the last six months up and down the country, shouting loud to make sure young carers get the fair treatment they deserve and I know, from talking to young carers, that they appreciate that their Youth Parliament is 100% right behind them and the invaluable role they play in society. And for the last time, can I once again embarrass Lauren King MSYP, our campaign lead. Lauren is a SYP success story. She’s taken an issue which was on the fringes of our debates, brought to her by her local young carers group, presented it to us, presented it to Parliament and she now leads a National Campaign all about fairness for young carers. Lauren, thank you for your work as our campaign lead, you’ve done a fantastic job and I know everyone in this room is incredibly proud to have you as our campaign lead.
As I look around this room, I also see a growing SYP success story. When I first stood 5 years ago, we used to get accusations of being a “middle class talking shop” thrown at us regularly. We’re now more representative that ever before. From the boy fae Govan as Chair to a membership more reflective of Scotland, no-one now says that about us – but we can’t rest because we always need to be doing our best to be more representative. If there’s one area that we need to work on, it’s ensuring we continue to grow the number of young women in our organisation but I don’t think that happens by quotas, by selecting people because of their gender. SYP needs to keep making the case to women across the country to get involved and then when they’re here, to stand to lead our organisation.
We’ve had a fantastic year. It has been my privilege to lead SYP through it and as I said at the start, I leave proud and optimistic. We’ve taken the challenge of the referendum by the horns and used it as an opportunity to reach out to others in our sector and to young people who we’ve never reached before to urge them to register to vote and cast their vote. We’re now seen as the sector leader on Young Voter Engagement and we’ve got a real opportunity, post-referendum, to continue to build our Youth Engagement and our reputation for high quality, youth-led engagement reaching out to more and more young people, letting them know we’re here for them and encouraging them to use us as their voice.
I’m also really proud of our SYPeers programme which sees young people, who aren’t MSYPs but who are passionate about democracy and our work, receive training to go out across Scotland and deliver sessions and engage with young people. It sums up the change in SYP we’ve made over the last couple of years. SYP is no longer just a members club, where all our focus goes solely on MSYPs, but we reach out to all young people, with programmes and opportunities, youth engagement and education events. That’s what a Parliament is all about, not looking in but reaching out and SYP is always at its best when we reach out and involve as many young people as we can in our work.
Jamie and his team have also been working hard to ensure that we reach the “hard to reach” young people in Scotland. We’ve been working with a range of partners to make it happen from young prisoners to looked after young people to young carers. We’ve been making sure your background isn’t a barrier to participating in SYP.
While SYP is bringing back Youth Work in a big way to our work centrally, we’re seeing a real challenge to youth work by our Local Authorities. When I lost my first SYP Election, it was Jo, my Youth Worker at the time who kept me involved in the whole thing. She refused to let me just drop off or do other things and I can’t thank her enough for what she did for me. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Jo and I know many of you will have similar Youth Workers, who have made that difference to your life. SYP needs to start telling its Youth Work stories because if we don’t, we risk letting youth work disappear in some places. In my own authority, it hangs on by a thread because of determined people, who need our support. Tomorrow’s young people will thank us for making the case now for strong youth work services. Could I please take this opportunity to ask you all to show your appreciation to your Support Workers for the work that they do with you on an ongoing basis, and for all the work involved in bringing us to Shetland this weekend.
This year we’ve also had a range of internal reforms, some of which I’ll be putting forward to a vote tomorrow. I think it is mark of maturity that we are able to look at ourselves and our structures with a critical eye, and make positive changes based on the views of our Membership.
Our staff team is now bigger and better and I think it shows. We’re quickly gaining a reputation for being an efficient, well run and passionate organisation. Our staff team love what we do, they embrace their role in supporting young people to take the lead in our organisation and we owe them a real debt for what they do to enable us to represent Scotland’s young people.
It has been my pleasure to lead an organisation with such a fantastic team within it and I want to pay special tribute to our Chief Executive, Hamira. You don’t quite appreciate just how much she does for us until you become “the boss”. I’ve never met someone so hard working, dynamic, creative and passionate about us. She’s first in in the morning and last out at night and really does put 110% into SYP, making sure we have a well run staff team and that our organisation is working well. On behalf of the board, and the membership, thank you very much.
My last thanks as Chair has to go to all of you, our members. We wouldn’t be a here today if it wasn’t for you all working in your local areas, promoting our campaigns and being passionate about SYP. As much as I said that we must be for all of Scotland’s young people, it is MSYPs who are the beating heart of our organisation. You take the big decisions, you lead the organisation and you make the case so well for why we need more young people in public life in Scotland. Thank you to all of you for being out in your communities, talking and listening to young people and campaigning for a better deal for young people.
And so as I draw my remarks to a close, I can only reflect on what has been a life changing experience for me. Where I’m from in Glasgow is better known for its negatives than its positives. SYP has changed my life and given me opportunities that I could never have dreamed of. From speaking in the House of Commons from the Despatch Box to addressing Commonwealth Parliamentarians in Cardiff to speaking in our very own Parliament and being able to meet so many different people from so many walks of life. When I first stood for election, I was a shier, less confident person than today and I owe so much to this organisation which has really transformed my life, making me a better person, able to take on what life throws my way.
But more than what SYP has given to me is what it has enabled me to do for the young people that I represent in the Southside of Glasgow. I’ve had the opportunities to fight for the things that matter to them, to protect local youth services and to raise the issues that affect them every day here at SYP and beyond. I make a point of always making it be known that I represent Glasgow Southside because I’m really proud of where I’m from and the young people that I represent and when I stand down tomorrow as their MSYP, I’m happy to say I’ve done my bit to make our little bit of Glasgow that bit better.
SYP has been my second family for the last three years since being elected. I’ve had the immense privilege of being your Vice Chair and Chair. I hope that I’ve helped make our organisation the best it can be, with the capacity and vision to develop even more, because Scotland’s young people really need us, more than ever, to be fighting their corner.
SYP is an independent voice, willing to stand up for what young people tell us is the right thing. We’re democratic, inclusive, independent and passionate. Our core values make us what we are and we should never lose sight of them.
Tomorrow you will elect a new board and a new Chair who I know will take SYP to even better places. Lots of candidates love to talk about change but do you know what, I think that’s a bit of a faulty use of words. I think SYP can be improved, absolutely, but what we have works actually quite well, so before you say change, change, change, let’s appreciate the fantastic organisation we have now and look at how we can improve it and make it better for the future.
Be proud to be here and be proud of what you’re doing for young people who otherwise would have no voice at all.
It has been an honour and privilege to be your Chair this past year and if I can ever be of help, please don’t hesitate to call.
So Thank You and Goodbye.