It all started in February, when the Membership of East Dunbartonshire Youth Council were presented with the idea of hosting a ‘Youth Summit’. The aim was to improve political literacy with students in the area. In short, we wanted the day to be about engaging and informing our constituents about local issues, and most importantly, about the upcoming independence referendum. So, early this June – after hours and hours of planning – that’s what we did.
We invited a group of around twenty S5 and S6 pupils from each of the eight secondary schools in East Dunbartonshire, along with some locally elected members (who came to see the event unfold), for an action-packed day filled with different sessions. We held a session on the process of voting itself, and afterwards held a mock-vote using ballot boxes. We had speeches on ‘The Importance of Democracy’ from two members of a debating club from a local school who have recently won a televised debating competition. We held our own Aye Naw Mibbe sessions with groups of pupils, and afterwards discussed local issues concerning education, health, transport, and recreation with them. Then to finish off, we had a fantastic independence debate, where our constituents put forward their own questions to the panel – which consisted of two speakers from both Yes Scotland and Better Together. Empowering young people was a big theme of the day, so we found it important that each of the two campaigns included a young person as a speaker, giving the debate an honest opinion of how they felt independence would affect them as young people.
One of my favourite sessions of the day was the Aye Naw Mibbe session. All members of the Youth Council had been given training in how to run these sessions, so we divided off into groups and carried out an Aye Naw Mibbe session by ourselves. I was fortunate to have a really engaged and enthusiastic group, which made running this part of day even better. There was some fascinating debate and a lot of great ideas circulating during the part of the session where we asked the question, “If you were in power for a day, what would you change?” As well as having invited locally elected members, members of the SYP staff team were in attendance giving young people, including myself, the opportunity to register to vote. It was eye-opening to see how many young people there didn’t realise that they had to register to vote, and those who just hadn’t gotten around to it. It was an amazing feeling to know that most of the young people in attendance are now registered to vote, as it’s such a huge part of what will be their first ever opportunity to vote.
At the beginning and end of the day, we held short interactive voting sessions, where the use of voting pads allowed our constituents to tell us how informed they felt about registering to vote and how to vote. When the young people were asked at the end of the day, “Do you now feel more informed about how to vote?” an incredible 99% of them voted ‘yes’ – meaning our efforts in delivering the Aye Naw Mibbe session, along with the mock ballot, had helped the majority of them feel more confident in the process of voting. Also, when they were asked, “Do you now feel more capable of making an informed decision when voting in the referendum?” an amazing 83% voted yes – indicating that the independence debate helped answer a great deal of their questions.
I feel incredibly proud of the East Dunbartonshire Youth Council for the huge effort that we made in order to make this day a success – alongside the wonderful SYP Youth Engagement Team, who offered a great deal of support. Being part of our Youth Council and making an impact on the political involvement and interest of our constituents gives me a great deal of pride – and I’m sure other youth forums looking to do something similar would feel the same too.
Rachel Crawford MSYP