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24 October 2015

Good morning MSYPs!

Can I begin by extending a huge welcome to you all and in particular a warm welcome to Giffnock here in the heart of East Renfrewshire.

I’d like to offer my thanks to East Renfrewshire Council and in particular Emma Ball for their kind offer to host this 58thNational Sitting of Scotland’s Youth Parliament and indeed in hosting this evening’s entertainment also.

Scottish Youth Parliament National Sittings are a wonderful manifestation of the core purpose of this great organisation.

Our purpose is to provide a national platform for young people to discuss the issues of importance to them and to campaign to affect the change they wish to see.

I know that many of you will have been out in your communities across Scotland consulting and engaging with young people about the Members’ Motions, which will be debated at the sitting this weekend, and indeed the campaign that we, together, will select to be our focus for the year ahead.

In this sense, there is no better display of our core purpose and goals than these, our National Sittings, and I know, that will be why many of you will have decided to stand for election to this, the Scottish Youth Parliament.

I know that for me, it was the spark that ignited my passion for representing my constituents, and as I shared with you in my Closing Remarks when you elected me as your Chair, I said:

“I got involved in SYP because I was a young person who didn’t have a voice when I was younger. I experienced bullying at times, and I wanted to make sure that young people across Scotland, and in particular in my area, never experienced this or felt that they too did not have a voice.”

Just like me, you all have a personal story and journey, so far, that has led you here, to the Scottish Youth Parliament. I know that the passion that you have for ensuring that the voices of young people in your communities are represented and that those views are harnessed to bring about real change, is so fundamental to the success of our organisation. I have no doubt that you will continue to champion this passion throughout our weekend.

For that reason, I’d like to use my Opening Remarks to do something new at SYP Sittings. I want to reflect on some examples of the outstanding work which MSYPs are doing across the country.

Since that first sitting of newly elected and re-elected Members in Renfrewshire in June, earlier in the year, it’s been a very very busy few months.

For example, I know that:

The Shetland and the Edinburgh MSYPs have gathered almost 15,000 consultation responses between them- what an achievement that is! I wonder if any other regions can top that?

The Health and Wellbeing Committee was represented by Martin Gallacher MSYP, their Convener, at an international health and wellbeing conference where he delivered a keynote address on the relationship between poverty and health.

The Dundee MSYPs have been working tirelessly to deliver an extensive consultation programme with young people in their communities to ensure as many of their voices are heard in the debates this weekend.

Aqeel Ahmed MSYP and Osama Nadeem MSYP grilled the Secretary of State for Scotland on what more he would do to ensure Scotland’s voice was heard in the reporting process on the rights of children and young people, and on how the powers in the Scotland Bill could address child and youth poverty in Scotland.

And Girl Guiding MSYP Emma Rattray facilitated a table of young people at the recent Children and Young People Summit in Oban, with the Scottish Government Cabinet, including the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

I felt it so vitally important that I use the first part of my inaugural speech to you as a Membership, as your Chair, to celebrate the work that you have been doing. I also want to reaffirm my commitment to you, today, to do this at every opportunity I get throughout my time as your Chair.

Of course, that was just a snapshot of the amazing work that has gone on in your communities in just three short months. I’m particularly looking forward to the regional session where we will have the opportunity to share best practice and build friendships with neighbouring authorities and Members.

Now I want to turn to SYP’s activity on a national level.

Our National Campaign “POVERTY: See It  Change It” has gone from strength to strength culminating in the publication and launch of our  “It’s Not A Choice” Report yesterday to mark the end of Challenge Poverty Week.

In addition, we celebrated 16 incredible years of our Parliament’s life in June and launched the biggest ever consultation for Scotland’s young people, our Youth Manifesto “Lead The Way”.

Over the last few months, MSYPs have been engaging with tens of thousands of young people across Scotland. Right now, I can tell you all, that there are more than 140,000 Lead The Way Consultation sheets in communities all across Scotland! What an astonishing achievement in your first months!

So that was a quick summary of all the fantastic things that have been going on so far this year, locally and nationally.

As you will remember, one of the key pledges of the Board you elected in June was to make sure as many MSYPs as possible could benefit from training and development opportunities.

In the last few months alone, over 30 Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament have now received newly developed MSYP media training and there will be further opportunities in the coming months ahead.

MSYPs have attended many local and national events on behalf of the Scottish Youth Parliament such as the stakeholder engagement event with the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell in Edinburgh, and the Human Rights Act Engagement Event with the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.

MSYPs continue to feature heavily in our fortnightly SYP News, showcasing the great work you are doing in your local communities, and sharing your best practice with fellow MSYPs. SYP News also features many exciting opportunities that are open to ALL MSYPs- if you want to take up an opportunity, like the ones I have just mentioned, they are only a click away! So keep an eye on your official SYP email.

We also ran a very successful discussion day in partnership with the Scottish Government regarding “New Psychoactive Substances” which will fundamentally inform the Scottish Government’s approach to tackling the issue and I know that many of you here today attended that event to ensure that you represented the view of your constituents.

When this Board, your Board, stood for election, we promised to ensure that more of you than ever could avail of the wide ranging training and development opportunities that are a key part of being an MSYP. As you have heard, the local and national achievements, the training and development opportunities, and all of our other activities has made for a jam-packed few months, as we have settled into our new roles.

Given all this amazing activity, all that is coming up, and the strong commitment we made on our election to devolve as many opportunities as possible, we have been considering for some time how to best achieve this.

Therefore, I am delighted to announce today that the Board will be developing and publishing a new Opportunities Policy. This will set out how all policy and media opportunities are offered out to MSYPs and explain the decision making process that is followed whenever one of these opportunities is presented to us. When complete, the new Opportunity Policy will be available to all of you.

We also said that we wanted you, our Members, to have the chance to hold your Board to account on the work we have been doing on your behalf.

As such, we have introduced the first ever LIVE, Online, Board Question and Answer sessions so that MSYPs have more opportunities to ask the Board, that they elected back in June, what progress has been made so far and keep holding them to account. If any of you ever want to ask any Board member a question- now you have that opportunity. And, if you aren’t able to participate, please don’t hesitate to email any questions to me directly. I can promise you that we will answer every one.

However, let’s turn now, together, to the present, to the here and now, to this, our 58th National Sitting – where we will work together to set our direction for the months to come, when we debate policy and crucially, decide our National Campaign for 2016.

Of course, as well as all of the serious business to cover, this weekend will be one of the many wonderful opportunities to build relationships with new friends, and to strengthen the friendships we already have.

The Scottish Youth Parliament is a little about politics and a lot about you! It is a fantastic opportunity for us to develop our skills and confidence, so I would really urge you to make the most of this weekend, and really truly get involved with all of the sessions.

I know first-hand, how daunting it can be, to speak at a sitting – but I want to make this clear – this Youth Parliament and this Sitting, is a safe space. It is a place for you to have your voice heard and champion Scotland’s young people. Let me say this, as your Chair, you have my commitment to making sure that we live up to that ethos in everything that we do.

I think that you have heard enough from me, and if I continue to talk, to build it up, to hype it, to make it any more exciting than it already is – I may pop!

So let’s get on with it! Let’s Lead The Way!