Good evening everyone,
Firstly, I’d like to begin by thanking the UK Parliament and the British Youth Council for inviting me along to speak this evening at what is certain to be a fascinating and insightful event.
My name is Jordan Linden, and I am the Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Uddingston and Bellshill, and the current Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament. For those of you who aren’t already aware, the Scottish Youth Parliament is the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people. We exist 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.
Whenever I received the brief about this evening, one line really struck me. It’s something that we all already know of course, but I think it’s the first time I’ve seen it written in black and white: The current generation of young people are the first to have only experienced politics within the context of devolution and the three devolved legislatures.
What a fascinating thought to explore further throughout the course of this evening.
I think one of the challenges of this discussion, is that the developments in devolution since its inception have largely taken place bi-laterally between our respective nations, and the UK Parliament and Government here in Westminster. That, of course, means that we will all have different perspectives and experiences of devolution, and its developments, across our different countries.
From a Scottish perspective, there is no doubt that the referendum has fundamentally changed the political landscape, and the level of engagement in Scotland.
We are almost exactly a year since the referendum, and I have thinking about what we have learned with the benefit of hindsight. What explains the surge in engagement in the referendum, and following it, and what lessons have been learned to ensure that it continues?
Firstly, I am certainly of the view that the success of the referendum in terms of engagement can be better explained by thinking of it more as process, rather than of a one off event. I think the Scottish people felt that they were part of a national conversation. It wasn’t a discussion about political parties, it was a discussion about people, and what their vision was for our country. Certainly from the point of view of engaging with young people, it provided a relevance that we sometimes see lacking in traditional party politics and in other elections.
Ultimately, it was a very positive conversation, albeit with a few heated moments. In thinking about the next stages of devolution across the UK, our experience in Scotland tells us that its success depends on that grass-roots, bottom up, people’s discussion.
Although all of our organisations have always known this anecdotally through our work, we now know for certain that young people care about politics, certainly issue based politics. We know that young people want as much factual information as possible before they make their decision; they want to know how their vote will affect their everyday lives. This has been further supported by extensive social attitudes research undertaken by the University of Edinburgh.
We know that young people appreciate politicians making a genuine and meaningful effort to speak to them directly to answer their questions, in an environment that is comfortable for them. They want to be confident that they are being given factual and genuine answers to their questions based on a relationship of mutual respect. This is a major lesson that political parties need to learn and take on board moving forward.
In addition, we know how valuable educational institutions, youth work networks and other voluntary organisations throughout society can be in terms of starting the conversation with young people about politics, and why it’s important to vote. Surely this makes a compelling case for much more substantive, robust and consistent political and civic education as a key part of the curriculum across all parts of the UK.
In terms of what young people think the next phase of devolution should look like in Scotland, it’s difficult to say just now.
There can be no doubt that devolution has been a profoundly positive development in Scotland in terms of engaging with young people. However, this doesn’t mean just devolution from London to the Scottish Parliament, but also devolution to local authorities, to schools, to communities.
Bringing decision making closer to the people the decisions impact makes politics more relevant.
Over the next few months, we at the Scottish Youth Parliament will turn our focus to working together with political parties, schools, colleges and universities, and across the third sector to ensure that young people in Scotland engage with the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016. With many 16 year olds voting for the first time, we have an opportunity to create generation of young voters that will be activity participants in democracy for the rest of their lives.
Whatever devolution looks like going forward across our nations, our experience in Scotland tells us that it has to be a discussion led by people.