Grant Costello, Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
The 27th of June 2013 was the moment we’d been waiting for. As the Presiding Officer announced the successful passage of the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill, SYP (and our friends at NUS Scotland) were able to reflect on a successful campaign to give 16 and 17-year-olds the chance to vote in next year’s referendum.
Yet it was only a moment we took. Because with the end of the legislative process came the start of a new phase. We’d been given the chance to show young people deserved the faith placed in them by the Edinburgh Agreement.
We’ve argued effectively that young people are engaged in politics. We’ve been able to point to the 67,000 young people who voted in SYPs March national elections. We can point to the ESRC polling earlier this month which shows 69% of young people already plan to vote next September. But these are indicators. The real test will come on polling day. Whilst we believe lowering the voting age is a matter of principle, we’re aware if too few young people participate, it will make winning votes at 16 for all elections much much harder.
There are two key barriers to young people voting. The first is registration. Already it’s hard for young voters who are attainers to be registered, with parents often unaware that their children are eligible. Hopefully the full canvass for the young people’s register will make a difference. However, there will have to be significant work done to ensure every eligible young person is registered in time for 18 September next year.
The second challenge is even greater. The ESRC polling found only a third of young people felt they had enough information about the debate in order to make a decision. 57% say politics is too complex. Many of these young people won’t vote because they aren’t sure how to, or because they are confused about the issues.
For everyone involved in youthwork this is a huge opportunity. We have an enormously important issue which absolutely affects Scotland’s young people. But many of the young people we work with are those most likely to be deprived of their say. We shouldn’t let that happen. SYP intends to work across Scotland to provide information, guidance, and support for as many young Scots as possible. However, on our own there is a finite amount we can accomplish. That’s why it’s incumbent on everyone to work together to engage young people, to explain to them why voting matters, and to ensure as many young people as possible get involved.
Of course there is a final reason as well. Anyone involved in working with young people knows how amazing they are. By involving them in the referendum we make it more likely there is a better debate, a greater focus on the future, and hopefully a better decision. One of the instrumental benefits of democracy is that decisions are made by the broadest number of people, therefore making it more likely the decision is correct. Let’s make sure young people are part of that next September.