Kyle Thornton MYSP, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament
It is often said that politics is “the art of the possible.” Politics can be everything and anything, opportunity and hope, democracy and empowerment.
Another cliché we hear on a regular basis is that young people are not interested in politics.
The two phrases don’t appear to match.
In our experience of engaging with young people about issues that they care about, young people are passionate, driven, creative and compassionate. But perhaps a more accurate version of the second statement is true: most young people are not interested in today’s party politics, as it is represented presently, both by political parties and the national media. Modern politics is currently characterised by party political spats, media wars and expenses scandals. Whether this is actually the case is another debate entirely, but this is certainly how modern politics is perceived by many young people, and the wider public. Of course they won’t be interested in this type of politics. How could they be? How does it affect their lives? How is it relevant? Why should they participate?
Within this negative perception of politics somewhere lies the real opportunity of this referendum, the reasons of which I will come back to.
As I mentioned previously, the Scottish Youth Parliament practices a different type of politics, and portrays a different perception of politics. We are a non-partisan, youth led organisation which debates and campaigns on the issues young people are passionate about. Our manifesto “Change the Picture” received nearly 43,000 responses which resulted in the endorsement of 49 different policy statements by young people. 67,000 votes were cast in the last set of Scottish Youth Parliament elections. This categorically shows that when young people are presented with the opportunity to participate in a more positive form of politics, that utilises their passion and potential and where they can see the relevance of what they are involved in, they participate and contribute in spades.
Whatever the result of the referendum next Autumn, there can be no doubt that it is a historic moment. It is a once-in-a-life time opportunity for the people of Scotland to shape the type of society they wish to live and work in for generations. As the future generation, it is vitally important that young Scots take this opportunity to have their say, whatever their preference might be.
But there is a danger… There is a danger that the debate could descend into the type of modern politics that we know young people are not engaged in, and the type in which they will not participate. A party political spat, which focuses less on tangible issues that affect our lives, and more on point scoring.
But there is also a real opportunity… There is a real opportunity to fundamentally shift how we think about politics, and how we engage our young people in the referendum. In order to achieve this, the Scottish Youth Parliament believe that both sides of the campaign need to vastly increase their efforts to present their arguments in a way that is accessible and relevant for young people, in a way that focuses less on undermining the other side, and more on how their respective proposals will impact our lives positively. The referendum presents the perfect opportunity to bring about a change in: how representatives practice politics; how the media reports politics; and, how the rest perceive and engage in politics.
If we are successful, not only will young people turn out to vote in the referendum next Autumn, but we will inspire a new phase of political participation that will stretch into the future. A politics that is truly “the art of the possible.”