Photo translation: “You can not steal our dreams from us.”
The most transformative and vibrant progressive political movements of modern times have had young people and students at their heart. From the election of Barack Obama in 2008 (regardless of his time in office, his election was a powerful expression of people power) to the Arab Spring and student protests in Chile, Britain, Spain and beyond, young people have fused pop culture with politics to leave an indelible mark on the political and cultural landscapes of their countries and the wider world. The campaign for independence must follow their example.
In a speech to the British Council in August 2011, Nick Clegg spoke of the role of young people in North African and Middle-Eastern uprisings:
Young people ignited the Arab Spring. Traditional political groups only joined later on. We shouldn’t be surprised by that. Two thirds of the region’s population are under 24. They are better educated than their parents, healthier, more connected to the global community, more exposed to modern consumerism, and, with it, a sense of personal choice. They know they have a right to be heard. They know they deserve jobs and opportunities. And – most importantly – they now know that change is possible.
Only three months after Clegg’s speech, 10,000 British students were on the streets of London, waving placards condemning the Deputy Prime Minister’s u-turn on tuition fees (and the Deputy Prime Minister in general) as part of the National Coalition Against Fees and Cuts‘ protest against the coalition’s higher education white paper. From Tahrir Square to Parliament Square, these are what BBC Newsnight editor Paul Mason describes as the ‘new sociological type’ of ‘the graduate with no future’. Mason’s impassioned take on the new global protest movements, ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere’, is an illuminating insight into the unprecedented and combined role of mobile technology, online viral culture and ideological openness in facilitating social and political change. It outlines distinctive features of a modern, globalised youth, with deep reserves of energy, creativity and anger, and an online community that can be tapped into and mobilised almost anywhere on earth.
With the right approach, Scotland can add its own detail to this expanding tapestry of international youth movements. After all, the independence campaign is all about youth. It’s about looking beyond Scotland’s often tragic, often romanticised history and seeing our nation as a new, vibrant and radical force in the world, shorn of the guilt of empire and the embarrassment of Westminster’s ritualised elitism. The peaceful, progressive Scotland envisaged by Yes campaigners is dismissed as naive and unrealistic by a cynical No campaign – often in precisely the language used by ageing parents sneering at the developing politics of their teenage offspring. Ours is a young campaign, freshly cut; theirs has lived and grown for 300 years, honing and perfecting the message that we need the United Kingdom to sustain whatever limited self-determination we’re permitted. The attempt to sell such a brutal, condescending lie to any generation of Scots is bad enough. To sell that lie to a generation of young Scots who will be hit hardest by the chaotic policies of a government rejected by the vast majority of Scottish voters betrays a lack of compassion bordering on sociopathy.
Scotland’s young people deserve better. They deserve to be the leaders of a movement to change the way we see ourselves, to rekindle our national self-confidence and to inspire those further afield to do the same. Through the use of social networks and viral strategies, the prominent involvement of creative figures and the promotion of independent thinking in popular and alternative youth culture, the independence campaign can give Scotland’s young people the drive to take their future into their own hands. Avenues for involvement are emerging, most notably with the grassroots organisation Youth and Students for Independence, for whom the dynamic 18-year old Green MSYP Ross Greer will be speaking at the March for Independence on September 22nd.
It’s also essential that the franchise for the referendum be extended to those aged 16 and above, and kept that way for all future elections. The argument that people who may legally have sex, marry or join the military aren’t capable of coming to an informed decision about politics is absurd. Young people today are more connected to the world around them than any other generation. They have a mastery of technology and the media that gives them access to a wider range of information and opinion than ever before. They can also be our most free, radical and imaginative minds, untainted by the dull ‘realism’ of modern politics, and capable of envisioning a world that many more learned, experienced minds chose to abandon years ago. Treat them like responsible and essential members of our national community, and they’ll act like it. They must be given a voice.
Music, so central to youth culture, can play an important role. National Collective’s list of 52 pro-independence artists and creatives featured some of the UK’s finest musicians, songwriters and music industry figures, and they can play their part in bringing young people into the debate in unique and interesting ways. Sometimes, that inspiration can come from unexpected places. ‘Get Free’, The latest release from reggae/dance collective Major Lazer, features Amber Coffman of US indie band Dirty Projectors singing over a fragile, melancholy chord sequence. The lyrics, with obvious reference to the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, are a blend of repressed hope and tragedy:
Look at me
I just can’t believe what they’ve done to me
We can never get free
I just wanna be
I just wanna dream
Throughout the song, Coffman’s wails and lilting delivery fuse with producer/DJ Diplo’s duelling synths and guitars to conjure a powerful expression of the tension at the heart of the modern world’s futureless youth: lost, confused and angry – but with an inkling of how to find their way out. In Scotland, without the need for violence, societal upheaval or economic catastrophe, our young people have an opportunity denied to so many others around the world: the chance to do more than just dream.