Editorial: Scotland’s Young People Must Be At The Heart Of The Yes Campaign

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.

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There are 14 comments

      1. Spammo Twatbury

        It might or might not be what it MEANT to say, but it absolutely is what it IS saying.

        “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

        Do they? On what merits do they “deserve” this honour of leadership? The mere fact of being young? Apparently. After all, nobody over 20 can operate Twitter or Facebook.

        “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”

        Yeah, and that strategy really stopped the tuition-fee increases in their tracks, didn’t it? Oh wait, no, it played into the hands of the government by allowing the inevitable incidents of violence to portray protesters as rioters.

        “After all, the independence campaign is all about youth.”

        I get the broader allegorical application of that statement. But anyone with a fraction of their wits about them – especially those supposedly au fait with social media – knows that we live in a world of soundbites and snap reactions, and all that sentence does is hand a loaded gun to the opposition with the trigger already halfway-pulled.

        “Ours is a young campaign, freshly cut”

        Utter drivel. The campaign for Scottish independence, even in modern political terms, is close to a century old. But way to belittle and trample over the efforts of the people who did all the spadework and got us to the point where we’re actually going to have a referendum for young people to vote in.

        This sort of brainlessly, needlessly divisive bollocks is exactly why we CAN’T leave everything to children.

        1. Dan Paris

          Hi WingsScotland/SpammoTwatbury,

          It’s obvious to even a casual observer that politics is dominated by middle aged white men, and Scottish nationalism has suffered from this image problem more than most. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with this group (I’m a white man, and I’ll be middle aged eventually), but any campaign which doesn’t broadly reflect Scottish society will inevitably be stale and exclusive.

          Would you have such an impolite reaction to an editorial stating that the independence campaign should put women at it’s heart? The Women For Independence group is a very exciting development because it challenges many preconceptions about the independence movement and, importantly, creates the opportunity to engage with a portion of society which is often alienated by the traditional political process. Why should this be different with young people?

          As for the editorial being ‘brainless’ and ‘divisive’, the only brainless divisive thing I’ve read on this page is your comment. National Collective – founded by, maintained by and written primarily by young people – is presently one of the best voices in the referendum campaign. If I was to be asked by someone, young or not, for a resource to look through to hear the case for independence, I’d point them here.

          You’re free to disagree, although I’d ask you to perhaps try to express yourself more rationally in future, but I think this is not bad for something that’s been ‘left’ to the ‘children’.

          1. Spammo Twatbury

            I’ll get back to you if you actually address any of the issues I raised. Of course everyone should be at the heart of the campaign. You’re the ones who seemingly wish to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit an arbitrary category (in this case youth), not me. And if that’s not what you meant, learn to write, because it’s what you said.

          2. nationalcollective

            If you think we are going to win Scotland’s Referendum with your negative attitude to young people, you’re gravely mistaken.

            Your comments highlight the very reason that we published this editorial.


          3. Spammo Twatbury

            I don’t have a negative attitude to young people. I have said nothing whatsoever which could lead a sane person to that conclusion. I have a negative attitude to stupid, needless exclusion (and also to the sort of ludicrously overheated reaction to criticism displayed in these comments).

            Kindly do not put words in my mouth. I did not attack young people and have not the slightest desire or intention to do so. In so far as I attacked anyone, I attacked the anonymous author of this dire, depressing and counter-productive article. He or she does not represent all young people, and it’s the height of arrogance to assume that criticism of a specific single individual equates to an attack on the entire demographic to which that individual (presumably) belongs.

            Your reaction, ironically enough, proves my point. This movement categorically does NOT need to be led by shrill, immature witch-hunters incapable of addressing dissent from their views.

          4. Cath Ferguson

            Not at all sure what you’re on about, other than that your username (combining spammer and twat) possibly sums you up, in which case feeding the troll probably isn’t a good move. This is a great article and has a huge truth to it. Look at the Better Together politicians and you see mainly older people. They look like they belong to a different era and their language is out of time and place. Same with all politicians – they don’t connect with the young, or even many older people. I’m fast approaching 40 so not young and politicians seem to be from a different planet to me too.

            But it’s movements which have a lot of energetic younger people at their hearts which succeeed best. And this generation have been treated the very worst by politicians at Westmsinter. What we see up here with the youth parliament and younger people coming through is really exciting.

            So good luck to them. And if you want to start a “folk in their 40s for indy” group to join the youth, women, trade unions, new Scots and all the rest that are emerging, feel free. I’ll be “excluded” from it now but able to join before the referendum!

          5. Spammo Twatbury

            I have no interest in creating exclusionary sub-divisions within the campaign.

            And thanks for the ad-hominem abuse, but the name of my account merely reflects the fact that I’m disinclined to give my personal Facebook account details to sites who (as a general case) may sell or otherwise pass on my personal details to spammers, so wherever a site demands a Facebook login or similar in order to comment, I use one which can be bombarded with as much crap as they like.

          6. Ross Greer

            So you would not have specific groups addressing specific issues but would rather expect the central campaign to be able to understand every group in society and talk to them in a way that is accessible? I’ve never met a single person in my life who has an intimate knowledge of the lives of young and elderly people, LGBT and heterosexual, BME and ‘white’, Christian and Muslim etc. etc.
            Of course these groups are designed to engage specific sections of society but we’ll be doing it as part of the wider debate and engaging with the other groups at the same time, whether someone is a female trade unionist or a young Muslim or any other possible combination.
            As has been pointed out before, feel free to set up your own group for whateve ryou want or just engage with the standard broad yes campaign but if you think we are going to win without engaging with these groups on their terms, you are sadly mistaken.

          7. Dan Paris

            Just for clarification I never wrote the editorial. Out of curiosity which of your issues do you wish me to deal with? You seem to raise the following points:

            – That the only thing young people can contribute is using twitter, but people who’re not young can do that anyway.
            – That it’s inevitable that when young people go on a protest they will riot.
            – Better Together will use it as ammunition that we talk about young people.
            – And that we, and I’ll quote you on this, one “can’t leave everything to children”.


            If you want to see an independent Scotland then I’d suggest you find a more productive way of getting there then hysterically attacking the people on your own side for no other reason than you don’t seem to like young people very much.

          8. Ross Greer

            Spammo, your comments are quite frankly bizarre. You seem determined to interpret this article (which is spot on about the importance of youth) in a way that allows you to flip out and rant about the very people that are vital to winning independence, something which you support.
            Dan is right, UK politics is the domain of the white (middle class) man and whilst our group addresses one of those categories more directly than the others, it is part of a much broader movement which sees this problem and is attempting to change it, for the benefit of everyone who wants an independent Scotland (even those pesky white middle class men).
            No where in the article does it state that young people are the only ones who should campaign for independence or that other groups are irrelevant. What the article does make clear is the opportunity for young people to take the lead in guaranteeing a better future, one that we will inherit for longer than any other generation involved in the decision.
            If we look at the hard facts, young people are more likely to vote yes than any other generation but they are the least likely to vote. Surely it is key to engage this generation in a way that has never been done before to get to your end goal?

        2. Rory Scothorne

          Scotland’s young people ‘deserve better’ because we’re on course to be the first generation in recorded human history to have lower living standards than the generation before us. You seem to think that the issues that make independence essential are of equal urgency to all demographics, when this simply isn’t true. It’s the generation that is only just stepping into adulthood that will have to pick up the pieces of a dysfunctional economic system, a deteriorating planet and an increasingly unequal society that’s been left behind by ‘baby boomers’ and ‘Generation X’, whose irresponsible levels of consumption have wreaked absolute havoc on the world we’re set to inherit.

          As for youth protests – young people are angry, and with good reason. Violence occurs when people feel disposessed, and there’s an awful lot of disposessed students and school leavers out there right now. I don’t think we can blame students for their abuse at the hands of a government we didn’t vote for, just because a tiny minority of them got violent. Or are you happy to blame welfare claimants for welfare cuts as well, just because a tiny minority of them claim fraudulently?

          The modern independence movement *is* a young campaign, free at last from the flag-waving anglophobia that dominated it for too long. I mean come on, they used to have rallies at Bannockburn, for goodness’ sake. In case you haven’t noticed, independence remains rather unpopular in this country, and the referendum is just a happy coincidence of the SNP being elected on a ‘don’t worry about the whole independence thing, just remember how good we are in government’ platform. It’s almost entirely up to today’s Scots to close the gap between Yes and No.

          Finally, it’s worth noting that people of your generation and above have been completely monopolising power across the world for the past few thousand years, and things are a mess. It’s time to try giving younger people a louder voice.

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