Chris Glendinning is 17 years old, a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Edinburgh Central and a first year law student at the University of Glasgow. He writes here in a personal capacity.
Scotland’s young people want to live in a better and fairer nation. When the Scottish Youth Parliament went out to schools, community centres and festivals back in 2011 to create a youth manifesto for the Scottish Parliamentary elections, tens of thousands told us that they wanted to see a Scotland where same-sex couples would be able to marry, where migrants and asylum seekers would be treated with the dignity they deserve, and where the scourge of nuclear weapons would be permanently expelled from our shores.
Through our recent campaigns, such as Love Equally on equal marriage, One Fair Wage on the living wage and Votes at 16 (you can take a guess what that one’s about), we have been able to make politicians listen to the voice of young people. But whilst we may be able to successfully lobby councils or the Scottish Parliament, the thought that we could persuade George Osborne or Danny Alexander to increase the minimum wage to a living wage and equalise it for all ages, or convince a gaggle of unelected, ermine-robed pensioners that young people should have a say on the issues that affect them, is quite frankly a pipe dream.
However, if Holyrood is responsible for making decisions of this calibre, and there is a further devolution of power and democratic accountability to local government, there is little doubt in my mind that Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament possess a genuine chance to further the progressive vision that young people have for their nation and stand up for the needs and concerns of those in their community.
In place of draconian policies adopted through the vilification of the unemployed and infirm, we can have a welfare system that protects the most vulnerable in our society and genuinely makes work ‘pay’, not simply one that ensures that benefits don’t. Instead of pandering to the right-wing press’ bile on the swathes and swathes of migrants waiting to take our jobs and destroy our communities, our nation could base its immigration policies on our need for enthusiastic students, high-skilled workers and an enriched multicultural society; and, rather than spending tens of billions of pounds on antiquated weapons of mass destruction to satisfy our long-held desire for a return to the colonial era, we could vastly improve our public services and act as a voice for peace across the globe. These things will not come automatically to us through independence; it is merely the first step which will allow us to work towards a better Scotland, and it will require just as much hard work and determination as is necessary to secure a yes vote.
But this is by no means all that we can achieve in 2014. The independence referendum gives us all of us in Scotland, regardless of our political beliefs or values, the opportunity to engage young people in the political process. Because all young people are extremely passionate about the issues that concern them – they want to be able to have the opportunity to get a decent education, find a job and lead a good life; rights guaranteed to countless generations before them but ones which in this age of austerity seem like an entitlement for only the lucky or privileged few.
Young people are sick of a party-political system that they see as petty, detached and irrelevant to their own lives. To many, the widely-publicised, bottom of the barrel snippets from the ridiculous spectacle that First Minister’s Questions has become is their only exposure to national politics. Try telling the eager school-leaver who spends their days writing and submitting job applications to little avail or the aspiring pupil at a school where few go on to a further or higher education that Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont slinging disparaging comments at each other helps them in the slightest.
The next two years are an opportunity for brave ideas, nuanced arguments and inspiring rhetoric from both campaigns. Whatever any of us believe about Scotland’s constitutional future, let us take this opportunity to show this nation’s young people that politics can be a force for good, and inspire a generation to stand up and defend the brighter future that they deserve.
Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for Edinburgh Central