Young People’s Day debate at Edinburgh Festival of Politics

Does the world of British politics cater for country’s young people?

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This article is from 2012.

Young People’s Day debate at Edinburgh Festival of Politics

Young voters are valuable. At their first election, many teenagers choose the political party to which they will align for life; it would be wise, surely, for the parties to make sure they get them early. But there is obviously still a failure to engage: politicians appear happier to be seen courting the votes of ‘hardworking families’ and ‘the squeezed middle’ than the neglected youth.

Young voters are valuable. At their first election, many teenagers choose the political party to which they will align for life; it would be wise, surely, for the parties to make sure they get them early. But there is obviously still a failure to engage: politicians appear happier to be seen courting the votes of ‘hardworking families’ and ‘the squeezed middle’ than the neglected youth.

The Festival of Politics is doing both young adults and politicians a service in sitting MSPs down and listening to voters who will have long memories and many general elections ahead of them. Politicians may need this extra shove in the right direction to start taking a vast constituency more seriously.

The riots that swept major cities last summer, student protests against the ConDem austerity measures and the Occupy movement all revealed a swathe of young people dislodged from mainstream politics, grasping for an alternative. A generation that felt disconnected from democracy tried to construct its own, new system of political participation through protest, but very little appears to have changed. Can mainstream politics find a way of engaging fledgling voters in a way that’s creative, meaningful and productive?

‘You don’t have to be a member of a political party to be political,’ insists David Linden, leader of the SNP Youth. ‘People are constantly making their opinions known and nailing their colours to the mast on Twitter and Facebook. This is one of the most political generations we’ve ever had, and as we move towards voting by text and online, that’s only going to increase.’

David Green, President of Liberal Youth Scotland, is less optimistic about youth engagement, worrying that graduates and school leavers could feel left behind. ‘We need to kick-start our economy, and young people are the future of our economy and our country. New ideas and skills, new energy and ambition are all attributes young people offer.’ Green worries about a ‘lost generation’, recognising that young people feel disengaged from education and politics. But aside from the Festival of Politics’ day for the young, are politicians really doing enough to communicate directly with their newest voters?

The SNP tries to include those just entering adulthood in its most central policy by appealing to familiarity. Linden tells me that, ‘when we talk to young people about independence, we liken it to growing up and moving away from your parents, becoming financially and emotionally independent, and we find young people really understand and relate to that.’

Rioting didn’t achieve anything directly, but the increasing demands of a new generation of voters to be heard somehow – whether online or in the streets – has perhaps helped to open the eyes of our major parties: politics needs to be packaged for the young in a way that means they want to buy it. Young People’s Day may be a concession outside the mainstream, but it represents part of a larger move by parties to understand, rather than assume they know, the concerns of younger voters. That’s quite a big step.

Young People’s Day debate, Scottish Parliament, Holyrood Road, 0131 348 5405, 25 Aug, 1.30pm, free.

This article is from 2012.

Young People's Day

Youth groups from around Scotland have been invited to the Parliament for a day of activities and discussion about young people and their involvement in political issues. Part of the Festival of Politics.

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