By Nelson Cummins
The Scottish Parliament Elections on the 6th of May are incredibly significant. Coming in the context of over a year of rolling lockdown restrictions, the results will be key to shaping Scotland’s COVID recovery moving forward.
Several of the events of the past year have had at their centre young people speaking out against structural inequalities; this includes Black Lives Matter protests across Scotland last summer and protests against the SQA’s downgrading of 124,000 predicted exam results, that mainly impacted pupils from the most deprived areas. On top of this, the election will be key to determining the future of the union with independence supporting parties (The SNP and Greens) looking likely to win a majority, making another independence referendum likely.
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So, we decided to speak to 4 young people (via zoom) about what issues are on their mind ahead of the Scottish Parliament Elections. Mina, Yasmin, Heather and Gauranga all said they were going to be voting in the Scottish Parliament Elections on the 6th of May. All seemed enthusiastic about voting, with this feeling summed up well by Heather: “I’ve been dying to vote since about 4 years ago and every referendum was just before I turned 16 so this is the first time I’m voting.”
This enthusiasm for voting is notably unusual given that turnout among young people for Scottish elections is typically low. This low turnout is in line with low turnout amongst younger voters in elections across the UK. This is due to a wide range of reasons including a lack of political education in schools and a feeling of disengagement with mainstream politics that often marginalises the issues and values that are important to them.
What are the 3 most important issues to you ahead of the election?
Mina (age 23): “Scottish Independence, Employability, generally just a conversation around young people in Scotland, in relation to coming out of the back of a pandemic.”
Yasmin (age 26): “Independence, ending the arms trade which is something Scotland will be able to do if independent but in the meantime, ensuring they are defunded and lose the support the Scottish Government is currently giving them. My family is from Yemen so seeing first-hand how Scotland’s role in the arms trade is influencing Yemen and my family as well and it is such a lucrative business, profiting off deaths should not be a thing. And then enacting radical climate change action as studies are showing we only have 9 years left..”
Heather (age 18): “COVID recovery whether that is economy and health wise… Equality, whether that’s racial, gender, sexual or disability. Constitutional issues and just everything to do with that and getting a bit more clarity into what is happening there.”
Gauranga (age 26): “Scottish Independence, the situation that is happening with Brexit and European relations and how Scotland might kind of be in that and the deals that are going on and issues with police enforcement. This to me is police excessively abusing their power especially when you come to the Sarah Everard vigil and how they reacted with BLM protests last summer and just generally how they are enforcing regulations and the power they have.”
What are your own thoughts on Scottish Independence?
Heather: “Personally I am not a fan, but I can understand why people want it…I don’t want to create a further division like Brexit has and I just want to keep a unified front but that doesn’t mean I’m in any way in favour of the current UK Government, it’s just personally it [Independence] is not what’s needed at this moment in time.”
Mina: “I am pretty pro-independence, for me personally it’s always been to get as far away from the Conservatives as possible. If there was a referendum tomorrow I would vote for Independence, because in terms of democracy Scotland is not represented in a way that is fair and when you bring in issues like Brexit and things like that it just goes further.”
Yasmin: “Scotland tends to be a more progressive country and I say that with a caveat that there is an uglier side to the Independence movement that has really warmed up now.It has to be an inclusive independence movement as we’ve shown we’re better off as being part of the EU and not part of the Union. I am not for everyone just bringing their sort of racist rhetoric, homophobia, transphobia to the Independence movement – that needs to be stopped and I’ve been seeing a lot more of it lately.”
Gauranga: “I think if there’s a way to keep the UK as it is, that’s great but I didn’t really know much about it (Independence) until I moved up here, I used to think what are these guys doing but after moving up here and hearing Scottish people’s thoughts and opinions on it, it just seems that Westminster aren’t really treating Scotland with respect.“
What do you think of the Scottish Parliament in comparison to Westminster?
Gauranga: “It feels a little bit more inclusive here, you’ve more younger people talking about it and from more diverse backgrounds. They’re really more involved in it. Nicola Sturgeon as a politician has a lot of integrity she’s got a solid backbone. She might not be right 110% of the time but at least when she isn’t she’ll put her hand up and that’s all you want from a political leader – the ability for them to say they’re wrong which you don’t get that much in English politics.”
Heather: “I think the Scottish Parliament is a really constructive place as much as there is a lot of division, I think the Scottish Parliament is kind of something to look up to.Down in Westminster there is a lot of animosity and there is a lot of anger and thinking back to things like Jo Cox. Abuse still happens here but in Westminster it is fostered within Parliament, whereas up here in general, the politicians show quite a unified front.”
Yasmin: “I think it’s tricky because Westminster can make decisions on things like immigration and refugee and asylum affairs. In the devolved matters that Scotland has a say on, we’re doing a really good job but aren’t able to make drastically different decisions on things like immigration, we’re just seeing a really ugly side (not that the Home office has a nice one), we can do as much as we can, and ultimately it’s the Home Office and UK Gov that can make decisions on these things, so it is really important for us to have those powers.”
Mina: “I think Scottish politics right now in some ways is brilliant because you get more of a nuance of issues because there is this drive to be different from Westminster. You have politicians like Sturgeon having more open discussions around asylum seekers and things like that. It doesn’t feel as closed, it feels like the representation and conversation is more open between the people and politicians. But on the flipside, if you were looking critically you could say that Scottish Politics is one-dimensional in the sense that is all to do with Independence, so though you could say there is lots of nuance but that is being used to get people on the side of voting for Independence or not for Independence and I think if you didn’t have politicians as savvy as Nicola Sturgeon you would see that more clearly.”
Say we’re speaking 5 years into the future ahead of the 2026 Holyrood Elections, what policies would you have liked the outgoing Government to have accomplished?
Yasmin: “ More action on animal and wildlife conservation is definitely needed and as much we can in abolishing the arms trade as well. Those are my 2 major things.”
Mina: “ I’d like to be back in the EU in an ideal situation but ideally with some conversations with the EU on how our relationship could be a wee bit different. With regards to that there needs to be a massive conversation around how Scotland’s going to deal with laws around refugees and asylum seekers. That’s something I’m quite concerned about at the moment.I’d like to see Scotland genuinely moving towards more socialist policies really and more support for people – if anything this pandemic has just shown that even though we think we’re this developed country, but people weren’t protected in the way they should have been and the NHS is on its knees.”
Gauranga: “My expectations of policy changing in the government is fairly low, but I reckon more systems to kind of protect those that are underprivileged and can’t do that for themselves and a little bit more of a society where you can trust it.”
Heather: “A strong COVID response, I think that is going to be the main issue going outwards, economically and for things like the health service and making sure nurses and care workers and things like the national care service and things like that and improving the education system, as well as building more anti-discriminatory training in the education system and building it so we get more black history and history of other cultures and not kind of whitewashing from a Scottish perspective.”
It’s important to recognise that this group does not speak for all young people in Scotland but what these conversations do show us is that for some, politics and governments represent sites where there is hope that the bigger issues (climate change, inequality, COVID recovery and Independence) that we face in Scottish society can be faced. This is what drives a lot of people to take part in political action and for the young people I spoke to, it’s what motivates them to vote on the 6th of May.
For information on how to vote in the Scottish Parliament Election follow this link: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-02/Your%20Scottish%20Parliament%20election%20voting%20guide%20May%202021.pdf
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