The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) turns 24 this year. Amidst a backdrop of political turmoil nationally, the Scottish Youth Parliament provides the means for those aged 14 to 25 to ensure that the views of Scotland’s young people is heard. The next SYP election will take place in November 2023, although there have already been several by-elections this year.
The UK Government ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) which laid out the legal obligation for the views of young people to be taken seriously with international legislation. Spurred by youth demands, the then UK Government’s Scotland Office worked to develop ways to engage young people in Scotland on this agenda.
Youth influence continued to grow, ignited by the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, when the vote was extended to those aged 16 or over, extending the electoral franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. Voters can register to vote from the age of 14, but can’t vote until they turn 16 in Scottish Parliament and local government elections.
Wales has now followed Scotland’s lead, passing legislation in 2019/2020 to allow 16 and 17-year-olds and legally resident foreign nationals to vote in Wales. However, for UK Parliamentary elections, the voting age in Scotland and Wales remains 18, in line with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The 2021 Senedd election took place on Thursday 6 May 2021 to elect 60 members to the Senedd (Welsh Parliament).
Through its Twitter account @OfficialSYP, many of the issues of the current SYP programme are being aired and shared. In January, it tweeted disappointment that their view was ignored. It is no surprise that it backed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which was blocked by Westminster via a Section 35 order. The disagreement around the issue may linger for years to come, but the message from the SYP is clear. They support the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party approval on this issue and would like the law enacted without delay, to help ensure that all young people’s rights are protected.
In February, the SYP’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee provided an update to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee which was discussing equalities, human rights and minimum obligations of social, economic and cultural rights. The SYP is looking to increase the number of their national voluntary organisation members including Carers, Girlguiding and Scouts, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), as well as many faith-focused volunteer organisations.
The SYP’s remit extends further this year with a focus on four areas of concern across Scotland from their manifesto, including the Right to Food, the Climate Crisis, Treating Drugs as a Health Issue, and Educational Attainment. With the complexities of withdrawing from the EU affecting everyone’s life, the SYP is an important bellwether for how Scotland moves forward.
We will be highlighting some of the key contributions of both the SYP and those who went on to serve as MSPs and MPs soon. With the growing political chasm between the stone towers of Westminster and those who have to live with the reality of their decisions across the country, and indeed across Scotland, it is clear the importance of the democratically-elected SYP has never been more needed, to ensure the voice of Scotland’s Youth is heard.
Those who want to learn more or support the SYP can find out more via their website.