Insight: The Year of Young People 2018

Nicola Sturgeon helps to launch 2018 Year of Young People with youths in Dumfries.
Nicola Sturgeon helps to launch 2018 Year of Young People with youths in Dumfries.
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Braw has been named as the word of 2018 – but perhaps the Oxford Dictionaries were on to something when they chose Youthquake as the word for 2017.

The tremors will certainly be felt in Scotland in the next 12 months. That’s because the country will tomorrow embark on a world first, a year devoted to the younger generation. Organisers hope the Year of Young People 2018 (YOYP) will build on their growing self-awareness as a social and political force.

Early years minister Maree Todd.

Early years minister Maree Todd.

Focused on eight to 26-year-olds, it promises to be the most high-profile of Scotland’s themed years since they were launched with the Year of Homecoming in 2009. They have since included food & drink, innovation, architecture & design, and this year history, heritage & archaeology.

However, embarking on 2018’s theme also threatens to open a Pandora’s Box of ills afflicting the young which campaigners want the year to address – and on which ministers will be judged.

The year might never have happened, because when the Scottish Government announced it four years ago, it suggested that it might only be held if Glasgow was chosen to host the 2018 Youth Olympics.

Shona Robison, the then sports minister, said at the time: “We want to see young people become champions of their own lives, with a vision for all young people to have the chance to succeed and flourish.

Mark McDonald, predecessor of Maree Todd, with young people at a launch event at the National Museum of Scotland.

Mark McDonald, predecessor of Maree Todd, with young people at a launch event at the National Museum of Scotland.

“That’s why we have decided, with a successful bid to host the Games, it is only right that we designate 2018 the Year of Young People in Scotland.

“We want to make sure that our young people get the most of educational and cultural opportunities on offer.”

Of course, Glasgow lost the Youth Olympics to Buenos Aires, but ministers decided to press on with their plans.

Preparations for the YOYP started in earnest in 2015, with an interim planning group of young people formed to spearhead it, in conjunction with Young Scot, the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and Children in Scotland.

The body has since morphed into the “Communic18” group of 35 young people, which the Scottish Government said was making “all the key decisions” about the year.

A spokesperson said: “They are influencing how it will be run and ensuring young people’s voices are heard and acted upon.”

Officially, the year “aims to inspire Scotland through its young people, celebrating their achievements, valuing their contribution to communities and creating new opportunities for them to shine”.

There will be six key themes, which were chosen by young people – culture, education, health and wellbeing, enterprise and regeneration, equality and diversity, and participation.

Events get under way tomorrow with a month-long new young writers’ festival, Write Here Write Now, in Paisley.

The dozens of other events announced so far cover a wide range of areas and are being staged across the country.

They include a school of stand-up at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival from February, the first university seven-a-side rugby tournament in Melrose in April, a mental health arts festival in May, a Scottish poetry youth slam in Inverness, Stirling and Greenock from September, and the National Theatre of Scotland’s Futureproof festival, starting in September.

The same month, a three-day Big Takeover in Shetland features a range of arts and sports events, while a similar arts event in the Western Isles, Las!/Ignite!, will be held in October.

Young people will also play a central role in the opening event for the V&A in Dundee, while the first TEDxYouth@Glasgow ideas platform will be staged in May.

These may ostensibly amount to a jamboree showcasing young people’s talents, but politicians also want to shine the spotlight on key social issues faced by youngsters.

The Scottish Government has itself acknowledged that the YOYP must be much more than a celebration – and should usher in lasting change.

Childcare and early years minister Maree Todd said: “There will be little point in the Year of Young People if we get to next December, put away the toolkits and pack away the activities with no fundamental shifts to point to or to take forward.

“The year gives us a unique year-long opportunity to reset our relationship with our young people, change their perceptions and show that we believe in them and value the contribution that they make now and will make in the future.”

Government officials said that to demonstrate this, the YOYP would be evaluated against five objectives – young people’s views being heard and acted upon, their talents showcased, improved inter-generational understanding and respect, recognition for teachers and youth workers, and opportunities for cultural and sporting expression.

Todd said changing attitudes was the “single biggest ambition” for the year: “If there is one aspiration that I hope we might share for 2018, it is to ensure that our young people feel and believe that they are valued, wanted and vital to our country’s future and that their voices are heard and listened to.

“Recent research suggests that young people today believe that others view them negatively simply because of their age. That has a real impact on their wellbeing and self-esteem.”

Todd said the most important of the six themes was equality and discrimination.

She said: “Currently, too many young people do not feel equal or fairly treated. We know that equality of opportunity is denied to some because of poverty or because of their gender, sexual orientation and identity, disability or minority ethnic background – or because they are somehow different. We must change that.

“Difference must be recognised as a strength, not a deficit, and we must encourage our young people to embrace and value difference and diversity.”

There has been cross-party support for the YOYP’s ambitions from many MSPs, with some dissenting voices.

Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell said the year would be a waste of time if it did not make progress in tackling the problems he said the SNP had failed to address over its decade in power.

He said: “I wholeheartedly support the YOYP as long as it concentrates the minds of the SNP Government into taking meaningful action that will help young people.

“However, I fear that 2018 will simply be a year of patronising young people with meaningless slogans and platitudes.

“The Scottish Government has the opportunity, every day, to help and support young people to achieve their aspirations.

“Instead, under the SNP, education in Scotland has gone backwards, standards have fallen, our college sector has been decimated, universities have been ignored and fewer young people from deprived backgrounds are going to university than in the rest of the UK.”

Other MSPs have highlighted social problems suffered by young people which they said must be addressed during the YOYP.

Labour’s Iain Gray, a former teacher, acknowledged older people’s “bad and ignorant attitudes” to young people, which could leave them feeling “unrepresented and voiceless”. He pointed to research by the Prince’s Trust that half of young people did not believe in themselves at school, and 16 per cent thought their life amounted to nothing.

Conservative Michelle Ballantyne said Islamophobia was now part of a “deep-rooted culture of bullying in our schools”.

She said: “Whether it is to do with sexuality, disability, gender or body image, children and young adults are routinely subject to abuse if they are perceived to be different.”

Other politicians have highlighted that nearly one in four children in Scotland live in poverty, one in five young people are paid below the minimum wage, and services such as youth workers have taken the brunt of council funding cutbacks.

However, the YOYP’s young organisers are optimistic and determined about what the year could achieve.

Emmie Main, 20, from Buckie in Moray, who is leading the participation theme for Communic18, said: “What I really want to see is young people’s voices being valued, listened to and acted upon not just in politics but in all aspects of society.”

Main, who was also on the interim planning group and is studying community education at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Participation is about being able to take part in political and civic life. I want young people to feel confident that they can get involved and make a real difference to Scotland.

“I also want the year to showcase the mechanisms that are already in place to help young people to participate, such as the SYP and Young Scot’s co-design projects. It’s important we showcase them because they promote meaningful engagement that values young people’s insight.”

Fellow Communic18 member Rachael McCully said: “During the course of the year, we have the ability to tackle the stigma that surrounds young people.”

McCully, 21, from East Kilbride and a former SYP member, added: “I want us to discuss issues like mental health and education to give young people now and in the future the best possible start in life.

“It’s also a chance for cross generation relationships to form to get to grips with the big topics and issues that Scotland faces today.

“But mostly I would like it to be fun, for people to enjoy it and to talk about how great it was long into the future.”

Young Scot chief executive Louise Macdonald described the year as a “brilliant opportunity to promote a positive image of young people and their achievements”.

She said: “When we talk about young people being the future, we ignore the fact that they are important and citizens right here and right now.

“Worse is when people try to associate young people with negative labels. Fostering a greater understanding between generations is an important part of the year.

“The other side of building relationships and understanding is for different generations to work more together.

“This means going beyond consultation and listening to young people. It means tapping into the experience and creativity of young people as experts of their own experience and enabling them to come up with the ideas and solutions that we need right now for Scotland – and then implement them.”

Amy Lee Fraioli, chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “SYP’s new campaign, Right Here, Right Now, is focused on young people’s rights, empowering young people to defend and protect their rights and those of others, and calling on decision-makers to place the rights of young people at the centre of everything they do.

“During the course of the year, SYP wants to see the rights of Scotland’s young people not only upheld but respected, and for young people to be given their rightful place as meaningful members of our society.”

Also closely watching the year unfold will be Bruce Adamson, the Children’s and Young Persons Commissioner Scotland, who looks after the rights of under-18s, and under-21s in care.

He said: “It is important that as well as celebrating the talents and achievements of young people, we 
also ensure that their human rights 
are better protected in the laws of Scotland.

“The Year of Young People needs to be a call to action, for young people to demand change, and to be part of that change.

“I will be working with young people across Scotland next year to build their ability to act as human rights defenders.

“Over recent months we have seen successful youth-led campaigns around things like period poverty, banning ultrasonic dispersal devices, and marine pollution.

“In my discussions with young people they have raised serious concerns about things like mental health and poverty, where more must be done.

“There have been some welcome commitments to legal changes next year on long-standing human rights issues such as the need for equal protection from assault and the low age of criminal responsibility, and a commitment by the Scottish Government to bring children’s rights fully into our law in Scotland.”

Adamson said he also wanted to ensure younger children – under-eights are not officially included – were also involved in the year.

He said: “It must also leave a legacy that all children in Scotland grow up in a place where they are seen as a valuable part of how we make decisions.”

A spokesperson for Children in Scotland said: “Our vision is that all children in Scotland have an equal chance to flourish, which fits perfectly with the specific role we play in the YOYP Ambassadors Programme.

“We have a particular focus for this project on helping younger children to have their voices heard.”