Paul Kane: Independence can shape Scotland

SIXTEEN years ago I wasn’t old enough to marry, I couldn’t buy lottery tickets, nor vote. Fair enough, I was only 15. But I had ambitions.

Picture: PA

I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to enjoy my teenage years (fighting for causes that I believed would better life’s chances). I wanted to be heard.

I had, until fourth year at school, complied with the education system. However, my thoughts had wandered, my attention drawn to the prospect that my opinions mattered. Adults were taking me seriously, and although teachers gave me a fraction of their time, other professionals – including politicians – were eating out of my hand.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

What was the fascination, I wondered? It puzzled my parents too, yet they supported me in pursuing dreams. I remember trying to explain that I was going to meet the Home Secretary. They both laughed off my feeble excuse for ditching school – again. But I could remove their grins with Home Office-headed paper. Here I was, a young unruly upstart, from a village classed in the top 10 per cent on the Multiple Deprivation Index, who had been suspended from school and who had chosen to pursue democracy instead of PlayStation.

I met like-minded souls, who became close friends, who all wanted to create something tangible, something unique, something profoundly Scottish, something that would change the way young people would shape Scotland forever.

I knew about devolution, but was no expert. I was drip-fed information. I had a part in a series of discussions on a proposed Scottish Parliament. I’d met with Jack Straw for a debate on the welfare state where, according to the press, I managed to hold my own.

At 17, ambitions were realised. We opened the Scottish Youth Parliament one day before the Scottish Parliament opening.

I initially took a step back. I didn’t do the obvious and take control of the organisation. Instead I waited and I involved myself in committee work, taking small positions on the executive, working my way up through the years, finally becoming chair in 2004.

At the end of this year I finally said goodbye to the organisation I had worked on for eight years. It felt right. I left it healthy, having secure three-year Scottish Executive funding, and having amalgamated the board of trustees with the executive committee.

I witnessed a tremendous sea-change in those eight years. I watched a nation believe in itself after a 300-year-old struggle to regain power from the UK government. I could feel relief shared in the majority of Scots who had willed this process most of their lives, and noticed aspirations of a generation granted new solitude, freedom and hope.

The SYP continued to push boundaries and looked to the Scottish Parliament to uphold young people’s voice. There is a real connection between the two institutions. Without one, the other would lose something valuable. Scotland has a unique democratic system; it has produced a marriage built on the fundamentals of equality and diversity, a relationship that allows the young people of Scotland to have a lasting bond with the political establishment.

Devolution was the start of a process that allowed the Youth and Scottish parliaments to provide hope and bolster aspirations for millions of young Scots. Now a new question arises: what would happen if we had independence?

When people said devolution was impossible, and if everyone had agreed, then my concept of Scotland would be different, the landscape would differ, the atmosphere would differ. My dreams would have died, I would not have spent eight years chasing ambitions and I would have turned out very different. I would go as far to say that I would have been extremely worse off.

Instead, we have an opportunity to further those dreams. We are being given the opportunity to take our future, our ambitions and our fate into our own hands. We have the chance to give the Scottish people the ability to shape Scotland for an eternity, to deliver a prosperous and peaceful country based on national pride, good governance, respect, diversity and opportunity.

If ever there was a time to take back what already belongs to us, then it’s now. Our people demand better. Scotland demands better.

Paul Kane is a former chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament