Last week the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and Scottish Parliament signed a shared agreement to put young Scots’ voices at the heart of democracy.
The partnership will ensure that the legislation that emerges from the Scottish Parliament reflects the views of young people to a greater extent. Young people are not always the most engaged with things like parliamentary committee consultations, but our MSYPs can help by reflecting the views they hear from young people every day and making sure that politicians listen to them.
When any group feels disengaged from the political world, there is the risk that they can feel isolated or even alienated by it. I believe that democratic institutions only really work if they genuinely represent the views of all groups in society, and this is at the heart of the new reforms which will continue to ensure that young peoples’ voices are heard and acted on in our political system. Ultimately, this is what’s needed so that we can help politicians make laws that better suit our needs.
SYP is the democratic voice of all of Scotland’s young people and we feel that our country can benefit if young people feel listened to by the politicians that represent them. That unique democratic mandate, which sets us apart from all other organisations, comes from the fact our members are directly elected by young people across Scotland – more than 80,000 of them voted at our last elections.
Every issue is a young person’s issue; we don’t just care about school, or university, or work experience. We need to have a voice, and it is fantastic that the parliament recognises that and is doing something about it.
I met with the parliament’s presiding officer, Ken Macintosh, to sign the agreement following recommendations from the Commission for Parliamentary Reform, which recognised our unique democratic mandate and how we can benefit from changes. Our relationship with the parliament has always been a strong one; it hosted our October 2017 sitting and many MSYPs have built working relationships with MSPs.
The shared objectives that we have agreed build on these strong foundations. The parliament staff are now working with our MSYPs to train them on how to better engage with their counterparts at Holyrood. Furthermore, each term one of our national sittings will now be hosted in the Scottish Parliament and after each election, we will have exhibition space in Holyrood to make sure the new cohort of MSPs gets to understand who SYP is and how they can engage with the MSYPs who represent the young people in their constituencies. We’re very proud of how well our membership reflects the communities that we serve; we have nearly as many female MSYPs as male MSYPs, a high proportion of our membership have experience of the care system, have a disability, or identify as LGBT, and our membership broadly corresponds to the data from the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – meaning many of our members live in some of the most deprived communities in Scotland.
This kind of representation means that MSYPs understand key issues in society and what young people think about them more than anyone. Be that if we should incorporate the UN convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots Law as quickly as possible (we should!), if young people should be able to vote at 16 (of course they should!) or whether there should be a charge for using public toilets (there should not be!).
I oversee the strategic work of SYP and most of my work is focussed nationally, including meeting with senior ministers and building relationships with bodies much like the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the views of young people are at the core of their work.
I have grown in ways that I never expected to during my time as a MSYP over the last three and a half years and have been able to bring the voices of young people directly into policy-making. Being a MSYP allows you to be a part of something bigger. I’m so proud of what we have achieved and think there is a real strength in young people coming together with the shared goal of shaping the world to be a better place to live, grow and learn in.
Suki Wan, member of the Scottish Youth Parliament