Nobody puts Baby in the corner: the revival of youth politics?

The 2010 General Election was my very first opportunity to vote. I was hugely excited. I, and many of my friends, were inspired by Nick Clegg’s performance in the Prime Ministerial Debate, and passionate about liberal democracy – we joined the Lib Dems, did some canvassing, had a lot of posters in our windows. We sat up on the results night, and watched our hope for a Lab-Lib coalition die a painful, torturous death. The following scandal where the Lib Dems reneged on their vow to vote against tuition fee rises then saw us protesting on the streets of London against the party that had promised so much and failed us utterly.

But the vast majority of young people in 2010 were apathetic. 51.8% of 18-24 year olds voted in 2010, compared to the overall turnout of 65.1%. Young people just didn’t care about politics.

2015 has been a different story. This time round, I wasn’t a member of a political party – other than a little bit of Facebook activism on behalf of my incumbent MP, I didn’t do any canvassing at all. I stayed up to watch the election results again, but alone this time, and even more broken-hearted. But the rest of the young Scots were more motivated than I was – just shy of 60% of 18-24 year olds turned out. And that’s the UK average: when we known that 65% was the national average, and 71.2% in Scotland, we can surmise that the Scottish youth had an even better turnout than the average.

I have to admit that the reinvigoration of the youth has been due to the SNP. The positive, exciting, ambitious Yes campaign during the referendum inspired young people, particularly those in poorer areas who have been brought up to believe that their vote doesn’t matter and the system cannot be changed. And those young people have supported the SNP that so inspired them.

Our new SNP MPs are young people themselves, in some cases. Two in particular I find interesting examples: the infamous Mhairi Black, youngest MP since the 17th century and social media hooligan, and Stuart Donaldson, the 23 year old career politician following in the family footsteps.

I have a lot of respect for these young people in standing up for what they believe in, and attempting to represent their constituents. Politics needs more passion and enthusiasm, fresh ideas and idealism. But I don’t think they really understand what they’re in for: the selfie-taking, seat-stealing, illicit-applauding, oath-objecting, generally childish antics shown in the Commons so far aside, do these career politicians have enough life experience to sit in Westminster?

I’m a young person myself. I heard the media revelations of Black’s drunken tweets and angry Labour-bashing on social media, and I cringed. I remember leaving university and doing a lot of status-deleting and photo-detagging in preparation for the world of work – she has the entire press digging about on the internet for her immature and unprofessional moments, and she hadn’t even thought to tidy up her social media presence yet. It looks like a lack of forethought and a lack of understanding of what she is facing.

I see the video of Donaldson admitting he would never vote against the party line, regardless of his constituent’s needs, and I see a young man, the same age as myself, who is not only a young MP, but a new member of the party, and son of a Scottish minister in the same party, and doesn’t have an original political thought in his head, just a blind passion for what other people tell him, and will happily follow their guidance.

We need more youth engagement in politics, we need to keep that momentum going. But we also criticise those middle aged men who have done nothing with their lives but play the Game of Commons. Why are we encouraging more career politicians, and ones who need the excuse of ‘but they’re only young’ to justify the content of their Twitter feed?

You might try to call me a hypocrite, sitting here writing about politics myself. But I’m not waltzing up to Nick Robinson and telling him I know more about the political landscape of this country than he does. I just want our governments, our parliaments, our politicians to listen. And, unfortunately, whilst young people are every good at shouting and being passionate and enthusiastic, they are not very good at listening…

Talking about politics…

I hate repeating such over used media phrase, but it’s true: the 2015 General Election was historic. Not only were the polls shockingly misrepresentative of the public feeling, but Scotland threw a pretty big spanner in the Westminster works. However, there is another phrase that has been bandied around excessively, particularly by the Nationalists that now overwhelmingly represent my country in parliament, that irritates me even more: ‘Scotland’s voice’ will now be heard.

I’m fairly certain that Scotland, with it’s huge class, culture, economic and ethnic disparities, has more than one voice. A twenty-something living on benefits in Easterhouse has a very distinct voice from a pensioner in Morningside, as does a middle-aged oil industry engineer in Aberdeen, and a farmer in Perthshire. So how does one party represent all of us – whether that be the SNP, or, previously, Labour?

I’ll give it to the SNP that they certainly try to. Whilst political commentators argue over whether the SNP are left wing, right wing, socialist or capitalist, I think it’s safe to say that they are populist: they pick a set of policies to appeal to the widest range of voters. So that’s a council tax freeze to help out the poorest people – that then means less funds available to the council, and less public spending, which is decidedly not in the interest of the poor. Free prescriptions, allowing those who need long term medication a huge financial break – but, being non-means tested and therefore every citizen in Scotland has their prescriptions funded by the government, it is resulting in a funding squeeze leading to privatisation of other parts of the health service. A bit of a mixed bag, really, once you start to look closer.

However, the crux of the matter is that people don’t look closer. Scotland has always been tribal – Catholics vs Protestants, Rangers vs Celtic, Highlands vs lowlands, Scottish vs English, Labour vs Tories – and Yes vs No, separatist vs unionist, and SNP vs Westminster have become those new tribes. And the SNP have done very well to get on the winning side – so well that Labour is left still sitting gawking. But the SNP didn’t win the election because of their manifesto, or what they stood for: they won it because they are good at picking up on the mood of the people, and using it to their advantage.

The problem with the tribal aspect of Scottish politics is that is is a direct foil to the claims that politics is becoming more accessible and stimulating debate. It most certainly isn’t. Not unless being shouted down as a Quisling, or a right-wing English invader (not that there is anything inherently wrong in being right wing, or English, but when you are neither the labelling becomes frustrating to say the least), or an idiot who believes the lies of the biased media when you question the SNP or independence is considered ‘accessible debate’. In fact, both sides spend most of the time personally insulting the other, and very little sensible debate or challenging opposition to party politics is happening.

So, as a young Scot who is interested in policy not party, representation not repression, and a Scotland that is as diverse as the whole of the UK and where we share far more across social stratas than nationalities, I would like to say one thing in reply to Sturgeon and Salmond’s talk of being ‘Scotland’s voice’: I’ve got my own voice, thanks. And I want to talk about politics.