Young Voters Shouting into the Wind

Two people facing away from each other with a sculptural installation between them
Two people facing away from each other with a sculptural installation between them

With the clock counting down until the election and the pressure on the parties to not to screw everything up in the last week before the vote, how engaged are young people in what the leaders are talking about?

I chatted to a number of young people (someone of voting age who is 35 or younger) at an arts event I was at last week. Young people tend to be more liberal, left-leaning and more likely to support independence. No one I spoke to supported Brexit, most were in favour of independence (some undecideds), there was a lot of pessimism about the state of politics and no one is big fan of Boris Johnson (and that’s putting it mildly). What do they actually think about the election and what the parties are saying to them?

A cursory look at the headlines and the leaflets that have dropped through the letterbox give a good indication of how the parties think this election will be won and lost. The SNP’s is about Brexit and independence, the Tories are concerned with Brexit and independence, Scottish Labour’s leaflet talks about Brexit and independence and the Lib Dems are focusing on tuition fees. Just kidding, its Brexit and independence.

“I don’t really feel engaged at all”, said Fran, who moved to Scotland for university six years ago. “I’ve been following the election, but I don’t feel like the main parties are properly addressing the most important issues in society. They’re treating Brexit like it’s some kind of panacea, with some parties saying Brexit will make everything amazing and others saying Brexit will ruin everything.’ 

“Everyone knows Brexit is a disaster, but whatever happens next week we’re along way from resolving any issues. It’s going to require politicians and people to come together to sort out the mess we find ourselves in, and I can’t see that happening the way things are going.” Fran could have been a spokesperson for everyone in the room, almost every conversation I had went like this (though not all put so eloquently – there was beer involved). 

This touches on an important point, a lot of people, and particularly young people, don’t feel that their voices are being heard. Future campaigns, and particularly one as important as Scottish independence, needs to put people first. In making big issues like independence or Brexit party-political, the debate becomes about point scoring between individual politicians, leaving the public and the issues that matter to them sidelined.

Ally moved to the borders amidst the fallout from the Brexit result in 2016. “Scotland seemed like the only choice for us after Brexit. Things seem different…better here.” He too doesn’t feel engaged in the election and was yet to make his mind up about how he was going to vote, “I’m not sure yet, though I don’t know if it matters too much because the Tories had a big majority in 2017”.

Voter turn-out of young people in elections has long been an issue for political parties and it will continue to be an issue as long a lack of engagement continues. It’s the same story for Scottish independence, so giving the public a platform and encouraging engagement in the issues that matter to you are the key to what we’re trying to achieve with Voices for Scotland. As our campaign ramps up in 2020 you’ll have a chance to engage in big conversations and be part of creating a Scotland for Everyone. A Scotland for Everyone means a Scotland for you, a Scotland for your family, a Scotland for your community and a Scotland for the people who are yet to join your community.

Allan Whyte, Campaign Organiser

Covid-19 Update

Voices for Scotland has taken the difficult decision to pause our campaign during the this time.

Please read our full statement here