Yesterday (Friday), the Scottish Parliament and the Festival of Politics belonged to Scotland’s young people. The highlight was the Hear Me session in the Chamber, an event I was privileged to attend. I watched and listened in awe. Nine diverse topics, the pitch set out followed by an array of short, snappy viewpoints, with a vote at the end of each debate.
The quality was astonishing – way higher than what passes for debate on a Chamber workday. MSPs should have been there taking notes.
It was refreshing to hear young people prepared to disagree with each other, sometimes vehemently but always respectfully. I spent most of the debates vacillating in my stance, swayed by the forceful, intelligent and eloquent opinions of each of the speakers. And I even heard a few perspectives I hadn’t thought of before.
What buoyed me most? The bursting of the chattering classes’ bubble. Our young people are not self-centred, bored, dulled, egotistic or inarticulate. If one theme emerged from their deliberations it was that their over-riding concern is for others, including those far from these shores. Their votes were guided by an awareness that everything has consequences and that policy decisions can and do impact on others.
Thus, a motion that young people should be consulted specifically on renewable energy developments in their communities was defeated. Because most participants felt that everyone in the community should be consulted and have a say.
A motion to provide free bus travel to all under 16s had strong arguments in its favour but again the majority vote was for cheaper fares, in acknowledgement that there are tough times ahead and some good ideas are simply unaffordable in the current climate.
Votes were carried overwhelmingly for the teaching and promotion of inclusion in schools, as well as sexual orientation, and for more peer educators on alcohol and drugs use. The general theme of contributions on these topics was that we all need to understand each other better and be willing and able to help each other out.
The idea that this is the something for nothing generation was demolished by the very final vote.
A motion on introducing compulsory community service for under 18s had just been defeated. But what if, in return for doing a day every month of community service/activity you got access to a free youth facility in your community, free bus travel and a universal allowance for staying on at school beyond 16? Yes, they voted. In almost the biggest majority of the day. We could do that.
Here was thoughtful hypothecation in action, in a way very often absent from demands made by other groups in our society. Everyone these days is aware of their rights, few talk about their responsibilities. Everyone wants to benefit, few are prepared to say what they will do for the wider good of our society in return. Yet here were 12 – 18 year olds openly, consistently balancing the commonweal and the greater good with their own needs. They made – make – me very proud to be Scottish.