The Role of Young People in Mobilising & Educating for Self Determination

Hello, I would just like to start by saying a massive thank you to Fernando for inviting me here tonight to speak on an issue on which I have so much to say. Hopefully I can do it justice here this evening. I have been asked to speak on the role of young people in mobilising and educating for self determination and I believe I have an insight into this. During the twenty fourteen referendum I was a founding member of Generation Yes, the largest grassroots youth movement that Scotland has ever seen. Since then I have continued to campaign for issues relating to young people and I am currently in my second term as National Convenor of the Young Scots for Independence, the youth wing of the SNP: the Scottish National Party. We have approximately twelve thousand members under thirty and we are active in all eight Scottish Parliamentary regions of Scotland. We are incredibly active.

And we have a good reason to be active, we cut our teeth in the independence referendum and haven’t stopped since. We had the Westminster elections in 2015, Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016 followed by the EU referendum. This year, 2017 we had the local government elections and then the snap general election.

And that is why I am so glad to be here tonight, for the UNPO, sharing our stories because as we are firmly focused on honing our arguments and changing the minds of historic no voters in the run up to the next independence referendum in what seems to be a constant cycle of political campaigning, it is easy to forget we are far from alone in our struggle for self determination.

And in a globalised era, with social media and therefore the ends of the earth at our fingertips we often form friendships and relationships that are not limited by borders. While we know we all have our individualist reasons for self determination we can find threads of similarities that bind us together, interweaving to create an international movement resisting the oppressive rightwing administrations we are rallying against. We shared our stories and struggles, and formed friendships with people who share a desire to move decision making closer to home, and most importantly, to be able to participate as an equal on the world stage.

To date the SNP Youth have been working with people as far away as California, we have welcomed delegates from Catalonia, the Basque Country, Galicia, Brittany, Veneto, the Faroe Islands and as close as Wales, Cornwall and Yorkshire and I am sure after tonight there will be many more.

Working with all these different people and being within this constant cycle of political campaigning has allowed us to really mature our arguments but it was the independence referendum that radically changed the lives of young people in Scotland. The referendum forced a discussion upon us, a discussion that many modern day nations may never get the opportunity to have for generations, a discussion that is usually prompted by war or internal unrest. But in Scotland it was a purely peaceful, political movement that allowed us to have the discussion. What kind of nation do we want to be?

It was this question that changed the lives of so many young people in Scotland because it is a question that resonates so deeply with young people as we are growing up and developing as individuals. Who are we? What is our place in this world? What do we want to achieve? What legacy do we want to leave? These questions prompted a deep introspection that young people in Scotland grabbed ahold of with both hands and created a vision of a fairer, more prosperous nation that many have not let go of yet.


So how did we get here? Well I have already mentioned social media and as I said we are active in the eight regions of Scotland. We have a central National Executive just like our own party but we do all of our organising on Facebook. We have meetings weekly via Google Hangouts and we speak with people from around the world on Skype. When we are organising events we set up sub committees on WhatsApp. We store our constitution and all our minutes on Google Docs. We are a truly digital organisation that allows us to keep in touch with young people from across Scotland and the world without leaving our bed. Whilst social media has radically changed the way we communicate and campaign we also know the value of traditional canvassing.

We create postcards we can send by snail mail. We write letters to our political leaders to tell them about our work. We make phone calls surrounded by pizza to spread the message of the SNP and we tirelessly knock doors up and down the country speaking to people on their own doorsteps because we know it is there that the case for independence will be made.

The constitution of the YSI states that “The aims of the Organisation shall be: (a) independence for Scotland; (b) the furtherance of all Scottish interests; (c) to promote, co-operate and assist the Scottish National Party (d) to promote the political representation and interests of young people in Scotland. We take d very seriously. As an organisation, as young people of the SNP we are constantly discussing and forming our own policy.

As an organisation we take direct responsibility for educating each other on a range of issues, we train each other in debating and speech making, improving and honing our arguments so that young people’s voices may be heard.

In 2014 we took the debate to young people. We spoke to young people in their schools, colleges, universities and workplaces where it became commonplace to find teenagers debating issues of national self determination and discussing the possible futures of a country they call home. We participated in referendum debates and hustings. We held information events on University Campuses. We articulated the complex arguments of independence in a way that young people could relate to and they responded by listening and engaging in our national conversation.

Since the referendum we have been striving to create this vision we had for Scotland but within the confines of the United Kingdom. We took on the campaign for equality, campaigning for all young people to have an inclusive education so that they may learn and grow in an environment that welcomes everyone.

More recently we have turned our attention to the creeping militarisation of our young people. The UK is still one of the few nations that ignores the international rights of a child and recruits young people into the military at 16. We believe that is too early and are campaigning to have the minimum age of recruitment raised to an international standard of 18.

In every part of our work we have found the need for a high standard of Civic Education. The importance to educate and empower our young people to engage with the political process from a much younger age. The independence referendum had turnout of 84.6%, it was the highest recorded turn out for an election or referendum in the UK since the introduction of universal suffrage. For the first time in Scotland we enfranchised 16 and 17 year olds and they turned out in their droves to have their voice heard and they have so much to say.

Young people do not get involved with politics by accident. Many get involved in a response to their own lived experience and come with solutions to the problems that they have faced. Whether they were bullied in school for being LGBTI identifying, had a younger sibling that was injured in Afghanistan or a young woman who is constantly faced with systemic sexism.


During indyref the young people of Scotland have thought through many of the huge problems facing the world today. Impending environmental crisis, institutionalised racism and sexism as well as neoliberal economic structures that entrench inequality and the worrying global rise of ethnic nationalism.

And as young people we came up with answers. We know the benefits of migrants and being inclusive of every culture. We find commonalities in opening our borders, welcoming those in need, making our countries home for anyone who wishes to live here. We have witnessed the mass exploitation and extraction of our natural resources and know the value of our land. We want to create fact-based economic policy that rejects the ideological politics of austerity.

And although we are young we take on these discussions with a great deal of maturity because we know that it is the fate of our nation at stake. Our discussions and debates matured but so did we. If I could impart one piece of advice tonight about instigating a youth movement it would be to give young people the tools and resources to do it themselves because young people are so unbelievably able and willing.

Allowing young people to take ownership of their own political voice has a ripple effect throughout the political spectrum. We come to the table with a youthful optimism and political naivety that renews and rejuvenates old arguments. When young people are politicised they vote and when young people vote politician have to start speaking to their needs.

So while we continue to be entrenched in our arguments at home, know that you currently have a pool of willing and able talent waiting to be called upon, a pool of talent that has a great deal at stake because the better future that we are all working towards is theirs for the taking, if only they had the opportunity.

Delivered to the UNPO, Scottish Parliament, June 2017


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