James Thomson is the Member of Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYP) for Dundee City West and the Chairman of Dundee Youth Council. The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) is comprised of 150 young people aged 14-25 from across Scotland who represent constituencies and national voluntary organisations. I caught up with James to hear his views on the issues affecting young people in Dundee, the effects of the independence referendum and why he thinks 16 and 17 year olds should have the vote.
Could you let us know a bit more about your role in the Scottish Youth Parliament?
The Scottish Youth Parliament’s vision is for young people to be more truly involved in decision making processes. As members we conduct research to determine what topics are important to young people in our city and campaign locally and nationally on the matters that affect them. We are often invited to events where we talk to organisations about the importance of effective youth engagement, we visit local youth and voluntary organisations to raise awareness of our national campaigns and go into schools and colleges to encourage other young people to get involved with the work we do, and to stand up and ensure their voices are heard.
What are the biggest issues affecting young people in Dundee?
The Dundee Youth Council carried out a consultation in 2011 which highlighted the 7 main issue areas. More than 4,400 young people (94% of which were from secondary schools) were asked to rate their experience of these issues and a manifesto and action plan was produced based on the results. The top three issues areas that participants rated as having had a ‘poor experience’ with were jobs and the economy, transport, and justice and safety.
What campaigns have you been working on as MSYP?
Last year I was working on the ‘Care.Fair.Share.’ campaign which called for more financial leeway for young carers. Young people who take on a caring role at home sometimes attend school or college slightly later than their peers due to their caring responsibilities. For example, Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) has an attendance requirement of 100% and if a young person is marked as late or absent just once then that individual will not receive their payment for that two-week period. As MSYPs we felt that young carers were being penalised for carrying out these responsibilities. As a result of the campaign last year ‘caring responsibilities’ is now classed as an authorised absence – a great start, but there is more to be done!
Have you had any contact with the MP for Dundee East on these campaigns?
MPs, in my experience, do not show as much enthusiasm for the Scottish Youth Parliament’s work as MSPs do. We have some MSPs who are absolutely fantastic and are just so keen to get involved with what we do. Joe Fitzpatrick, Jenna Marra and Humza Yousaf to name but a few. I think I met Stewart Hosie MP at the Dundee count, seems like a lovely guy, but I have not had any contact with him regarding SYP campaigns.
What do you think the impact of the No vote has been on politics in Scotland and in Dundee?
The referendum itself has engaged so many people who otherwise would not have blinked an eye at politics. Dundee was a Yes city and many Dundonians were quite disappointed with the outcome of the No vote. Across the country, I think the No vote has encouraged people who voted Yes to become more united with regards to their ambitions for Scotland. There was much debate from each side and both campaigns have some valid and flawed arguments. The one thing that can be said for sure is that the referendum really stirred politics in Scotland, and made so many people feel so empowered and engaged with the political world.
What difference did it make that 16 and 17 year olds could vote in the Scottish Referendum?
If nothing else, the Scottish Independence Referendum has shown that 16 and 17 year olds can be engaged and are engaged in politics. There are more young people currently paying attention than ever before because they are interested, they do care about matters that affect them and they do want to be able to influence changes. The high turnout of young people who voted, particularly 16 and 17 year olds, will pave the argument for giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote. And in my opinion, and that of the SYP, the sooner the better!
Why do you think 16 and 17 year olds should be able to vote in future elections in the UK?
Many 16 and 17 years olds are on-point with politics. You cannot say that because someone is 16 years old they do not know what they are voting for. I mean, some adults in their thirties do not know who or what they are voting for. Young people are realising the impact they can have in politics and many of them are thrilled at the prospect of the voting age being lowered. They have the knowledge and capacity to make an informed decision, and many of them are becoming politically active. It only seems right that they have the ability to influence the policy that affects them.
What role do you think young people can play in politics?
Young people, in certain aspects, play a more important role than adults a little bit older. They are becoming engaged, joining parties, finding out how politics works and are starting to influence policy. Many organisations, at least in Dundee, now consider asking what young people think before introducing a new initiative or project. That wouldn’t have happened before. Just because you’re young it doesn’t mean you don’t matter. Young people have shown that they are interested, and we really need to wield that.
Have you noticed much campaigning in Dundee yet for the national election?
I have noticed the campaigning becoming more prominent over the last couple of weeks, but honestly, I have had my head buried in coursework and other stuff so have not really paid attention to much party politics recently. I am a member of a party, of course I cannot say which one as I am acting as an MSYP, but I have experienced the emails and the letters etc so the campaigning for the national election is definitely picking up!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a thank you for the interview really! Youth representation is so important in politics and it is vital that we harness the engagement produced by the referendum.