SHETLAND MSYP Emily Shaw is taking an active interest in the local government elections this week and answers some questions about the youth vote.
1. Are young people interested in local politics, or are they put off by certain antics?
Young people are most definitely interested in local politics. In a place as small as Shetland, decisions made by the council in particular have such a huge impact on so many aspects of our lives, that it is hard not to be interested.
I think the way that the prospective councillors have conducted themselves during this election has been well received by the young population here, as they have been displaying open-minded attitudes that are receptive of change and transparency.
Young people respect this, during the tough economic climate and with projects such as Viking Energy and Mareel becoming prominent, young people are looking for somebody who recognises the value of our young population and its talents and skills.
We want candidates who want to protect the interests of young people and continue to invest in them and their education.
2. What does it take for young people to take an interest?
Why is it so important for them to participate? If young people don’t vote, their views, opinions and preference for councillor will not count.
Everybody is aware of how big the impact of a council decision can be. Many young people are passionate about music tuition and the music festival, school closures, rural community development, careers and transport. All these issues are directly related to the council and the decisions they make.
I think the word ‘politics’ can sometimes put young people off voting. It can suggest something complicated and slightly geeky, but in reality the question is ‘do you want to have your say in who makes decisions about everyday issues such as schools, music lessons and buses?’ If they answer is yes, then vote on 3 May and remain politically active and interested in the council after the elections.
3. What are you as a MSYP doing to encourage young people to use their right to vote?
I wrote a letter to all prospective councillors promoting the Scottish Youth Parliament as an organisation and introducing myself and Nicole Mouat as the Shetland representatives.
I outlined the importance of engaging with our youth population and the value of Shetland’s young people.
In the letter, I included a small questionnaire of eight questions which covered issues such as jobs, housing, the voting age, how to make Shetland an attractive place to 18-25 year olds, transport and the protection of youth services.
Twenty seven out of the 43 candidates responded and I created a website to easily share this youth-friendly information. The website can be found at www.shetlandyoungvoters.yolasite.com
I have promoted the website by means of social networking. Once I had established communication with the candidates, several requested meetings with myself to discuss engaging young people with local politics.
I expressed concerns that in the past some councillors have not properly engaged or listened to the young people in their ward and I discussed ways to change this with several candidates.
From all the meetings I attended, I came away assured that if these candidates were to be elected, the young people of Shetland would have several councillors committed to listening to the concerns of young people and ready to implement change for the better.
This week I have also chaired a hustings on the Westside at Aith Junior High School. Six of the seven candidates attended the event, which saw them grilled by young people in S2 and S3 at the school on the topics of the Blueprint for Education, Viking Energy and transport.
I think its important for me to help under 18s engage with their councillors as they don’t have the power to vote to hold them to account for their actions. Maintaining good links with young people and councillors, involving them in the democratic process before they can vote and educating them in the importance of local politics is vital to boosting the turnout of over 18s.
Meet the candidates at: http://www.shetnews.co.uk/features/election-2012/