Anyone working in the political sphere can probably tell you the name of the person who sparked their curiosity in all things political. For some, it was an eccentric member of the family talking passionately at the dinner table about how to solve the ills of the world. For others, like me, their interest in politics took hold at school under the guidance of a dedicated modern studies teacher.Even when I was growing up the study of politics was seen as an irrelevance and as such there were only six people in my class. Whilst I undoubtedly benefitted from the increased one-to-one tuition, I can’t help but wonder what our political landscape would look like today if those modern studies classrooms were full all across Scotland.
No one is born with an interest in politics, however the harsh reality is that decisions being made today will have a greater impact on the younger generation than those of us of a certain vintage. An equally harsh reality is that a number of our young people have simply not engaged with the political process. There are of course occasional exceptions, such as the Scottish referendum, where it is generally accepted that our young people engaged in the political process in an unprecedented way. However are we danger of letting that good work slip away?
Only eight months later turnout rates were back to depressingly low levels – only 43% of 18-24 year olds voted at the 2015 General Election across the UK – a slight drop from 2010. Some had hoped that lowering the voting age might increase turnout. Holyrood recently did just that, but already one local authority has made a plea for teenagers to return their registration forms, with just 46% of 15-17 year olds in Dundee doing so.
There are a number of theories as to why our young people have become so disengaged in politics. Whilst no one expects politics to have the same glitz and glamour of the celebrity lifestyle which seems to captivate the attention of our young people – is the problem that our young people don’t know enough about politics to take a meaningful interest in what’s going on?
I’m not advocating that our young people know the ins and outs of statutory or affirmative instruments, but a basic understanding of the forces that drive our economy and society is as essential as a good grounding in mathematics and science. Only a concerted effort in developing political education in our schools will lead to a system where more of our young people engage on the issues and show up at the ballot box.
Our politicians have a role to play too, perhaps what is required is less focus on pretending to listen to the same music and watching the same TV programmes as young people and more time spent on ensuring that our young people get a good political education.
The price of inaction is a generation of young people growing up ill-equipped to deal with the issues affecting their lives and the knowledge of how to change things for the better.
As Mario Cuomo once said “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose”. If our young people don’t know how to write the prose then the poetry is irrelevant.
Colin McFarlane is an Account Manager at Indigo.