An article I wrote that was published in the Strathclyde Telegraph in October 2012.
On Thursday, 20th September, the SYP released the findings of an independent electoral commission, chaired by the University of Strathclyde’s Professor John Curtis. The commission was asked to identify the obstacles and opportunities the SYP may come across, so as to allow them more efficient use of resources in elections and to improve representation of young people in Scotland.
The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) is a democratically elected organisation which provides a national voice for 14-25 year olds in Scotland. Through various campaigns aimed at assisting Scotland’s young people in the world of politics, the SYP is attempting to lower the national voting age from 18 to 16, and are running a One Fair Wage campaign for Scotland, which aims to establish a living wage for people in Scotland, regardless of age. With all of the valuable work they do, it is no surprise that the SYP is trying its utmost to increase voter turnout to SPY elections.
With a turnout of almost 85,000 in their March 2011 election, the SYP is keep to increase this to above 100,000 at their next election. Grant Costello, MSYP and SYP Chair said: “The challenge for SYP now is to implement these changes to create a better elections system, and to aim to get more than 100,000 votes in our next election in 2013.”
The Commission’s final report – available on the Scottish Youth Parliament’s website – suggested a large number of useful adjustments to both the way their elections are held, and the function of the organisation itself, with Professor Curtis saying that since the organisation’s formation, is has made substantial headway in becoming a group whose members are representative of Scotland’s young people. Professor Curtis added: “However, there is a need for further progress, not least in promoting turnout [and] ensuring the parliament’s elections are robust against fraud.”
With the SYP committing to implement the suggested changes, many revisions are in store for the way in which SYP elections are conducted including lowering the minimum voting age to 12, or first year pupils. By doing this, it allows votes to be cast and promoted in high schools across Scotland, possibly through the Young Scot website.
The Commission also suggested changes be made to “address the mismatch between those it purports to represent and those who participate in elections,” as they point out that many young people between 18 and 25 are no longer in higher or further education which restricts their ability to place a vote if polling stations are placed in education institutes, and that the SYP should consider lowering their age of representation to 21. This action is the only one that is being deferred for re-evaluation after the March 2013 election.
The other major change recommended is standardising the electoral system. Currently a combination of First Part the Post and the Single Transferable Vote is used, depending on constituency, however the standard use of the Single Transferable Vote across Scotland would allow candidates from smaller schools a better chance at being elected, particularly in seats with only three or four members.
With these changes implemented, the Scottish Youth Parliament is sure to increase voter turnout in March 2013. Getting there will be a lot of work for all involved before the SYP can claim to have a “clear and consistent democratic mandate” for all its members, but it’s on the right course for success in the future.