First leaders debate aims to gain young votes

Party leaders were held accountable by Scottish Youth Parliament members on Saturday 12th of March, at Inverclyde Academy in Greenock.

Political journalist David Torrance hosted the first leaders debate of the Scottish election. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) quizzed the politicians on behalf of Scottish young people.  First Minister Alex Salmond and Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott pulled out of the event at short notice, leaving Angela Constance MSP and Ross Finnie MSP to debate in their place amongst Labours Iain Gray MSP,  The Conservatives Annabel Goldie MSP and Greens Patrick Harvie MSP.

Prior to the event Hamira Khan, Chief Officer of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “This debate is an opportunity for senior politicians from all Scotland’s parties to engage with the views of Scotland’s youth.

“These young people are worried about debt, and oppose the introduction of University tuition fees. They are concerned Government cuts will impact unfairly on young people. Most of all, they are the generation who will have to deal with the consequences of the choices politicians make now – and this debate will provide a chance for MSYPs from across Scotland to engage with MSPs on these vital issues.”

The aim of the debate was not only to inform young people about party aims, but also to encourage young people to vote. Before the debate there was a presentation on voting by the Electoral Commission’s Sarah Mackie, she said: “I think there is a responsibility on organisations like the Electoral Commission, local councils and other groups working with young people to make sure they have the information they need to be able to participate in democracy.

“However, once they have that information it is for parties and candidates to inspire people to actually vote through their election campaigns. One of the reasons young people give for not voting is that they don’t know enough about party policies so hopefully this may have helped to plug that gap.”

The debate brought not only politicians, but also publicity to Greenock in Inverclyde. Leader of Inverclyde Council Councillor Iain McKenzie said: “Inverclyde is proud to welcome the Scottish Youth Parliament… These are challenging times for us all – politically, economically and socially. It is vital the younger generation have a platform to express their views and concerns and for the politicians who make the decisions to listen.”

The debate was part of the youth parliaments sitting, and manifesto launch. It was a highlight for the parliament and the climax of their manifesto process. Chair of Scottish Youth Parliament Derek Couper said: “in the run up to both the Scottish Parliament election and the SYP elections, members felt it would be desirable to have an event to discuss and debate issues with Scottish political leaders. Also, with the launch of our manifesto we thought it would be good to start working with political leaders.

“I think the youth parliament is already full of inspired young people so I think what the debate achieved was to allow members to think about issues party’s stand for rather than the person they want to vote for. The debate was successful but I think the members had the classic reaction of feeling that the answers weren’t properly answered.”

First Minister, Alex Salmond did not turn up to the debate, letting the Youth Parliament know at the last minute. Derek commented on this: “It was disappointing that he did not turn up, and not only that, but he only sent as his replacement Angela Constace, the newly appointed Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning. I hope that that isn’t reflective of the SNPs attitude towards young people.”

Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament comment on the leaders debate:

Laura Gorman (19): “I did not think they were very convincing, they didn’t make me want to vote for one of them. The answers were far too long. They used too much jargon. t was good to hear from Patrick Harvie as you don’t really hear much about the Greens normally”

Jodi McCoy (18): “They weren’t that good. They didn’t seem to give honest answers, they tried to divert the question and tried to confuse us.”

Liam Beattie (20): “I felt the most convincing leader was Patrick Harvie. I believe he was the only leader that was willing to speak out and tell voters that there is a real alternative this election. Overall it was a good debate and I’m pleased they came and spoke to us.”

Connor Mcneil (18): “Some of them did make an effort to answer from a youths perspective. I will be voting, they didn’t really make me change my mind though”

Gina Clark (24): “I thought they were good but not good enough to help me make my mind up for who to vote for.”

Rae Cahill (19): “I was really convinced by Iain Gray and Patrick Harvie. Both really engaged with the questions asked and didn’t falter under scrutiny. I particularly liked the living wage campaign that Iain Gray was supporting, as I think the young people who are lucky enough to have jobs would benefit greatly from a rise in minimum wage.”

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