Summit to sustain students’ referendum interest

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Scottish education secretary Michael Russell has announced a children and young people’s summit to keep up the momentum of democratic participation that marked the recent referendum on independence.

The Scottish government will convene the summit but the participants will determine exactly how it involves interested citizens at grassroots level, he said.

“The people of Scotland have shown overwhelmingly that our community spirit and our desire to participate towards the betterment of the nation are stronger than ever,” Mr Russell told Education Scotland’s Scottish Learning Festival at the SECC in Glasgow last week.

“If the grassroots movements of the last two years – people of all parties and none – have shown anything, it is that what unites us all is a fervent wish for a better future for our children, our families and our communities.”

Scots voted by 55 per cent to 45 per cent on September 18 to remain within the UK, with engagement notably high among 16 and 17-year-olds, who were granted the vote for the first time in any British election. 

Mr Russell said it was vital not only that promises made to Scotland in the wake of the result were honoured within pledged timescales but that decision-making must involve as wide a swathe of the population as possible, particularly where children and young people were affected. The summit would help that process on by “harnessing the renewed interest in positive, energising, consented improvement” sparked by the referendum campaign. 

Ultimately the findings will inform ministers and drive improvement in community services for children and young people, Mr Russell added. He has asked schools minister Alasdair Allan and children’s minister Aileen Campbell to oversee the summit.

Ken Cunningham, general secretary of the School Leaders Scotland union, said: “The referendum was a sea change, not just in the attitude of all the electorate but because 16 and 17-year-olds were so interested in and articulate about the issues. This will be a constructive way of building on that and channelling that energy.

“A lot of young people will also have to learn to come to terms with disappointment, which is one of the big lessons of democracy.”

He cited the ongoing work of the Scottish Youth Parliament and also the BBC’s Generation 2014 scheme, which has tracked the views and backgrounds of 50 young voters, as likely to keep up the political interest.   


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