This referendum will be a hugely significant milestone whichever way the vote goes as it will ultimately determine the future development of the United Kingdom in the next few years in regards to economic planning and how our public services will be maintained as it continues to be placed under a constrained financial budget. With figures indicating that if Scotland votes yes on Thursday that there would be an extra £6 billion in cuts to public services like NHS puts a spotlight on just how important this vote is for the nation as a whole.
One of the most significant and equally unique aspects of the Scottish referendum is its enfranchisement to 16 and 17 year olds. For the first time, 16 and 17 year olds will have a direct say into their own county's future. In actual fact, it is predicted that a total of 109, 533 16 and 17 year olds will be casting their vote this coming Thursday, having registered onto the electoral roll.
At the same time, the UK Youth Parliament is currently running their annual issue-finding campaign in partnership with the British Youth Council and its regional youth councils, cabinets and other agency partners throughout the UK.
Last years campaign saw a turnout of over 470,000 young people, making it the UK's largest youth consultation of its kind. This year the ballot will aim to engage one million young people in the decision-making process. The results of this campaign will then be debated on by democratically elected Members of Youth Parliament on the green benches of the House of Commons, and the most important issues will form part of their mandate for the year ahead.
Commenting on the successes of the 'Make Your Mark' campaign, John Bercow MP said, “the track record of democratically increasing the numbers of young people with whom the UK Youth Parliament engage in indisputable. Year after year 'Make Your Mark' is more and more effective in galvanising young people to say what interests them.'
The top ten issues identified on the ballot paper this year include; lowering the legal voting age to 16; the maintenance of youth service provision; a curriculum that prepares for life; improving mental health services; developing work experience; reinstating examination retakes; directly involving young people in law-making; universalising the Living Wage; the expansion of young people's engagement on a local level; and making euthanasia legal within the UK.
The direct involvement of young people in decision-making has proven to be one of the most powerful tools in securing long-term prosperity and social security. Enthusing a sense of shared community ownership, and empowering young people to have a say on big issues which affect them is a prime example of how we can reduce the democratic deficit, and support the growth of young people voting in public elections.
Online political journalism platforms such as Omnipolitical also have a central role to play in this. Writing for the Guardian, Daniel Wittenburg commented that “the opportunity to afford local secondary school pupils the chance to shape their neighbourhood agenda is something I hugely value”. Coincidentally, the title of the piece that he was writing was called “most young people are interested in politics but are alienated by politicians.”
Giving young people the opportunity to engage in political discussion away from politics is a challenge that continues to confront the development of models of youth voice. It is through using collaboration, creativity and innovation that new platforms can be developed and delivered to ensure that young people are at the forefront of social-policy making on every level.