Margo MacDonald: Scotland is safe in young hands

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I had the pleasure of attending a seminar for senior school pupils in Parliament on Monday. This event, attended by pupils from Oban to Cumbernauld via Edinburgh and Livingston, was organised by the Scottish Parliament’s Education Department. The thread running through the day-long event was the specialised, precise language required for the production of clear, unambiguous laws and policies.

I admit that doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs. But studying the law of the land to discover just what your entitlements are if you’re hospitalised in an NHS facility, or accused of carrying a knife, or your home is flooded is very interesting and absorbing. I sat in at the back of one workshop where a group of 16 and 17-year-olds were involved in amending a provision in the regulation covering the care (for the elderly etc) provided by local authorities.

These products of the electronic communication age who twitter and tweet about the smallest details of their lives were fascinated by the practical consequences of making a small change to a small word. The proposal that the “Local Authority may do ....” was greatly strengthened by changing “may” to “must.”

There was an engaged, serious approach to the discussion displayed by the youngsters, together with a perception shown by those who questioned myself and fellow MSPs Alison Johnston and Joan McAlpine in an open session. The Education Department is one of the things the Scottish Parliament does well, and probably nudges a few young people towards the democratic institutions, the Parliament included.

I certainly felt vindicated in voting to give Scotland’s 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the Referendum. But just as I am the champion of young Scots who want to mould their Scotland for their generation, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have such young people stand for election. Everyone elected to Holyrood, or any other parliament, should take some expertise and experience to deepen the understanding and capabilities of the parliament. That need not mean apprentice MSPs must wait until women are beginning to tell lies about their age, but both sexes, as well as learning about representing people by being with them in neighbourhood projects etc, should have fun in their twenties.

The American constitution says that the President has to be at least 36 years old... I would settle for a bit younger. Also, at present the franchise is to be extended to Scotland’s young people for the Referendum only. How much of this decision is due to a lack of confidence in the attitudes of young people in other parts of the UK? I don’t see any danger in this extension of democracy. The young people I’ve talked to about nukes, assisted dying, prostitution – to demonstrate their exposure to adult topics – have reacted in the same way as any intelligent, thoughtful group.

Just as pensioners will pay more attention to the policy that is their priority interest, and may be swayed to support a candidate whose ideas seem closest to their own wishes, so the young people I’ve met will probably vote for the side in the Referendum that holds out the stronger chance for the Scottish economy to grow and sustain employment for their generation.

I think Scotland will be safe in their hands.

We can do it better

How did you react when you read in Monday’s papers that the Scottish economy is “as bad as the Spanish economy.”? Did you feel a moment’s sadness before getting on with what you were doing whilst mulling over Scotland’s failure to make enough money to run our social services? Or did you shrug and think so what’s new about Scotland falling down on the job?

The weekend papers were full of comment about the apparent success of the “Better Together, vote NO to Scottish independence”. Logically then, should our aspirations be focused on unemployment rates of anything between 25 and 50 per cent, and fundamentally, in spite of devolution, with Westminster in charge of our resources? Surely comparison with the Spanish economy just proves that we’d be mugs to assume full responsibility for ourselves?

If that’s how you thought, you couldn’t be more wrong. The conclusion by the Ernst and Young economists placing the Scottish economy in the same bracket as Spain should have made your blood boil. Why should Scotland be the only country in the world to become poorer after discovering oil? And if Westminster cannot manage our resources to develop our economy to allow our young people to study and then work in Scotland, and our elderly and vulnerable to receive the support they need, we should be done with rule from London.

This should be Scotland’s time... let’s not throw it away.