Teenagers set for more say in how council is run

Royal High School 'Modern Studies teacher Mr Domonic Forbes with pupils Tom AcArthur, Kira McDiarmid (jumper) and Jane Russell. Pic:Julie Bull
Royal High School 'Modern Studies teacher Mr Domonic Forbes with pupils Tom AcArthur, Kira McDiarmid (jumper) and Jane Russell. Pic:Julie Bull
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TEENAGERS as young as 16 would be allowed to submit public petitions to City Chambers under radical plans aimed at boosting their involvement in politics.

Criteria would be widened to allow teens to file requests for changes in how the city and local communities are run.

The move – which comes after those aged 16 and above were able to vote in September’s referendum on Scottish independence – is among a package of options aimed at reviewing the Capital’s petitions process to make it more accessible.

School pupils said Scottish youngsters were more politically aware than ever following the referendum vote, adding that it was right to hand them greater influence in political affairs.

And they predicted young people would focus on “bread-and-butter” issues such as funding for the city’s schools and sports centres.

Kira McDiarmid, 17, an S6 student preparing for Advanced Higher exams in Modern Studies at the Royal High, said she would use new powers to campaign for an extended roll-out of iPads in classrooms.

She said: “I think it’s very unfair that S3s and S4s at school have been receiving iPads from the council, but that S5s and S6s doing Highers and Advanced Highers have not.

“I think we should definitely be allowed a say on what’s right for our local communities because we will grow up with the consequences of what adults decide.”

Edinburgh’s petitions process allows individuals and organisations to raise issues of public concern, with councillors obliged to consider requests for change as long as they attract at least 500 signatures of support.

Petitions recently submitted include demands for new CCTV cameras in the Meadows after a 19-year-old woman was raped and calls for a local referendum on scrapping religious observance in non-denominational schools.

Royal High pupils said the participation of 16 and 17-year-olds in the Scottish independence vote showed what young people could contribute to the political process.

S6 student Jane Russell, 17, who wants to file a petition to request that funding for supplies of school jotters and other stationery is boosted, said: “I think widening participation would be outstanding as we have seen with the referendum that 16 and 17-year-olds are enthusiastic about that.”

Staff at the Royal High said it was important to build on fresh political zeal among young people, citing as a prime example the case of the so-called “Glasgow Girls” who obtained cross-party Holyrood support after highlighting the poor treatment of failed asylum seekers.

Modern studies teacher Domonic Forbes said: “I think the success of the Glasgow Girls with the Scottish Parliament petitions system shows that young people can be really engaged and that they can be a vehicle for change.”

Councillor Paul Godzik, education leader, added: “The principle of trying to extend the criteria to other young people [so they can] submit petitions is the right one. Hopefully we can increase the number of petitions that come in and the participation of our young people.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com