As the Year of Young People draws to a close, this blog explores the role and work of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and highlights the Working in Partnership objectives agreed between the Scottish Parliament and SYP.
SYP’s role and remit
The Scottish Youth Parliament represents people between the ages of 12 and 25 across Scotland. Elections are held every two years, with more than 80,000 young people voting at the most recent elections in March 2017. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament (MSYPs) range in age from 14 to 25 and represent all 32 local authority areas, as well as national voluntary organisations, including LGBT Youth Scotland and Girlguiding Scotland. Currently, there are around 160 MSYPs.
SYP is a politically impartial, rights-based organisation. Its work embodies Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC): “young people have the right to express their views freely and have their opinions listened to in all matters affecting them”. It aims to provide a national platform for young people to discuss issues, to campaign to effect change, and ensure that young people are heard by decision makers.
SYP’s most recent membership census found that MSYPs are broadly representative of wider Scottish society, measured against a number of key indicators, including gender, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD). SYP’s infographic shows the diversity of its current membership.
SYP is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee. As a youth-led organisation, its Board is made up of seven members, who are advised by professional external advisors. Every MSYP is a member of one of SYP’s 10 subject committees, each of which takes responsibility for a specific policy area. SYP also employs a small team of staff based in Edinburgh.
Every year, SYP delivers a national campaign. Notable successes since its inception in 1999 include Votes at 16 and Love Equally (same sex marriage). For most of 2018, the main focus was Right Here, Right Now: raising awareness of young people’s rights; empowering young people to use them, and encouraging decision makers to take a rights-based approach, particularly during the Brexit negotiations. The key overarching policy objective of the campaign was the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law in Scotland. The Scottish Government announced its commitment to “incorporate the principles of the UNCRC into law” in its Programme for Government 2018-19.
The newly launched All Aboard campaign seeks to improve young people’s experience of public transport, calling for reduced fares, and improved accessibility and services.
SYP’s policy statements are derived from three main sources:
- Its youth manifesto, Lead the Way, the product of a consultation on a wide range of proposed policy statements. It received over 70,000 responses from across Scotland and sets the policy agenda for 2016-2021.
- Members’ Motions and Committee Motions voted on by MSYPs at national Sittings.
- Consultations with groups of young people on specific issues.
SYP keeps a searchable log of all active policy: http://policy.syp.org.uk/. You can use it to find out which issues are most important to young people in Scotland. Policies cover a diverse range of issues including school catchment areas, free public toilets, bereavement counselling, unpaid trials in the workplace, domestic abuse, climate change and nuclear disarmament.
SYP has a history of active engagement with the Scottish Parliament, responding to consultations and through MSYPs giving evidence to committees, as well as developing working relationships with MSPs. Several MSYPs have submitted public petitions, most recently calling for a ban on mosquito devices which make an unpleasant high-pitched noise, audible only to people under the age of about 25.
MSPs often use motions to congratulate MSYPs on their election and highlight aspects of SYP’s work. Sometimes they focus on an MSYP’s local work, for example on local bus services.
SYP’s staff create and deliver youth engagement sessions throughout Scotland, visiting schools and youth groups, including hard to reach groups. These sessions include democracy days, as well as exploring topics raised by SYP’s campaigns.
In partnership with other organisations, SYP also encourages participation in projects designed to strengthen young people’s engagement with issues such as education, mental health services, and violence against women and girls.
MSYPs work with a range of local and national stakeholders, groups and individuals. They also have opportunities to represent Scotland’s young people outwith Scotland.
Up to 16 MSYPs are also members of the UK Youth Parliament. A House of Commons Library briefing provides background information on the UK Youth Parliament and looks as issues debated at its 2018 Sitting.
SYP led the UN’s engagement with children and young people in Scotland as part of the fifth periodic review of the UK’s implementation of the UNCRC. In 2015, with support from the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland and Together, SYP hosted a fact-finding visit of the UN Taskforce on the Rights of the Child. Two MSYPs then reported to the UN committee in Geneva. The UN’s concluding observations were published in July 2016.
In recent months, MSYPs led a session on how youth parliamentarians defend human rights at a UN Day of General Discussion in Geneva and attended a Eurochild conference in Croatia.
Working in Partnership Objectives
One of the legacies of the Scottish Parliament’s work in support of the Year of Young People will be the set of objectives set out in the Working in Partnership document endorsed by the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and the Chair of the SYP.
The Working in Partnership document followed recommendations from the Commission for Parliamentary Reform as to how the Scottish Parliament could reinforce its relationship with SYP.
The Commission’s report suggested that the Scottish Parliament “facilitate closer links between the work of each Scottish Parliament committee and its relevant SYP committee” and that “committees should build on the engagement potential of the SYP to broaden the range of youth voices informing parliamentary scrutiny”. Other recommendations included holding one of SYP’s national Sittings at the Scottish Parliament every two years, as well as continuing to offer opportunities for MSPs and MSYPs to meet and work together, for example, by facilitating meetings between newly elected MSPs and their MSYP counterparts.