Excited or exhausted?: Scotland’s young voters

“If a dentist stopped midway through a procedure and asked the people in the waiting room by show of hands if he should remove his patient’s tooth or just give them a filling, he’d be out of a job . . . and rightly so!”

PhD candidate Dale Maxwell, 23, from Falkirk, is not looking forward to Thursday’s snap election.

Like many in Scotland, Maxwell has been to the polls a lot lately – six times in the last three years to be precise.

The General Election will make it seven and, while some are looking forward to flexing their democratic muscles once more, Maxwell has had enough.

“I’m fed up of all the votes,” he said. “I’d like the politicians to do what we pay them to do and stop asking us every second Thursday. Their job is to run the country, that’s what they were elected to do.”

Since the introduction of The Scottish Referendum (Franchise) Bill and the Scottish Elections (Reduction of the Voting Age) Bill, in 2013 and 2015 respectively, 16-year-olds have been able to participate in Scottish and local government elections, meaning more young people could participate in politics than ever before.

With this in mind, we spoke to some young Scottish voters to see if the increase in democratic activity has made them excited, or just exhausted with politics.

“I think it’s really important to vote,” said Julia Kay, 24, a civil servant. “My parents never fail to remind me that people died so I could have my vote.”

“The referendum definitely made politics in Scotland more exciting. Personally, it made me more enthusiastic and optimistic about politics and I think it made a lot more people get involved which is great!”

Maxwell agrees that 2014’s Scottish independence referendum was a watershed moment for young people in the country.

“It was the first time I actively got involved in discussing politics and my enthusiasm for it has stayed fairly high since then,” he said.

However, for others, the result of the referendum was discouraging.

“I was excited about the prospects independence held and gutted with the result as we were still bound to Westminster,” said Cara Welsh, 30, a rehab support worker for the NHS.

“I don’t want another referendum. The votes were cast and it was No.  Pleading for another one just makes democracy silly.”

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Welsh doesn’t feel her options are clear.

She said: “I feel a bit sick of it all. None of the candidates feel appropriate to run our country. I’m not as much of a SNP supporter as I was before the referendum and the ways the Tories are stripping the NHS is awful. I don’t have any faith in Jeremy Corbyn and the other parties don’t seem strong enough. I will vote, but I am struggling to decide who for.”

Though Kay shares these concerns, for her, the decision is much clearer: “I’m not impressed with most of the candidates but I’ve been enjoying watching Question Time over the last few weeks. I think Corbyn has been doing really well and I just hope it can last until we get May out!”

Alan Duffy, 24, a complaints manager at a building society has also been impressed with Corbyn’s performance: “He did really well on Question Time the other night. I see a genuine person who actually cares about people and has a good plan of action for improving the UK.”

One point they all agree on is that having young MPs makes a difference to young voters and, in Scottish politics, there’s one name that comes up again and again.

“I feel Mhairi Black has had a profound impact on how the youth view politics” says Welsh, referring to the incumbent MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and who became the youngest MP elected to the House of Commons since the Reform Act of 1832, when she was elected at aged 20 in 2015.

“I think seeing young candidates encourages younger people to vote,” said Duffy. “The candidates have to appear somewhat like normal, cool people to gain interest and Mhairi Black did quite well like that.”

 “You don’t really think of politicians as being young but I think it’s good that more people my age are displaying an interest. They can probably relate to my concerns a bit better.”

“She has done more to get young people interested in politics than anyone in recent history,” Maxwell added.

“I think she especially has been a fantastic example for young people and has encouraged them to be more involved in politics,” said Kay.

Despite their interest in politics, neither Duffy, Kay, nor Maxwell see themselves running for office in the future.

“I’ve joked about it but I don’t think I’d fit the political mould”, said Maxwell. “They’re all fighting for power rather than trying to actually rationally figure out what’s best for the country. I think I’d rather get involved in politics as an advisor, rather than a candidate.”

Welsh, however, is less dismissive: “It’s not something I’ve ever considered, but perhaps with six children I should get my oar in for the world I’m raising them in”.

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