Two weeks today, the Scottish Parliamentary elections take place. For the first time, 16 and 17 year olds will be allowed to vote to decide who represents them locally and regionally in our parliament.
When we first started the Ranger group, it was just after the announcement that 16 and 17 year olds would be allowed to vote in the 2014 independence referendum. The girls were a little freaked out by this prospect, and several of them felt that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote (based mainly on how much they didn’t know). By the time the referendum came about, they were all able to make a decision based on their own opinions.
One of our groups asked to have a night looking at the election. A few of them take Modern Studies, but despite this had confessions that they struggled to get their head around the Additional Member System way of voting that we use. I confessed to them how I had messed up at the polling station last time – I went in not realising that they’d decided to combine a few elections into one day and got so many pieces of paper I was unprepared for that I got flustered and confused and ended up putting a vote for someone that I wasn’t keen on by mistake.
While schools in Edinburgh were closed last week, I asked the girls to go and find anything and everything they could about our candidates. A few of them brought notes from school, leaflets that had been put through their door. I also did my own homework…
While eating birthday cake (we had another 16th birthday to celebrate!) we explained the two ballot papers and how they worked. One that is similar to the general election where they vote for one candidate from a party that is standing in their local constituency, and then the second one where they place a vote for which party should get one of the seven regional seats.
After we’d got our head around that and the differences between the two, we gave each of the girls one of the political party manifestos (sadly there were two parties that hadn’t released them yet, so the leaders took those parties and worked out things from information we could get) and gave the girls 30 minutes to look through them before coming back and making a ‘campaign speech’ on behalf of each party. Then we got to ask questions. Some questions came up to us leaders on what parties meant by certain things (for example, Conservatives’ proposal of graduates paying £1,500 once they were in a decently paid job or Green Party’s proposal of creating jobs in renewable energy). We could have done with longer, but all in all I think the girls felt more able to make an informed choice at the polling station that they did at the beginning of the night.
What has come out of this, is a request to do another political night where the girls can invent their own parties and manifestos.
I also want to thank the makers of the Suffragette movie, and Girlguiding for offering the tickets they did when the film was released. A number of our girls have seen it, and been hugely impacted by it. It wasn’t that they didn’t take their right to vote seriously before, but I definitely see a change where they really appreciate that right. It gives me hope that perhaps we can get back to a place in our country where we are all politically engaged and willing to take the time to hold the people we vote into power accountable and know that our vote can make a difference.