Letter from Holyrood: Students get a taste of politics

One of the best aspects of being an MSP is visiting schools or welcoming them to the Parliament. Holyrood has a very active education department and most County primary schools use it to visit. As their local MSP I meet them to answer their questions, and they usually have some pretty searching ones to ask! I think of the Scottish Parliament as “new” but for this generation it has always been there and they will grow up knowing exactly what it does, which can only be good for our democracy.

High schools are facing a different democratic challenge because of the referendum allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote.Most students in 5th and 6th year will have a vote. Schools are trying to encourage participation, ensure that their students get the information they need and all the while remain scrupulously neutral. Ross High and Dunbar Grammar have held debates with representatives from the Yes campaign and Better Together putting the case and answering student’s questions. I missed Ross High due to a debate in parliament, but enjoyed the Dunbar event.

Parents can be assured that these events are completely balanced, with no advantage given to either side. They can also be very proud of their youngsters who are very engaged with the issues and show no fear or favour in asking the important questions. It is clear that 16 and 17 year olds are taking this vote very seriously indeed, as they should, since it is a once and for all decision about the country they are going to live in.

We also recently saw a debate of a different kind, the first County Secondary Schools debating competition. This time it was the students’ debating skills being judged, not the issue itself. Congratulations to Dunbar Grammar who came out on top in this contest.