Document 1257

Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 01-100 Scottish Youth Parliament

Author(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body

Copyright holder(s): Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body: © Scottish Parliamentary copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Queen's Printer for Scotland on behalf of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.


Research Note RN 01/100
13 November 2001


This note gives a brief outline of the Scottish Youth Parliament and other mechanisms for representation of the opinions of young people. It also looks briefly at examples of youth parliaments in other countries. An Executive debate on the Scottish Youth Parliament is scheduled for 14th November 2001.

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should be free to have opinions in all matters affecting them, and those views should be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. (Child is defined as any person under the age of 18 years). The underlying idea is that children have the right to be heard and to have their views taken seriously. Article 12 has given great impetus to the development of various structures for youth participation at local, regional, national and international level.

The Scottish Youth Parliament was launched in Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh in 1999. It was developed through a partnership between Connect Youth, Community Learning Scotland, Tangents, YouthLink Scotland, many local authorities and national voluntary organisations. (1)

They currently have around 150 members aged between 14 and 25 years. Their aim is to be the collective national youth voice for all young people in Scotland. The Scottish Executive announced a grant of £80,000 for the Youth Parliament in June 2001. The Youth Parliament now has two staff based at Community Learning Scotland.

There are three categories of members, local youth councils, national youth involving organisations and individuals. The common criteria for membership is that people must be between 14 and 25 years old. The maximum membership is 300, made up of 146 from local youth councils, 100 from youth involving organisations and the remainder from individuals. The current membership of around 150 is made up of around 100 members from 46 youth councils and youth involving organisations and around 50 individual members.

• Local Youth Councils
146 young people can be MSYPs (Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament) under this category. Local youth forums or councils can nominate two members per Scottish Parliamentary Constituency. The Scottish Youth Parliament ask to see evidence that the nominees were selected using an ‘open and democratic process.’

• National Youth Involving Organisations
The Youth Parliament offers a further third of its membership to the youth forums or youth councils of national youth organisations. Each organisation can nominate two young people to become MSYPs. An organisation must either offer services or volunteering opportunities to young people and have a youth forum. Any type of youth led body with some responsibility for developing the organisation is acceptable.

• Individuals
Any young person can nominate themselves to become an MSYP. The nomination must be supported by two people. The Youth Parliament vote on whether to accept the nomination.

The affairs of the organisation are managed by an Executive (numbering between 15 and 20) drawn from members aged between 16 and 25.

The Scottish Youth Parliament meets three times a year, discusses issues which affect young people across Scotland and ‘tries to propose innovative and sometimes radical solutions to these problems and situations’.

Pointing the Way Forward,
The Youth Parliament issued a consultation document ‘Pointing the Way Forward’ in August 2001 as a first step towards developing a youth charter for Scotland. They plan to hold consultation events on this and issue a final document in March 2002. The document puts forward the views of the Scottish Youth Parliament on a wide range of issues from abolition of the monarchy to the reform of the children’s hearings system.

Some example policy statements in Pointing the Way Forward are:
• The monarchy should be abolished.
• Cannabis should be legalised.
• Pupil councils should be more influential.
• The school curriculum should be standardised across the country.
• The youth parliament opposes the first past the post voting system.
• The youth parliament supports unilateral nuclear disarmament.
• Young people should be members of children’s panels.
• Courts should be more ‘young people friendly’.
• A ‘three strikes’ policy should be introduced in the criminal justice system
• There should be free transport for young people in rural areas.

The Scottish Executive has indicated that it is committed to listening to young people’s views. (2) Long term participatory structures are one method amongst many of gaining the views of young people. Research for the Education, Culture and Sport Committee found that there was little systematic evaluation of these structures and some researchers have questioned whether permanent structures are the most effective method of establishing young people’s views.

Participatory structures are currently very popular with adults seeking to empower children and young people. However, there is no hard evidence of a demand for them from young people themselves, and some have questioned whether they in fact represent a form of social control (Fitzpatrick et al (3)) or ‘texts of power’ that advantage dominant groups (Freeman and Nairn 2000) Equally there is little evidence that participatory structures are more effective than other methods in giving young people, as a group, a say in policy and legislation, or in bringing about a more child-friendly society. As Dorian (4) points out, the literature on participation makes a case for it mainly in terms of the potential benefits it brings to the individuals involved (for example increased self confidence and self awareness). Young people engaged in participatory projects confirm that these benefits are real for them. However, one might question whether the cost of creating and maintaining these permanent structures is proportionate to the number of participants who benefit. Given good preparation and feedback, wider consultation methods might achieve more in terms of change and give a sense of active participation to a much greater number of children and young people for a similar cost. (5)

The researchers found that youth forums tend to differ in three main respects:

• The extent to which they were accountable to a wider constituency
• The extent to which they participated in decision making
• The extent to which they became a social group or a source of personal development.


The Programme for Government ‘Making it Work Together’ states that the Executive will;

‘consult widely on an action programme for youth which values young people and reflects their aspirations and needs.’

Youth Summit
The Scottish Youth summit was held on 19th June 2000. 200 young people aged between 11 – 18 attended the Civic Centre in Motherwell and a further 1000 participated in ‘satellite’ events in Angus, Dundee, Highland, east Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Campeltown. Young people from throughout Scotland could also participate by e-mail. 14 ministers from the Scottish Executive, Solicitor General, Neil Davidson and Secretary of State for Scotland, John Reid, attended. Workshops were held on topics ranging from the environment to housing to sex and sexuality. The report of the event was published in June 2001.

1998 – Have Your Say
A series of 'Have Your Say' events were conducted across Scotland in 1998 to give young people the opportunity to express their ideas, identify specific issues and present their aspirations for the future governance of Scotland. The events were held in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dumfries and Galloway, Stornoway and Fort William in August 1998. Over two hundred people attended the six events held across Scotland to discuss their views on the Scottish Parliament and Local Government in Scotland. The events were organised to encourage young people to express their views and to participate in the development of the Scottish Parliament. The view was widely expressed by many young people that they "should have more opportunity to be actively involved within the political system which has a direct effect on their fives".

The dominant view coming across at all the events was that the Scottish Parliament provides an opportunity to create something new. Scottish Parliament could potentially meet the following needs: "Government needs to be fun and interesting' (Edinburgh), and something "unlike Westminster' (all seminars), which:

• involves young people;
• treats young people as equals;
• informs young people jargon free).

The views of the young people of the Scottish Parliament were complemented by practical suggestions on how these ideas can be achieved. "We need to make ourselves noticed. Youth Councils are a good way of achieving this" (Aberdeen), and a "Scottish Youth Parliament is a must" (Edinburgh). Another practical idea identified a need for a "youth network on a greater scale with direct access regular contact with MSPs to give young people a greater degree of power/involvement' (Glasgow). It is clear that many young people feel it would be beneficial to use or develop ways for them to come together, discuss and decide on issues and then link to the MSPs and the Scottish Parliament, as well as with local authorities.

Re:action tool kit
Commissioned by the Scottish Executive from Save the Children, the re:action tool kit was published in June 2001 and gives advice on best practice concerning consultation with children and young people. It looks at various methods of consultation, including focus groups, conferences and questionnaires.


Cross Party Group on Children and Young People
A number of ‘Having Your Say’ events have been organised by Children in Scotland on behalf of the cross party group. To date events have been held in Edinburgh, Arbroath, Ayr and Galashiels.

Education, Culture and Sport Committee
The Committee has consulted with young people on the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Bill, the SQA, the Children’s Commissioner, and the financial situation in Border’s Education Department. The Committee has also taken evidence from young people with regard to the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Bill.

The committee commissioned research on good practice in consulting with children and young people. The research and guidelines for parliamentary committees were published (6) in June 2001.

There are a large number of youth parliaments internationally. They differ both in purpose and in the degree to which they are linked to formal decision making structures. They show differences in the balance between the aims of educating young people about parliamentary processes and giving young people an opportunity to put forward their opinions to decision makers.

Education Based Parliaments
Educative parliaments tend to be one off events organised through schools which use the experience of putting through mock legislation to educate students about politics and citizenship. Examples of this type of parliament include;
• The Tasmanian Youth Parliament holds annual three day sitting putting through mock legislation.
• The Australian YMCA Parliament was a one off parliament for school pupils to learn about politics.
• The European Youth Parliament holds two or three international nine day sessions per year brining together 250 to 300 pupils from different nationalities. All secondary schools are eligible to apply for involvement in the parliament. They are asked to provide a delegation of 12 senior pupils. Proposed delegations go through a selection process.
• The New Zealand Youth Parliament meets every three years. Each member of the ‘adult’ parliament selects a young person to represent them as a youth M.P.

The Young People’s Health congress run by the Scottish Parliament’s education services would fit into this category of education based parliaments. Education Authorities nominated two schools in their area to send delegates. The proceedings took the form of passing a mock bill on health. Delegates worked through all three legislative stages.

Learning and Teaching Scotland recently conducted a consultation on education for citizenship. This included asking school children to suggest ways to learn about politics. 38% (208 pupils) suggested mock elections or visits to the Scottish Parliament. (7)

Consultative Parliaments
Some of the above also have a limited consultative role. The Tasmanian Youth Parliament’s ‘Acts’ are distributed to the relevant government departments for consideration. The New Zealand Youth Parliament’s ‘hansard’ is used as an indication of youth opinion on various policy issues. Other parliaments have as their main purpose, the encouragement of young people to put forward their opinions. Some examples are the UK Youth Parliament, the Young People’s Parliament in Birmingham and the Youth Parliaments in Canada.

The UK Youth Parliament had its first sitting in February 2001 and aims to give the young people of the UK, between the ages of 11 and 18 years a voice, which will be heard and listened to by local and national government, providers of services for young people and other agencies who have an interest in the views and needs of young people. The UKYP intends to meet on an annual basis, to give the young people of the UK a chance to express their views and concerns. The first sitting of the UKYP created a Youth Manifesto which has been presented to the Government, the major political parties and service providers for young people. Elections are held on an annual basis, with each Local Education Authority (LEA) representing one constituency.

The Young People’s Parliament is a Brimingham based organisation which obtains its membership through links with ‘partner schools’, although it states that it is keen for involvement with a broad range of youth organisations.

Another UK example, is the Welsh project, ‘Young Voice’. Managed by the Welsh Youth Agency, this is a project to encourage young people to give their views on assembly policy. An initial conference for young people in July 1999 requested a permanent Young People’s Assembly. Young Voice, launched in June 2000, is linked to local youth councils and has a website linked to the Assembly site, inviting young people’s opinions.

There are many international examples, with a particularly long running tradition in the United States and Canada. For example, the British Columbia Youth Parliament was formed in 1924 and meets annually, between December 27th and 31st and involves 93 representatives of youth organisations from across British Columbia. The parliament is not formally linked to ‘adult’ government structures, although they do pass resolutions which are directed towards relevant government ministers or community leaders. The youth parliament pass ‘acts’ which are binding on themselves. These relate to the community and volunteer work undertaken by the parliament members. The current premier considers that the greatest influence of the parliament is through its volunteer work in the community.

Issue Based Parliaments
Some Youth Parliaments are based on the idea of ‘youth activism’ and are often based on a particular issue. For example, the International Youth Parliament, is a network of youth activists aged 15 – 24 years from 150 countries. It is managed by Oxfam and concentrates on development issues.

The Education, Culture and Sport Committee are currently undertaking an inquiry into whether there should be a Children’s Commissioner and if so, what the remit of such a role would be. A possible remit would be to act as a channel for raising the views of children and young people with government. One of the issues arising from the inquiry so far is the upper age limit. In a consultation event in June it was pointed out by some delegates that youth issues differ from children’s issues. Some people favour calling the post ‘children’s and young people’s commissioner’, in order not to alienate young people from the post. (8)

Research Notes are compiled for the benefit of Members of Parliament and their personal staff. Authors are available to discuss the contents of these papers with Members and their staff but cannot advise members of the general public.

1 Scottish Executive News Release 30th June 1999
2 p29 Scottish Executive, Social Justice Annual Report 2000
3 Fitzpatrick, S., A. and Kintrea, K. (2000) ‘Youth involvement in urban regeneration: hard lessons, future directions’ Policy and Politics, 28,4, 493-509.
4 Dorian, A-M., (2000) The Participation of Children and Young People in Scotland: A Study of Citizenship, Empowerment and Inclusion. MPhil Dissertation: University of Glasgow.
5 para 2.97 Education, Culture and Sport Committee, ‘Improving Consultation with Children and Young People in Relevant Aspects of Policy-Making and Legislation In Scotland’, SP Paper 365
6 SP Paper 365 Improving Consultation with Children and Young People in Relevant Aspects of Policy-Making and Legislation in Scotland. Centre for the Child and Society, University of Glasgow and Children 1st for the Education, Culture and Sport Committee.
7 p. 24 LTScotland, 2001 ‘Education for Citizenship: Report of Young People’s Consultation’
8 For further information on Children’s Commissioners see SPICe research note 00/62

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Scottish Parliament: Research Briefings: RN 01-100 Scottish Youth Parliament


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