Campaign on single issues to get youth vote

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Henry Maitles is head of the department of curricular studies in Strathclyde University's education faculty

Cynical - I think not! The recent exposes of the "expenses" of MSPs highlights the issue of cynicism, both of our elected representatives and towards them.

This is reflected in the results of research into pupil attitudes. Work in this area, with some 800 social studies pupils in S4, revealed that 65 per cent agreed with the statement that "European politicians promise things just to get your vote"; 50 per cent felt that "the way people in Europe vote is important in deciding how things are run in Europe"; and 31 per cent agreed that "Scottish MEPs are out to line their pockets".

Further work with an S3 class found that those who had most exposure to learning about democratic practice and participating in a democratic class were more cynical towards voting and parliamentary politics than their peers, who didn't have this chance. This has important lessons for us in terms of education for citizenship. Many of the pupils who were cynical and apathetic were the most active in terms of single-issue pressure groups and campaigns for achievable, immediate things, such as Fair Trade.

Research in , involving 1,160 school students' attitudes towards formal politics and single-issue involvement, found that young people are involved in local issues and campaigning. Interestingly, it also found that some young people (a minority) did make the transition from working with single-issue campaigns into voting.

So, is this worrying? I don't think necessarily so. It is indeed a natural reaction, not just by young people, but by most of us who have deserted membership of the established political parties in droves. The reason primarily for the appeal of single-issue campaigns seems to be that there is a clear connection between the energies put in and the result.

Our politicians clearly find this problematic but they are, partly at least, the architects of the supposed problem.

Citizenship education and the centrality of responsible citizenship in A Curriculum for Excellence, currently on the agenda in every school, are underpinned by the idea that young people are citizens now as opposed to citizens-in-waiting. This means we should move away from just tolerating actions that we might deem unpalatable and encourage the involvement by young people in campaigning politics.

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