Labour and SNP neck and neck;Mock election special;Parliamentary

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
As polling stations close around the country, Raymond Ross reports on the youngsters' campaign for Scotland'snew Parliament

It's all over, bar the shouting. And the 13 MSP candidates standing for Edinburgh's Boroughmuir constituency agree over two things as they shake hands awaiting the results of the count: it was a hard-fought campaign and it was great fun.

"It looks like it's neck and neck between Labour and the SNP," says one insider as the tension mounts.

But SNP candidate, 14-year-old Mark Cooper, is in buoyant mood. Displaying a self-confidence to match that of his leader, Alex Salmond, he gives the impression he's already first past the post.

"It's not just that our policies on health and education are the right ones, it's also that the people know we will tell them what their money will actually be spent on.

"Labour have promised to buy books for schools and give every school access to the Internet but, unlike them, we will actually carry out such policies.

Our 1p in the pound is a guarantee of that."

Cooper's confidence belies the real possibility of a split, or several splits, in the nationalist vote in this constituency, with two dark horses, The New Scotland Party (NSP) and the Future Scottish Alliance (FSA), embroiled in vigorous campaigning alongside many other smaller parties running on an independence ticket.

"We are not a breakaway from the SNP," says NSP candidate Ross Farquhar (15). "We believe in independence on economic grounds, but we also believe we have policies that will appeal to young people."

These policies include more funding for sport and the lowering of the legal age forconsumption of alcohol under 5 per cent proof to 15.

"Alcohol is important to teen-agers and this is a serious point. Our proposal, coupled with effective teaching in school, will show young people how to drink sensibly and to avoid bingeing."

If the NSP's alcohol policy is a tactical manoeuvre to attract young voters, it pales beside the blatant populism of the Football First Party, which, besides wanting more money spent on sport in an independent Scotland, is also calling for alcohol consumption to be legalised at 14 and cannabis legalised for the over-16s.

Like both the NSP and the FFP, the FSA also believes strongly in more green space for sport. It attacks Labour for failing to address young people and believes that a Scottish Youth Parliament is needed.

"Labour and the SNP represent an older generation which is dividing the country," says FSA candidate Neil Cardwell (15).

"We believe in integration with Europe while remaining in Britain. But we also want measures taken to communicate issues to young people in a language they can understand by using TV and the Internet as well as by setting up a Youth Parliament," says Cardwell, who last week won a Youth Speak Out! on Europe competition, organised by the Institute for Citizenship and sponsored by the European Commission, European Parliament and The TES.

The Scottish Labour Party's candidate, Sarah Leigh-Brown, is one of only two female prospective MSPs in Boroughmuir High School's mock election, and she is the youngest at 12.

"The lack of girls standing might have something to do with there being few women MPs. Girls don't relate to male politics. But I'm not intimidated.

Maybe there are some seniors who won't vote for me, but most people will vote for the party and that's how it should be," she says.

But Boroughmuir electors are a fickle lot and the young Labour candidate may well have a fight on her hands in this constituency which voted in the Raving Monster Loony Party candidate, Karl Blom, at the last election.

Blom is standing this time as an Independent Communist for United People (ICUP). His Stalinist approach involves cutting primary-school budgets in an independent Scotland to finance a military invasion of Europe.

More seriously, the other female candidate is the Scottish Green Party's 14 year-old Kirsty Orme. Scotland, she says, has "the worst litter problem in Europe" and schools don't do enough to educate pupils in such matters.

Abolishing university tuition fees while providing 2,000 extra teachers is high up the Lib-Dem agenda, according to candidate Gordon Stevenson (13).

"We'd also raise spending in the NHS by 2 per cent and employ 1,000 more nurses and 500 more doctors, while establishing waiting times for patients," he says.

Enterprise and education are the Scottish Conservative Party's two main policies, says candidate Michael Forester (15). On education they believe in improving standards in schools by, among other things, doubling the number of school inspectors.

A TES Scotland exit poll of one S4 and one S2 class (some 50 pupils from a 1,000 pupil constituency) gave the SNP 30 per cent and Labour 13 per cent, with the Greens polling 10 per cent alongside the NSP and the FSA. The Lib Dems came in at 5 per cent and the Tories at 2 per cent.

MOCK ELECTION AIMS: EDUCATION FOR CITIZENSHIP The aim of the Scottish Parliament Mock Election 1999 is education for citizenship. This involves teaching pupils how the new voting system - the Additional Member System - works. Like voters in the the real election, pupils have two votes: one constituency (school) and the other for the party list, in Boroughmuir's case for a Regional List of School Candidates from Lothian.

"It took a lot of explaining to get over the PR system to the pupils," says John McTaggart, principal teacher of modern studies at Boroughmuir. "Some understood more than others, a situation which I think will be reflected in the adult population in May."

A cross-curricular project involving personal and social development, maths, modern studies and history departments directly in class work, the election campaign became "a whole school activity" with teachers allocated to parties to help out with administration.

"The Scottish Parliament genuinely excites our pupils," says Mr McTaggart, who, as a committee member of the Modern Studies Association, has taken a lead role in planning the whole project for the past 18 months.

"At Boroughmuir, as I think across Scotland, pupils take it seriously because they feel they will be able to influence the real Parliament. They do feel they will be listened to, because it's not remote."

* The mock election is organised by BBC Scotland, the Hansard Society for Parliamentary Government in Scotland, the Modern Studies Association and the Unit for the Study of Government in Scotland.

* Backed by all the main political parties, the election follows the actual process, down to registration forms and ballot papers, supplied by the Scottish Office, that will be used in May.

* 213 Scottish schools, including 32 primaries and four special schools, took part: 23 Highlands and Islands, 30 North East, 28 Mid Scotland and Fife, 29 Lothian, 25 Glasgow, 27 Central, 25 West of Scotland and 26 South of Scotland.

* Pupils have two votes, as in the real election: one constituency (school) and one regional party list * Campaigning began two weeks before the Easter holiday.

* Voting took place this week (April 19-23).

* Results will be calculated by the Electoral Reform Society and announced on a special BBC Scotland "Newsround" edition, presented by Peter Snow, on Thursday, April 29 at 5pm.

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