For last year’s independence referendum young people aged 16 and 17 were given the vote for the first time. A huge number of them took this on with great enthusiasm and relished the opportunity to be part of the democratic process.
The intelligence, good humour and enthusiasm of the likes of Saffron Dixon and Liam McLaughlin for Yes Scotland and James Reekie and Anya O’Shea for Better Together really shone through and added a huge amount of energy to a long, drawn out campaign.
On the 19th of September many drifted off pleased with a job well done or bitterly disappointed.
For some politics has become much more than one single referendum, it has become a central part of their lives. They have joined parties and are prepared to stand up for what they believe in by standing for election to the Westminster Parliament.
The jeering and heckling often seen at Westminster could be daunting to people of any age never mind those barely out of their teens.
One candidate is the SNP’s Stuart Donaldson who’s standing in West Aberdeenshire and Kircardine. At 23 he is not even the youngest standing in this constituency. His entry into politics may not be surprising as his mother is SNP MSP Maureen Watt. With the SNP surge that has been happening in Scotland Stuart could take the seat although the Liberal Democrats insist they can hold onto it.
Another is Kyle Thornton. At just 20 he is the Conservative candidate for Glasgow South. It’s a hotley contested seat. Popular current Labour MP Tom Harris had more than double the votes of his nearest competitor, SNP’s Malcolm Fleming, in 2010. If the Ashcroft polls are to be believed current SNP candidate Stewart McDonald is in with a shout.
Kyle’s under no illusions about how difficult it will be for the conservatives to take this seat: “I might not win.” He says matter of factly. “I’m out for every vote I can get. I’m here to provide an alternative to Labour and the SNP who will wreck our economy.”
All in all Kyle’s pleased with the campaign and how it’s going so far: “I’m really enjoying it. We’ve been getting some good local support.”
Kyle’s been into politics for many years and spent four years at the Scottish Youth parliament before stepping down early to help Better Together in the referendum by running a local group.
Stuart also made sacrifices to help his side, yes Scotland, in the referendum: “I was due to go to China but instead decided to stay to campaign in the referendum. The level of democratic engagement during the referendum was incredible.”
By Kyles’s own admission he’s not the kind of person to sit by waiting for things to happen and this is what led him to politics. He stood because it was time to “put my head above the parapet”. When he did this he found a party ready to modernise and embrace younger candidates. “It speaks volumes that I am not the youngest candidate.” Says Kyle referring to Taylor Muir who, at the ripe old age of 19, is contesting the neighbouring constituency of Rutherglen and Hamilton East.
Stuart is also not the youngest candidate in the SNP, that title goes to 20 year old Mhairi Black who is standing against Labour’s Douglas Alexander. This contest is being seen as pivotal. Can a 20-year-old really oust a former Secretery of State for Scotland? It would be a Portillo moment if she did. Stuart believes that more young people are standing thanks to the level of engagement seen during the referendum campaign.
Stuart joined the SNP because “I decided it was about time I joined the party that I had voted for in every election and that I knew a lot about.”
Kyle has found that people are surprised when he knocks on their door and announces himself as their potential MP. “Some do say “are you not a bit young” but then they realise that’s just part of it.” Stuart believes some people find it refreshing to see someone so different from the stereotype of a Westminster politician.
Both have had to go through their respective party’s selection procedure which they believe means they are taken as seriously by the party as any other candidate and has prepared them for the campaign.
Both believe their respective party leaders have had a part to play “I joined the party before the last election and it was David Cameron’s message I could relate to” says Kyle who has also found Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson supportive. Stuart has found that SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s message has been getting across well: “People have been impressed with Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the debates and more and more are putting their faith in the SNP.”
One thing that has been clear for some time is that people are fed up with the same old politics and identikit MPs. Having the likes of Kyle, Stuart, Mhairi, Taylor and many more in the running and potentially being MPs is exciting and those that are successful will shake up Westminster