The Scottish referendum provided a unique opportunity for young people in Scotland to get involved in politics.
Despite the defeat on 18 September, the grassroots nature of the Yes campaign has meant that these activists are not going away. The youth of Scotland is politicised, angry and already fighting for a better world. Thousands of young people were at meetings and on the streets discussing how to scrap Trident, end austerity and protect free education.
The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) in particular proved to be a vital organising tool, led by young activists.
The Yes campaign set up Generation Yes for youth and students. At the first Generation Yes event in March activists were encouraged to hand out leaflets asking people if they would like to live in one of the richest countries in the world. At the last Radical Independence mass canvass on 13 September activists handed out materials declaring “the end of Tory rule forever” in an independent Scotland.
This change in emphasis shows how demands within the movement pushed the official Yes campaign to adopt left wing slogans.
Yes Scotland pushed for voter registration. At Edinburgh College, RIC registered over 100 new voters in just two hours. These further education students had never voted before — but working class anger at the Tories and austerity was clear to see. On the eve of the referendum thousands of Yes supporters marched through the streets of Edinburgh chanting “Hope over fear”.
Sixteen and 17 year olds were given the vote for the first time. This is a generation which has only ever known illegal wars, austerity and privatisation — and they won’t easily accept having their vote taken away for the general election.
Activists are proud of the campaign they led. We may not have won at the ballot box, but the arguments put forward in the schemes and communities have resonated with people.
Where one might expect an atmosphere of despondency at the result, nothing could be further from the truth. Young activists are seeing how organisation and collective campaigning made a difference. The mood among young voters is a desire for real change; this will not stop now.
This generation has been given a glimpse of a better Scotland. Voting Yes has become more than a cross on a ballot paper. It is a powerful identity in Scotland today.