Whichever way the vote goes, today’s referendum in Scotland will have a big impact on everyone in the UK. How can students make sense of it all? England and Wales have a curriculum subject for that. Let’s use it.
With a record high turnout expected at Scotland’s polling booths today, it’s clear that democratic participation in Britain can still be aroused. If the referendum has taught us anything, it’s that citizens young and old will defy the doom-sayers by engaging with politics when it touches a nerve and if their vote really could swing the balance.
Whatever the outcome, enormous change is afoot. But what will it mean to our young people? If Scotland votes Yes, will little Jenny in Birmingham find she needs a passport to visit her granny? Or will the border remain open, as in Ireland? And will the quality of life for either of them get better or worse?
If the vote is No, what are the ramifications for the rest of the UK? What is ‘devo-max’ and ‘the West Lothian Question’, and what do they mean to ordinary people?
Yesterday, Alex Salmond urged voters to relish this moment of power and take advantage of it. With the special conditions of this referendum, many of those voters will still be in school. How do their neighbouring peers feel about remaining disenfranchised in a resurgent democratic climate, and would they feel prepared to vote if they could? (Here’s the most recent research on the matter, from the Youth Citizenship Commission.)
The new programmes of study for citizenship aim, among other things, to ‘equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically’. This is what the subject was designed for: to prepare young people for their place in an ever-changing political, legal, economic and social world.
And there’s a huge appetite for it, as Aberdeenshire teacher Lynn Cooper discovered.
So, while citizens of Britain are in the grip of an unusual surge of interest in the nation’s politics, let’s strike that iron while it’s hot and help our young people forge their futures in a changing nation.
Here are some links that may help:
- ACT guidance on the Scottish referendum and future of the UK [Association for Citizenship Teaching; membership required]
- Scottish independence: everything you need to know about the vote [the Guardian]
- Scottish devolution source materials activity [Parliament Education Service]
- Political Literacy resources [Education Scotland]
- Rock Enrol! interactive lesson framework around voter registration [Cabinet Office]