Jim Sweeney warns that missing out on the opportunity to change society after 18 September will hamper our children's future
We as a nation stand on the brink of a different future or on the edge of the precipice depending on your personal political leanings. On 18 September we will be asked to make a choice about who holds the decision-making power for us as citizens. For each of us, we all hold our own personal views on where power should ultimately lie. No matter the outcome, we in Scotland should be very proud of the vibrant and peaceful debate our nation has been involved in.
The debate has often been framed by both sides as a choice between opportunity and lack of opportunity, but in terms of strengthening our responsibility to our young people, I can only see this as an opportunity.
There are those who may question why the majority of the third sector have shied away from taking a definitive constitutional stance on this historic vote but that is to misunderstand the role of voluntary organisations and the people they serve. Our role is not to influence the democratic process on the basis of party political lines, it is to use constitutional and political change to drive through the very bedrock we all stand firmly on, equality of opportunity. It is not our role to alienate those we are working to support, it is our role to give a voice to those who are often not heard, to those, who, without the din the third sector make, would likely fall through the gaps of government spending reviews and policy making.
This however is a vote about where the seat of power will be. For once we are not voting for a raft of manifesto promises, this is a unique vote. No-one can say who will be the first government of an independent Scotland if there is a yes vote, or who will step over the threshold of Number 10 next spring but what we can do is pull together as a powerful third sector and bring influence to bear after the referendum vote on any suite of new devolved powers being proposed or on shaping government policy in an independent country.
For us in the youth work sector, we want to see equality of access to youth work opportunities for all young people in Scotland, irrespective of age, stage or where they live. We believe that universal youth work, available to all, provides the greatest opportunity in terms of preventative spending as it can reduce the need for higher-cost targeted interventions later on in a young adult’s life.
We also need core funding (as opposed to short-term project funding) so that the sector can not only survive but plan and deliver services locally and nationally that meet needs over the long term.
Formal education has received considerable capital investment over the last few years, but non-formal educational settings need to be raised to the same standard so that young people and youth workers feel they are valued and supported.
Sustained and sustainable capital investment in essential so that youth work’s buildings, equipment, transport and other practical resources are fit to deliver a quality, 21st-century service.
We want to ensure our young people are seen as an asset not burden, the solution not the problem.
There is much hope riding on the wave of this referendum and a need for this conversation to elicit actual change. The status quo cannot continue or Scots will feel disenfranchised for having been seen but not heard, encouraged to talk but not listened to. Here, right now, lies an opportunity to make Scotland a fairer, more equal society.
Jim Sweeney is chief executive of YouthLink Scotland.