Let’s not waste this opportunity to revive an enthusiasm for politics

Friday 19 September 2014

The referendum in Scotland may be over, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg: it will have a huge impact on everyone in the UK, but we don’t know what that impact will be. How can we help our young people make sense of it all? Well, in England and Wales we have a national curriculum subject for that.

With such a high turnout at Scotland’s polling booths yesterday, 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.

On Wednesday, Alex Salmond urged voters to relish their moment of power and take advantage of it. With the special conditions of the referendum, many of those voters were under eighteen and still in school. They’ve now had a taste of that power and responsibility; how are they going to feel when it’s taken away from them at the next election?

Will they feel even more let down and alienated by politicians, or will they stand up and fight for a greater franchise? And how did their counterparts in the rest of the UK feel about seeing their Scottish cousins given a power they’ve hitherto been denied?

In short, how do we ensure the passion that citizens displayed so clearly during the last few weeks doesn’t dissolve into alienation and resentment, but is nurtured into a greater interest in and understanding of the civic world around them?

Actually, we have a mechanism for this already: the statutory citizenship curriculum in schools.

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.

But let’s be honest: how often do we hear politicians extolling the virtues of the citizenship curriculum? Quite. As a result, it’s losing its footing.

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. And politicians can lead the way by lending the citizenship curriculum the weight of their public standing.

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