Young People Need a Socialist Scotland

Facing a host of crises, from soaring rents to precarious work to climate breakdown, young people need radical policies – and a Scottish Labour that's prepared to fight for socialism.

Young Labour supporters in Lanarkshire in 2019. (Andrew Milligan / Getty Images)

A new year has begun, and for Scotland’s young people it’s certain to contain many challenges. In our schools, under-resourcing and negligence characterise an education system buckling under the weight of austerity. In our workplaces, we face precarious employment and low wages. And at home, we struggle with high rents and soaring property prices. Around us, a climate crisis rooted in the fundamental nature of capitalism becomes increasingly threatening. All the while, young people are made the object of a culture war in which we chose to play no part.

All of these problems have solutions. Each can be addressed or alleviated. Let’s be clear: their continuation is a political choice.

To ensure 2023 and the years after do not begin with these same crises, socialists must win the levers of local and national power. History proves that the Labour Party is the only vehicle with which we can make the transformational changes necessitated by the crises we face. The crucial prerequisite for this vision is to develop an empowered, emboldened and class-conscious youth movement in the vanguard of Scottish socialist struggle. We want to take this vision to Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee (SEC).

When COP26 rolled into Glasgow last November, the city’s streets thronged with young people demanding ‘system change, not climate change’. It was nearly impossible to walk through Glasgow without seeing a protest or a picket line. While COP26 failed, outside its gates, Glasgow’s essential workers protested alongside climate activists and young people. Energised by the coming together of these struggles, Scotland’s largest city was gripped by a combined appeal for radical action.

In this situation, the Labour Party should have been more visible, actively linking the class struggle with climate justice. As young people’s political consciousness grew, its youth movement should have been organised to take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, Scottish Labour as a party were all but invisible at one of the most politically important moments of 2021. Where others ran events, held meetings, and mobilised at demonstrations, COP26 passed our party by. Given the planet’s survival is dependent on socialism winning out, this was devastating.

Scottish Labour’s failure to respond to COP26 is indicative of its perpetual refusal to diagnose and adapt to the fundamental causes of its electoral demise. We have lost votes at every Scottish election since Holyrood’s inception. Fifteen years ago, the party lost control of the Scottish Parliament as the electorate vocalised their objections to New Labour’s neoliberalism. In desperation they switched allegiances to the SNP.

Since then, Labour has proved incapable of winning back the loyalty of Scotland’s working class. Years on from the disastrous ‘Better Together’ campaign, the party’s unrelenting unionism continues to alienate Scots—particularly younger generations.

To win power and deal with the challenges facing Scotland’s young people, we must first deal with the challenges facing Scottish Labour. This must begin with reinvigorating our youth movement. We want Scottish Young Labour to be an active, educated force, driven to organise for change. It should be a place where the principles of young socialists can develop through political education, where skill sharing sessions teach young activists how to organise in their own communities, and where ideological depth is encouraged through popular debate. We must construct a movement which challenges the very fundamentals of precarious work and pitiful conditions, the ideology of landlordism, and the class inequalities in education. This is how we build a conscious base of young members prepared to make the case for socialism on Scotland’s doorstep.

And with a lively, flourishing youth movement, Scottish Young Labour can play an active role in grassroots activism so that an opportunity like COP26 will not pass us by again. Our presence must be visible. Wherever the case for change is made, we must be there. Key to this is building solidarity with Scotland’s increasingly powerful social movements, in climate, housing, labour, and elsewhere. Power in parliament is one thing, but we must also build a mass movement for change on Scotland’s streets. Winning socialism requires them both.

We think this strategy can deliver a conscious Young Labour movement—one in touch with the demands of younger generations, and one which rallies to their defence through elected representation and popular pressure. With a rejuvenated Young Labour movement forming its foundations, the prospect of a Scottish Labour revival undoubtedly grows greater.

Our wish to represent young members is inextricably bound to our vision for Labour’s youth movement. As an assault on our membership alienates and disempowers young members across the UK, we firmly commit to fight for democracy, transparency, and equality on the SEC.

We are standing for Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee with the aim of realising this vision. Our experience as activists places us well to deliver. One of us, Coll, has worked at the core of the Progressive International, uniting leftist forces around the globe. He has taken on Shell with the Stop Cambo campaign and was among the lead organisers of a thirty-thousand-strong youth mobilisation during COP26. The other, Lauren, chairs Stirling University’s Labour society, where she organised the occupation of the University’s management offices in solidarity with UCU strike action in 2020. We know first-hand the change which united and determined young people can make. This is a force which we want to speak for on the SEC.

Young people in Scotland deserve better than two governments waging ideological warfare on their interests. We deserve a Scottish Labour Party that unashamedly makes the case for us and for socialism. For that, we first need a youth movement at the forefront of the case for radical change tirelessly advocating for our interests. We have the experience, passion, and determination to build it.

About the Author

Coll McCail is a candidate to represent young members on Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee. He and Lauren Harper have received endorsement from Momentum and Campaign for Socialism.

Lauren Harper is a candidates to represent young members on Scottish Labour’s Executive Committee. She and Coll McCail have received endorsement from Momentum and Campaign for Socialism.