Youth participation and the Scottish Parliament: accessibility and participation for children and young people.
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The Scottish Parliament which (re)convened in 1999 was designed to engender a new style of political practice. This ‘new politics’ was intended to address perceived failures within the ‘Westminster approach’ to policy‐making and the ‘democratic deficit’ believed to have emerged during the 1980s in Scotland. Key to achieving this were four principles around which the Parliament’s operations were designed: power‐sharing; accountability; accessibility and participation; and equal opportunities. Citing accessibility and participation as the ‘cornerstone’ of their work, the Parliament’s institutional architects (the Consultative Steering Group) argued that devolution should deliver a participatory democracy, with proactive efforts to be made by the Parliament to involve groups traditionally excluded from the policy process. Due to the increasing prominence in recent years of discourse relating to young people’s disillusionment with organised politics and the CSG’s recommendation that every effort should be made to include them in the new Parliament’s work, this research examines the degree to which greater accessibility to and participation in the Parliament’s work has been delivered for children and young people during the Parliament’s first two terms (1999‐2007). Findings are based upon a mixed‐methodological case‐study approach, involving an audit of the Parliament's activity and qualitative input from MSPs, Parliament staff, representatives of youth charities / organisations / advocacy groups, and young people themselves. The thesis argues that progress has been more pronounced in relation to accessibility than participation for younger people. The neoinstitutionalist theoretical framework suggests that insufficient rule specification in relation to the value of public participation and younger people has resulted in the emergence of hybridised logics of appropriate behaviour, particularly among parliamentarians. The result is the persistence of attitudes and practices which appear to reinforce aspects of Westminster practice and an adultist approach to young people’s role in politics. Drawing upon recent developments in neoinstitutionalist theories of reliable reproduction, institutional breakdown and gradual change, the thesis examines the institutional logic behind the failure to consolidate the Parliament’s founding vision.