It was a long time coming, but yesterday the first elected members of Wales’ new Youth Parliament were announced.
Wales has had no nationwide youth forum of this considerable size since the “Funky Dragon” – which served as the de-facto Youth Assembly for Wales – lost its funding in 2014.
This was a frustrating time for young, politically engaged, Welshmen and women. And I should know – I was one of them!
I have campaigned (albeit unsuccessfully at the time) for the reinstatement of a proper Youth Parliament back since 2015. I even wrote a proposal for the now-outgoing First Minister Carwyn Jones, who turned it down at the time, saying:
“When the Assembly consulted with over 3000 young people across Wales, it was clear from the responses that there is a huge appetite to have their say on the issues that matter to them but overwhelmingly they called for practical widespread engagement with the business of the Assembly, rather than a formalised youth assembly.”
He and the government seemed to have changed their tune.
This new parliament is made up of 60 young people, who range from 11 and 18-years-old, 40 of whom were elected in an online ballot yesterday, with a further 20 from organisations and charities.
In my view this secures a broad and diverse range of people representing young people across the country.
And even though I am far too old to be in this parliament, perhaps even to be voicing an opinion on it, it is important to highlight that for those that have now grasped the mantle of this initiative, they must now make it count.
We cannot, as happened four years ago, let this opportunity for our young people slip away. It will not be a “talking shop” in the words of Elin Jones, but a place where young people’s views on everything from discrimination, health, transport, education, economic opportunities, and the Welsh language are heard.
We have seen the impact of these forums elsewhere. Take the Scottish Youth Parliament, for instance, where there is a huge democratic engagement with the body. Nearly 70,000 young people from all over Scotland voted to elect their local Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament back in 2015.
Their campaigns, policies and initiatives are effectively shown on their digital footprint, and members appear to take real pride in what they are doing.
Wales’ young people now have an opportunity to have this same degree of engagement in politics.
Arguably we need it a lot more than Scotland; in the midst of Brexit negotiations – where Scotland’s voice is listened to because of the constitutional fragility the UK now finds itself in – Wales is largely forgotten on the UK stage.
We also can’t forget that the tomorrow’s generation of leaders will inherit the mess that seems to have been created today. Therefore, there is of course much more that can be done for empowering young people – such as securing the implementation of Votes at 16 at the next Assembly election.
But this is a vital first step in demonstrating the ability and knowledge of young people across our country. If anything, our current batch of Assembly members could learn a thing or two about conviction, principles and pragmatism from them.
Theo Davies-Lewis is a 21-year-old student at Oxford and was one of the lead campaigners for a Youth Parliament for Wales