Anyone of my readers who has watched a nine year old son or daughter play for the local GAA Club Under 10 team, will be familiar with the pattern. The nine year old becomes eleven in the Under 12s, thirteen in the Under 14s and so on. You get to see the team grow up together. More so, you see quick developers, slow developers, youngsters who could not tie their own shoelaces suddenly emerge as superstars and of course some leave sport altogether….bored, disillusioned or have found a new interest. Others play minor football, hurling, camogie….and some make the senior county team.
Thats how Youth Politics is.
I have “history” with SDLP Youth. I tried to start a Youth group in 1973-74 and failed miserably. In those years a SDLP Youth section would have been a luxury item. There were bigger issues. But I think that a combination of lack of young people and lack of opportunity (no Stormont for a prolonged period) has not been good for SDLP.
One of the good things about re-engaging with Politics in 2010-11 was discovering that SDLP had a lot of young activists, concentrated around Queens University in South Belfast but with “home” branches in Mid Ulster, Derry, South Armagh etc.
I have attended three Youth Conferences. Without being patronising, it has been good to see some of them blossom…getting seats on the Party Executive, standing for Council Elections in May last year.
But young people in Politics? Remember those Debates we used to have in A Level Politics. Three people arguing for The Death Penalty and three people arguing against the Death Penalty and the rest of the class voting on the merits of the cases presented.
Student Politics …well thats something that is outside the reality of Real Politics. Its a Bubble. And the metrotextual world of highly politicised world of South Belfast is also unreal. Bantering with political students in Sinn Féin, DUP, UUP and Alliance…is not real Politics. There is nothing satisfactory about 140 characters.
Of course the energy of SDLP Youth will be used during the Westminster campaign. Canvassing can be a very social activity.
But effectively Westminster 2015 is a dress rehearsal for Assembly 2016. Its the last chance to get the bugs out of the system. A time to stop the fun. Young people can canvass certainly but I hope that there is a squad of people willing to engage in SERIOUS online activity. It has been talked about before but has not happened.