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EACEA National Policies Platform


5. Participation

5.1 General context

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 01/10/2020

On this page
  1. Main concepts
  2. Institutions of representative democracy


Main concepts

There is no official definition of youth participation. This description adopts the following working definition:

Youth participation is a process whereby young people, as active citizens, take part in, express views on, and have decision-making power about issues that affect them.

You Decide’, a resource published in 2017 by Education Scotland, was designed to develop professional capacity in practitioners, schools and community settings to foster and embed the key skills of political literacy in young people, highlights the following: 

“Participation in a democracy is a vital part of empowering young people to become active and responsible citizens. Engaging with democratic processes and a variety of citizenship issues, both locally and globally, creates the contexts for learners to apply and develop their political literacy skills.”

Youth participation is set within the context of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC; see the section on 'Young People's Participation in Policy-making') and ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ (GIRFEC), the Scottish Government’s approach to improving outcomes and supporting the well-being of children and young people.  

The Scottish Government’s National Youth Work Strategy 2014-2019 states:

“We support and promote the active participation and engagement of young people in the planning, delivery and management of services, strengthened through Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and relevant legislation. This will ensure that the best interests of young people underpin policies, practice and services.”

A national youth work strategy 2020-2025 is currently (at the time of writing, October 2020) in the development process. 


Institutions of representative democracy

Alongside England and Wales, Scotland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The power to make and pass legislation on what are termed 'reserved' matters (such as defence and foreign policy) belongs to the UK Parliament, whilst 'devolved' matters are controlled by the Scottish Parliament.

The UK Parliament consists of:

  • the Sovereign (currently the Queen) in Parliament,
  • the appointed or hereditary House of Lords, and
  • the publicly elected House of Commons.

The House of Commons is the lower house, where most of the work of Parliament is conducted. It is composed of 650 elected members, known as Members of Parliament (MPs), 59 of whom represent Scottish constituencies. Note, however, that a review of parliamentary constituencies is currently underway; proposals include reducing the number of elected members in the House of Commons to 600, with Scotland being allocated 53 seats out of these. In September 2018, the Boundary Commission for Scotland submitted their report for the 2018 Review of the UK Parliament Constituencies to the Secretary of State for Scotland. More information can be found on the Boundary Commission for Scotland website. Certain powers and responsibilities have been devolved to elected bodies in Scotland. In 1999, a new Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive (officially referred to as the Scottish Government since 2007), were established with legislative and executive responsibility respectively for a wide range of devolved matters, including youth policy, education, training and lifelong learning.

The Scottish Parliament has 129 Members: 73 Constituency Members and 56 Regional Members. The term of office is normally four years; but for Members elected in May 2016, their term  lasted five years, to avoid a potential clash with the UK General Election.

Local government in Scotland comprises 32 unitary local authorities, each governed by a council. The members of each local council are normally elected every four years. The last elections were held in 2017, a year later than normal, in order to avoid a clash with the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

The first past the post system, a simple plurality system, in which each constituency across the UK returns one MP, is used to elect MPs to the House of Commons and the closed party list system is used to elect Members of the European Parliament. The constituency Members of the Scottish Parliament are elected using the first past the post system and the regional Members are elected on a proportional basis from party lists. This electoral system is known as the Additional Member System (AMS). Local council members are elected by single transferable vote.

Further information on the systems of voting in use can be found on the UK Parliament website

Voting, which is not compulsory, takes place by secret ballot at polling stations, although voters can opt to vote by post, or by proxy.