STANDING in a small side room in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms preparing to join a panel on the future of the Yes movement, I note the people around me.

There’s Green MP Caroline Lucas – an impressive figure in UK politics who demonstrated effective opposition as the sole representative of her party at Westminster for over a decade.

She’s chatting away to Clive Lewis, a vocal Labour MP who has faced alienation in his own party for speaking his mind on issues from foreign policy to the monarchy.

Behind them there’s Green MSP Maggie Chapman, Byline Times co-founder Peter Jukes, Novara’s Moya Lothian-Mclean and ex-Labour mayor for North Tyne Jamie Driscoll.

We’re surrounded by professors and experts from all corners of the UK, and outside the door we have figures from across Europe all keen to discuss the future, or lack thereof, of the Union.

Some of the best speakers, journalists and political thinkers working in the UK are all here in Edinburgh, collaborating and sharing ideas.

It's a refreshing sight. The Break Up of Britain conference has successfully brought together cross-party, cross-border participants to seriously discuss where the Union is right now.

Nobody has come from elsewhere to lecture us Scots on the so-called “broad shoulders” of the UK. People want to listen to other perspectives, discuss opportunities and learn from one another.

This approach to constitutional issues has been sorely lacking, as conversations on independence and devolution so often take place in spaces dominated by party political allegiance.

When I arrived, I planned to attend as many panels as possible – but every time I moved an inch, there was somebody else I was desperate to talk to, or someone keen to talk to me about The National.

It was a joy to see our publication take such a central position at the conference, with so many of our columnists and contributors providing brilliant speeches on panels and attendees consulting our newspaper to check the day’s timings.

As the hundreds of guests went from room to room they did so with The National under their arms, demonstrating our key position within the constitutional conversation.

I took part in a panel on the future of the independence movement, chaired by Bella Caledonia’s Mike Small, alongside Lesley Riddoch, Jonathon Shafi and Siobhan Tolland from the SNP’s NEC.

It was an engaging discussion on how to repair fractures among supporters, how to communicate better between the grassroots and better ways to respond to anti-independence media.

One of the key issues to emerge was the lack of young people in the room. As the UK’s youngest national newspaper editor I felt fairly qualified to take on this topic, and I’d like to share some of my observations from the panel here with our readers.
The National: Nyla Khan (left) with Laura Webster (centre) and Assa Samake-RomanNyla Khan (left) with Laura Webster (centre) and Assa Samake-Roman (Image: Laura Webster)

Young people’s support for independence is not in question. Poll after poll tells us that the vast majority of the youngest voters want to see an end to the Union.

But I attend conference after conference in my capacity as National editor, and I see the same thing time and time again. Conversations are dominated by the older generations, and there’s frustration over why the youth aren’t getting involved.

First of all, the Break Up of Britain event was a celebration of the work of Tom Nairn. I do not believe it is disrespectful to observe that those who are interested in that work are on the older side. That is common sense.

The eponymous Break Up of Britain book was first published in 1977. Many of those in attendance read that important text when it was first released. The fact that they still want to talk about it in 2023 is testament to Nairn’s long-lasting relevance, not evidence of the death of the independence movement.

It is, however, true that young people are becoming withdrawn from the independence movement. There are many reasons for this. One of the observations made by Jonathon Shafi on our panel was that the language around the campaign is too reliant on nostalgia for 2014.

The youngest Scottish voters, who are 16 now, were just seven years old at the last referendum. The imagery and language of “Yes” does not speak to them, despite its powerful meaning for older generations. It would be wise to consider that branding if younger people are to feel like this is a movement for them.

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The last several years of the independence conversation have also been dominated by procedure, not vision. The positivity of the Yes campaign put forward nearly 10 years ago is clear to those who were there.

I’m not convinced that endless discussion of the Scotland Act, of the Supreme Court and similar tactics, has inspired the youth of today. If they are to be included, that positive vision must be at the forefront of any campaigning activity. The grassroots must ask what today’s young people actually want from an independent Scotland.

Finally, one of the attendees told the panel that his two children did have tickets for the conference – but instead chose to be among the thousands marching for Gaza in Glasgow. Looking at images from the ceasefire rally, it’s clear that young people were extremely well represented.

My own social media feeds are, rightfully, full of my peers sharing stories of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Palestine. Young people care deeply about fairness and justice, and marching for a ceasefire is exactly where you’d expect them to be. The idea that they don’t care about politics is a lazy stereotype.

My own friends are out marching for Palestine on a weekly basis, and many of them are also keen independence supporters. But there’s an immediacy and a severity to a crisis like Israel’s bombardment of Gaza – those bombs are raining down on civilians right now. It is a major global issue.

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Are the leading pro-independence parties and the Scottish Government conveying their own sense of urgency and immediacy to the Yes cause? If young people feel like independence is an inevitability, just something that will happen one day, then the answer is probably not.

I loved being at the conference. There is much to learn from the generations that came before us. I want to publicly thank the organisers for involving myself and the overall newspaper in it the event.

It was enlightening to have figures from across the UK and Europe together – that kind of working beyond party political boundaries is welcome, and I hope it can continue into the future, until independence and beyond.