YSI’S International Conference won’t on its own return Scotland to our European home. Nor will our event directly build our future as an independent Scotland.

We are under no illusions that one little event in Stirling will stem the tide of rampant political apathy within our generation. We know voter turnout is generally decreasing each election cycle; we hear our friends feel increasingly overwhelmed with the myriad of issues we face.

Yet we understand the power of turning politics fun. We see how our European colleagues are combating the same issues we face here in Scotland, and we believe in the power of cross-border collaboration in building future electoral success.

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Our conference doesn’t expect to reverse these trends overnight; but there are incredible young people, especially within a European political context, who are doing brilliant work to fight for a progressive future. These activists deserve their flowers.

Just look to Maylis Rossberg, the youngest person to contest the European presidency in an election. She recently stood in front of the entire continent in a televised debate and fought vocally for minority rights standing directly against Ursula von der Leyen. We’re so honoured to have her attend the YSI International Conference, and we can’t wait to see what young Scottish activists can learn from the work she’s done to build her platform.

Our conference is also about strategising for the future. Once Scotland is independent – which I have faith we will see in our lifetimes – as a small, progressive country we will be nothing without our international friends. Inviting Europe’s future leaders to Scotland can both demonstrate the positive case for inviting Scotland back into the EU in the future, while also crafting allies who are invested in Scotland’s success.

Collaborative politics is the only way we overcome the meaningful threats to our future (such as the climate crisis), and collaborative politics starts with the personal relationships we foster through events like the International Conference.

Running international events brings us closer to Europe, yes, but they also bring us closer to independence. We’ve invited young activists from independence movements from across Europe to build collaborative channels towards our collective fight for self-determination.

We’re learning direct lessons about how to fight this fight successfully from young Catalonian activists, in conjunction with the hard lessons of being in government from activists in the Danish or German Social Democrats, among many others. These conversations will both drive engagement and turnout on doorsteps in Scotland, while further broadening our strategic tactics. We have so much to learn from each other.

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Our departure from Europe is a huge driver of young people’s broader political disengagement. We hear stories from our older peers of casually working a summer in Spain, interning in Germany, farming in France. One friend even busked across Europe with a kilt and a guitar, using the change he gathered from tourists for cheap bread and train tickets. Knowing those gates are now shut to us leaves many young people justified in their political detachment.

Ultimately, these challenges represent opportunity; we can choose to leverage political setbacks to harness social change. Our generation is at the forefront of building the future we want to see, and YSI’s international conference is the perfect opportunity to drive our vision of a progressive, equitable future for Scotland.

Ellie Koepplinger, is the International Conference fundraising lead