Global Intergenerational Week 2022

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 28th April 2022.

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Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green

I thank Jackie Dunbar for lodging her motion and for securing the debate. I am delighted to share in the welcome for global intergenerational week and the appreciation of the work of those behind it. It is essential for both individual and community wellbeing that we develop and celebrate relationships between generations and that, together, we work to combat loneliness; create inclusive spaces and shared stories; and build solidarity and overcome barriers to its expression. Intergenerational practice, care and learning are indispensable parts of that important work.

However, we need to acknowledge that some of the barriers between generations are structural and have been constructed by decades of deliberate policy and shameful inaction. For the first three quarters of the 20th century, there was an assumption that each generation of children would have better life experiences than their parents: they would be better housed, fed and educated; they would have higher-paid and more rewarding jobs; and they would live longer, healthier and happier lives.

That is no longer the case. Young people—not only the very young—are disproportionately burdened by massive levels of student debt and other debt; by precarious work, including zero-hour contracts; by career pathways being blocked, except to the highly privileged; by insecure, unhealthy and exploitative private sector tenancies; and by overburdened and inaccessible healthcare, especially in relation to mental health.

Just this week, LGBT Youth Scotland launched a new report that showed a huge drop in the percentage of young people who believe that Scotland is a good place in which to be LGBTI, from 81 per cent 15 years ago to only 65 per cent now. That statistic is shocking and sobering, as are the findings that 69 per cent of young people identify transphobia as

“a big problem in Scotland” and that 81 per cent say that media representation of LGBTI people “is not accurate”. Those are scandals for which their generation is not to blame.

I am proud that, as Scottish Greens, we have recognised that deep and broad intergenerational injustice and are addressing those issues head on. I urge others at all levels—the Government, Parliament and councils—to do the same. Much more must be done, especially by the generations that have benefited from the 20th century welfare state, to repair that legacy for those who follow.

Meanwhile, our younger generations, including the tiniest children, bear yet more, and even heavier, burdens in the form of the climate and biodiversity crises. The simplest and most fundamental foundations of our everyday lives—predictable seasons, rainfall, harvests, healthy soil, pollination and peace itself—are all diminishing as we watch and debate, are distracted and procrastinate. The righteous and accurate anger of Greta Thunberg, Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti and Carlos Manuel is—if it is noticed at all—met with condescension and contempt or with useless sentimentality.

Those two ways of responding to the voices of the young are, in reality, mirror images of each other. We either ignore what they are telling us, dismissing their experience and their analysis with cheap jibes and patronising pats on the head, or we sanctify them, taking their evidence and argument out of the realm of political action altogether. We might say, “These young people are so clever. They’ll fix it in the future.” It is not their job to fix things, and the time to act is not in the future.

I again welcome the initiative, and I whole-heartedly support the development and celebration of intergenerational relationships. However, those relationships must take place in political, institutional and structural contexts, not just in personal and social contexts. We need to develop a truly participatory politics that is shaped as much by the young as by older people and that has the honesty to name injustices and the courage to act on them.