Edinburgh’s Meadows in the spring sun are always a sight – scattered with revising students and pink cherry blossom. I imagine this was as much a part of the annual cycle of city life when my Dad studied here in the late 60s as it is today.
But when my Dad’s generation had finished their exams, they graduated into a different world. Because the final year students lying on the Meadows today face one of the most competitive job markets seen in years. 20% of students in the year above them were still unemployed this January – 9 months after Vice Chancellor Tim o’ Shea tapped them with Edinburgh’s famous medieval space trouser hat and declared them graduates.
And those who do find work will not have an easy time. Because then the debt repayments will start. The eye-watering figures imposed on English students have started to distort our understanding of these numbers, but the fact that many Scottish graduates will owe more than £10,000 on graduation is still outrageous. As is the fact that people are expected to live a long way below the poverty line in order to get a degree (unless they have parents who can afford and are willing to support them).
The gauntlet thrown down to my generation is a heavy one indeed. Like so many generations before us, we must once more build our country anew. For the last 30 years, both Scotland and the UK have become largely dependent for wealth on a finance sector that was never sustainable, and largely failed to deliver. When building our way out of the crater left by its credit crunch implosion, we must do so in a way that understands the mistakes that came before. We must abolish the inequality which has ripped apart our communities and we must provide meaningful work for all. We must rely a little more on the ingenuity of our people, and much less on the fossils beneath our land and sea.
As the global economy struggles to come to terms with what happened in 2008, Scotland once more has a chance to provide a still small voice of calm. But we must be willing to be different, to do our own thing. For my generation cannot face the challenges we have been left without the best possible university education, not just available to all who have the ability to learn, but an attractive prospect to everyone who can learn. And that means our universities must be free, our lecturers well-paid, and our students provided with enough money on which to live.
And that means we cannot allow huge public sector cuts to drive youth unemployment to yet new records. We must use what tax powers Holyrood has to defend these services both for their own sake – for they must be at the core of our new economy – but also because in Scotland, we must refuse to send a generation to the depression of the dole queue. Today’s young Scots can be a new great generation – the generation who reclaimed the economy, and built a proud new Scotland that learnt to reject the mistakes of Thatcherism, who built a fairer, greener, outward looking nation. Or we can be a lost generation, sacrificed to the cuts and joblessness that Tories have concocted for our English friends.
And this is the choice that young people in Scotland face this year. Because Holyrood cannot borrow, and Holyrood cannot crack down on tax avoiders. And so while other parties claim that they will oppose fees and oppose cuts, only the Greens are willing to do it: only Greens have pledged to raise taxes in order to invest in public services, and invest in our generation. And so we can choose to be the lost generation. Or we can choose to fight for the chance to build Scotland anew. We can choose to ensure that when our children lie revising amidst the cherry blossom on Edinburgh’s Meadows, they can do so safe in the knowledge that they will graduate into a world where they can find meaningful work, where they can be proud of their place in the world, where their life is about more than the struggle of getting from day to day. And that means voting Green on the 5th of May.
Adam Ramsay is a former president of Edinburgh University Students’ Association, and currently a Scottish Green party candidate in Lothian.