We’re delighted to host another of our new MSPs on Better Nation.  Today sees Mark McDonald, the newly elected SNP MSP for North-East Scotland (who will apparently forever be known as the guy who “broke” the D’Hondt electoral system, even though he didn’t really!) pen an article for us.  Anyway, he’s a young MSP (if you are still young in your thirties, says Malc, who’s 27…), he’s been a young councillor and he’s considering being young and being in politics for us.

Hands up if you can tell me who the oldest council leader in the UK is? No googling, although that probably won’t do you any good. OK, how about the oldest council leader in Scotland? Still drawing a blank? Well I haven’t got a clue either, but thanks to the media we all now know that Callum McCaig is the youngest council leader in Scotland, and second youngest in the UK, behind the Lord Mayor of Belfast (which sounds like more of a civic role, but I won’t quibble).

“Councillor, 26, becomes Council Leader” was a stock headline over the course of the last week in June, as Callum became leader of Aberdeen City Council following two SNP by-election victories in quick succession.

Criticism of Callum being “too young” for the position quickly arrived from the Labour opposition, and when he and I were elected to the council four years ago, alongside Kirsty West and her brother John (who became, and remains, Scotland’s youngest councillor) we were widely criticised and patronised when we took on positions of responsibility in the administration. “Meet the kids running your council” ran one headline. So is 26 too young to lead a council? What is the ‘correct’ age to hold a position of responsibility? This whole saga has made me, a young politician, question whether the attitudes we have towards young people in politics are widespread, and if they might have some bearing on the democratic involvement of young people.

If we look to the make-up of the Scottish Parliament, we have around a dozen MSPs in their twenties and early thirties. Indeed Mark Griffin of Labour, at 25, is the youngest MSP ever to be elected. I don’t hear Labour voices critical of Mark’s role in the law-making process, and rightly so because if laws are to have an impact upon young people, then it is important that young people can see that they have voices in positions of influence and authority.

Similarly at a local authority level, service delivery impacts on all age groups, therefore it is only right that all age groups are represented. That’s why the administration on Aberdeen City Council contains councillors in their 20s right up to councillors in their 70s. It is a reflection of the diversity of our society, and we should be embracing and encouraging it, not undermining it by suggesting there is some undefined limit at which a person becomes old enough to hold a position of power, responsibility and authority.

Fans of The Apprentice will know that Lord Sugar is forever banging on about how young he was when he set up his first company, or made his first million, and there are plenty of stories of young entrepreneurs heading up massive enterprises like Facebook. Imagine if these people were told that they could not run a company until they were a certain age. Why should politicians of youth be somehow disregarded as capable, when there are many young captains of industry? Should we not accept that there is as much chance of a young councillor or MSP making a great leader or minister as someone twice their age?

When all is said and done, we forever hear much complaint and discussion on the reasons for young people being disengaged with politics and politicians. I don’t think that they are. I speak to young people all the time, be it a question and answer event at a local school, or via emails they send to me on various campaigns. Young people are incredibly interested in politics in its broadest sense. The problem is that politicians and political parties are generally not interested in them. By showing that young people can have councillors, MSPs and MPs from their own generation, we can start to reverse that and reconnect with them.

What will continue to turn them off, however, is to see age being cast up as a defining issue in terms of an individual politician’s competence. We allow people to put themselves forward to stand for election at the age of 18, if we continue to support that principle, then we should be prepared to allow those who are elected to hold positions of influence, and we should support them when they take on these positions, not cast doubt on their abilities, or make their age the sole characteristic by which we define them.

I still don’t know who the oldest council leader in Scotland is. Frankly, I don’t really care.