Nations collaborate for The Young Devolutionaries

Natalie and Gaelan and Annie in Glasgow The Young Devolutionaries interviewed teenagers from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

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With the Scottish independence referendum next September, the impact of devolution is drawing more media attention.

Politicians and commentators will be asked for their two penn'orth but for a new Radio 4 series, BBC producers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have collaborated to focus on teenagers.

Starting on Monday, Glasgow-born broadcaster Aasmah Mir presents three-part documentary The Young Devolutionaries, which asks nine people about their opinions on life under devolution, and follows them as they put on a show at the Festival of Politics, part of the wider Edinburgh Festival in August.

As Wales-based executive producer Martin Smith explains, the young contributors don't remember life before 1999, when powers were transferred from parliament in London to Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

"They were like, 'Why wouldn't you be devolved, how did you do it before, you had to keep going down to Westminster? Really?'"

For the Scottish referendum, the right to vote has been extended to include those aged 16 and 17.

They're part of an age group that don't turn out in large numbers for general elections, and less so for devolved elections.

Aasmah Mir and Polly Toynbee with young contributors Aasmah Mir and Polly Toynbee with teenage contributors in The Young Devolutionaries

Smith says: "An academic said one of the reasons that political parties sort of live in fear of this age group is that they know they will be the next leaders but no generation has had less connection with party politics than this lot.

"So it was really good to get a sense of what these kids are interested in."

As well as speaking to opinion formers such as Polly Toynbee, the teenagers were mentored by director Jeremy Weller, who has previously worked with controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier.

They wrote sketches and songs, eventually performing them in a show about devolution at the Scottish Parliament.

As a result of the series, BBC Scotland has recruited 50 teenagers aged between 15 and 17 for its Generation 2014 initiative. They will contribute to output in the run-up to the referendum, which is likely to be the biggest story in the UK next year.

New perspectives

Smith explains that before the series, programme-makers would often compare life in a devolved nation to that in England, but for this series they decided to measure Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland against each other.

This meant regular conference calls among producers in the latter three nations and overcoming difficulties as they adapted to a new way of sharing information.

"We would often [previously] see each other at meetings in London ... But I got a lot closer to my colleagues in Belfast and Scotland, and I think that was really good for us.

"We just learned loads on how people think and work. The BBC, and particularly Radio 4, can be a bit London-centric but it's really great to feel we're investigating a different perspective.

"It's not to say that one we've got at the moment is wrong, it's just it was fun to see a new one."

  • The Young Devolutionaries, Radio 4, Monday 30 September, 11am

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