Matters of opinion : Scots teenagers and their voting intentions in the coming referendum on Scottish independence.

On May 20th, 2014 a Daily Telegraph sponsored blog was posted online by the Daily Telegraph columnist, Jenny Djul about the voting intentions of Scottish teenagers in September’s referendum on Scottish independence . This would not have concerned us except that the blog was reproduced as a feed on the news page of a widely read, highly respected and influential network site which is concerned with the care and welfare of children and young people. The problem with news feeds like these is that they can be random and there is no guarantee that there will be a subsequent more balanced feed on any given topic from another source.

The teenage vote carries more influence in the upcoming referendum because the Scottish Government decided to lower the minimum age at which an individual might vote from 18 years to 16 years of age.

At goodenoughcaring there is not an official or indeed a collective view about what the voting intentions of teenager in the referendum should be. We welcome people’s different views on this. Our general approach is that any view related to the care and education of children and young people is valid as long as it is thoughtful and is not abusive or unfairly prejudiced toward children and young people, the adults who look after them, and the communities from which they come.

We are interested in a balanced discussion about this issue and we have posted a copy of the blog here together with some responses to it. We would welcome further comments.

If Scottish teens are backing the Union, in whose name are the Nats fighting.

By Jenny Hjul

Alex Salmond must be regretting his push for a change in the voting rules to get young people on board for his independence referendum. The SNP’s cynical ploy to extend the suffrage to 16- and 17-year-olds, based on a mistaken belief that youngsters would vote Yes, has backfired spectacularly as enfranchised teenagers across Scotland endorse the Union.

David Cameron said on the Today programme that in the school debates he’d been to, the No campaign had triumphed, and his experience is borne out in the latest polls. Almost two-thirds of voters under 18 are worried about the economic future of a separate Scotland.

The Carrington Dean survey of teens aged 15-17 found that 41 per cent believe their parents would be worse off, compared to 21 per cent who think that they’d be better off. The survey also found that 64 per cent worry about the economic outlook post-independence, while only 17 per cent said they weren’t concerned.

School referendums since March this year show the SNP has an impossible task ahead with young voters: 84 per cent No, 16 per cent Yes in Craigmount High in Edinburgh; 70 per cent No, 30 per cent Yes at Hazelhead Academy in Aberdeen; 72 per cent No, 28 per cent Yes in Forres Academy in Moray; and 75 per cent No, 25 per cent Yes in Orkney High Schools, according to Better Together. In Lockerbie, 70 per cent voted in favour of remaining in the UK.

In Aberdeenshire, where the SNP won every seat in the last Scottish parliamentary elections, a mock referendum of more than 11,000 schoolchildren eligible to vote on 18 September found that almost 9,000 wanted to stay in the UK.

The Nationalists say that many young people have open minds on the issue and could be persuaded to change their opinions before September. But they should be careful not to sound too patronising. The fact that so many youngsters have rejected the separatists’ spin is not a reflection of a politicised generation but a sign that parochial nationalism has not captured the imagination of today’s youth.

A Better Together rep said after a debate in his school: “A lot of my friends went in undecided but after listening to both sides, they understood that being part of the UK means we have so many more opportunities than we would if we went it alone. “I think nationalism is a thing of the past. When we live in such an interconnected world and can speak face to face with our friends across the world at the touch of a button, why would we want to shut ourselves off from our neighbours just down the road?”,/p>

Another youngster, writing in a national newspaper, said: “Ultimately, I can’t help but ask what the purpose of independence is? Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

University students are also predominantly in favour of the status quo. A student referendum at the University of Strathclyde was won by the Unionists with 55 per cent of the vote, against 45 per cent for the Nationalists.

And when more than 1,500 students from Glasgow Caledonian University were asked how they would vote, 63 per cent said No and 37 per cent said Yes. In February last year, more than 2,500 students at Glasgow University took part in a similar event and 62 per cent voted to stay in the UK, compared to 38 per cent against.

Young people today are the products of a social media revolution and their cultural context is global. They do not see their future in terms of shrinking horizons; they are children of the universe and their outlook is boundless.

It might be convenient for the Nationalists to dismiss young voters if they don’t toe the secessionist line, and say they represent a tiny part of the electorate. But their resounding No saps energy from the separatists, and gives their elders pause for thought.

If tomorrow’s student radicals – as well as its leaders, legislators, policy makers and law enforcers – are committed to the United Kingdom, then the Nationalists have to ask themselves: in whose name are they fighting?

Jenny Hjul, 
20 May, 2014.


Stuart Russon writes,

I fully support lowering the voting age.  I can only go by my own experience and I reckon 13 or 14 would have been about the age I feel I could be trusted to vote properly and not just put an Andy Gray panini sticker (I was then and am now an Aston Villa supporter) over the ballot sheet.
I think I probably would’ve been more to the right at that age though. I still had the same instinctive desire for fairness that I do now but I had yet to learn how unfair and unbalanced society could be. I wasn’t particularly well informed about the news and it is only recently (last 10 years or so) that I’ve realised how much of the news that was reported to me was biased. Miners were thugs, football fans were thugs, socialism/communism was to be feared etc. etc. I could go on for yonks.
So I suppose if I do have a view on this aside from ‘yes, lower the voting age’ it would be to be cautious and aware of the propaganda machines that would be set-off to chase the young vote as perhaps younger people are more susceptible to direct marketing. I’ve no reason to make this sweeping statement except that I think I probably was more easily swayed and paid less attention to the detail when I was young which often means missing out on the truth I think.

Cynthia Cross observes,

Over the years I have pondered what I think about 16 year olds having the vote and on balance I think “Why not?”
I can’t think that their reasons for voting a particular way would be any worse than that of the average adult (who ever they are)  As John Stein says,” they will have to live with the outcome longer.”
I remember in 1951, when I was 16,  standing as Labour candidate in mock elections at school and think that issues were taken very seriously, and most people read the party manifestos.
Better education in critical thinking and problem solving would be helpful. Instead of mugging up facts to remember for exams and then forget, exams could be taken in reference libraries with access to the internet, so children could be given questions to solve, that involved finding information, verifying it is authentic, and showing that they know how to use it. Have we got the teachers to teach this, or the examiners to mark it?
About Scottish Independence, any sort of nationalism is worrying.  I cross out nationality on any forms I fill in and write born in England – it has caused problems on occasions.
Having said that I understand that Scottish, child care, justice education and  welfare law is better than that of England and of course I applaud the Scots wanting to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Jack Colhoun remarks,

From all the radio and television programmes I have heard and seen about this it seems to me these new 16 and 17 years old voters in Scotland think about their politics with more consideration than their elders.

John Stein writes,

What the right age for enfranchisement is, requires me to really think. Here in the USA I had not known 17-year-olds were allowed to vote, until I went to Wikipedia, which says that currently, 19 states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will be 18 in time to vote in the general election. My thoughts are that the voting age should be based on whatever age the majority of the people of that age have the maturity to make an informed decision, and the responsibility to inform themselves. 16 seems reasonable. Many at that age are still in school, and therefore likely to be exposed to issues in class. More, in class there should be a mix of people with different views, so that healthy discussions could take place, beginning in class and continuing after class. The rest of us tend not to have that opportunity, with people, at least in this country, tending to associate with those with similar views, and refraining from expressing their views on political matters when associating with others whose views they do not know. I remember first becoming interest in politics as a high school student. John F. Kennedy was campaigning in our home town (Reading, PA), and we were to leave school to attend. My best friend was most interested in politics and watched the nominating conventions on tv religiously, so he convinced me to go with him and got me interested. He was quite liberal. (He has since become so conservative that he refuses discuss politics with me). My final point, on the issue of independence, the younger voters will have to live with the outcome longer than the older voters, and should be allowed to vote.

Jeremy Millar comments

I completely agree with Mark’s analysis of the Telegraph piece. As if David Cameron would ever visit a school in an area affected by his party’s ‘welfare reforms’. The YES campaign are vibrant and putting forward a positive message. People of all ages and social class are debating the issues. I believe that on the day people will take the leap of faith despite the fear factor being peddled persistently through the London controlled media.

Mark Smith observes

This certainly is biased – but perhaps no more or less than we might expect from the Telegraph – it epitomises a metropolitan arrogance that we’re too wee, too poor, too stupid to govern ourselves. It’s interesting even to look at the examples cited. At a very quick glance they’re very middle class schools (but even here I’d question the results). There are other examples out there. Have a look at the futureukandscotland website for more academic analysis watch and listen to the Queen Margaret University debate here.

My reading of the situation is somewhat ironic in that under 18s have actually experienced competent government under the SNP and do not have the sense of grievance that previous generations have experienced.

Having said that, for what it’s worth my own kids tell me that there’s a definite move towards a Yes vote amongst their pals.