Leaders: Young voters | Parliamentary lobbying

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IF THE SNP administration thought extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year-olds would boost support for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum, an authoritative study has yielded bracing results.

The top line finding of the study of more than 1,000 14-17 year-olds finds a total of 60.3 per cent indicating they would vote No, with just 20.9 per cent replying Yes.

Why is there such a surprising lack of support among young people? The study finds a correlation between the voting intentions of teenagers and those of their parents. There is also – as across the voting public generally – a notable gender split, with a larger majority of young females saying they are opposed to independence.

The results of the study were seized upon by Better Together supporters evidence that the Yes campaign is failing to gain traction among young people. Angus Robertson, SNP campaigns director, highlighted the finding that two-thirds of those questioned said they wanted more information
before making up their minds.

There is little doubt that, across the voting population as a whole, there is a very significant percentage which feels that it does not as yet know enough to be able to commit. Much may hang on the SNP administration’s independence White Paper, due out later this year, to help clarify some fundamental questions. But even then, many matters will not be clarified until the outcome of detailed discussions with the UK administration. But these will not begin until after the referendum – assuming that a majority votes in favour of independence.

This major research – the biggest such study yet undertaken – cannot be lightly brushed aside. Keen support from young people was the great hope of the SNP. The missing enthusiasm in this age group could suggest that the concerns of young people are wider and more global than the independence campaign can answer. Given the economic problems that still beset western economies after the global banking crisis and subsequent recession, there are acute worries about employment prospects and general economic well-being under a historic overhang of deficit and debt.

The SNP may now be struggling against a perception that the problems and challenges that preoccupy younger voters are “the big issue” and, on this perspective, a vote for independence may seem irrelevant and indeed parochial. In any event, in an increasingly integrated world, with companies investing and marketing on a global basis, we are more than ever dependent on developments in the wider world. And on the basis of this study, this perception looks to be particularly marked among young people.

The study cannot be other than a disappointment for the SNP. However, it is counting on its White Paper to win over support. And it has time and opportunity yet to woo the youth vote. But it looks, on this evidence, that it will be a far tougher uphill climb than it imagined.

A gulf between word and deed

In THE latest scandal over parliamentary lobbying, two peers have been suspended from their party and a third,

Ulster Unionist Lord Laird, has resigned his party whip pending an investigation. All three vigorously deny wrongdoing.

But it is scarcely credible that, after the previous furore over parliamentarians seeking payment for promoting causes inside Westminster, and the exposé of MPs expenses now seared into the national consciousness, that peers should expose themselves to what at the very least is deep ambiguity in their responses to journalists posing as lobbyists. As if the haggling over payment to promote outside interests was not venal enough, the peers discussed ways to avoid declaration of their interest. It leaves a rotten impression.

While the rule looks clear – the House of Lords code of conduct says peers “must not seek to profit from membership of the House by accepting or agreeing to accept payment for providing parliamentary advice or services” – the code has left open areas of confusion and ambiguity. In these the line between acting legitimately as a consultant and taking payment for direct parliamentary activity and lobbying is obscured.

Even allowing for this, peers should have had sufficient political savvy either to make the distinction absolutely clear, or walk away. It is a depressing reminder that, however much parliamentarians may proclaim that they have reformed, the regulations governing their behaviour have to be spelt out and enshrined in minute detail. The behaviour shown in recent days blights the integrity of the majority and can only further corrode public trust in our politicians – as if it was not low enough already.

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