FOR those taking their first steps into adulthood, the independence referendum offered an unprecedented opportunity to help decide Scotland’s future.
Across the country, voters aged 16 and 17 played their part on Thursday, lining up at the ballot boxes for the first time in UK electoral history.
The decision to allow the demographic to have their say was hailed by outgoing First Minister Alex Salmond in his concession speech, who declared the involvement of Scotland’s youngest voters in the referendum a “resounding success,” adding :”I suspect no one will ever again dispute their ability to participate fully and responsibly in democratic elections.”
Campaigners who have long fought in favour of the change said it was no longer to impossible to ignore the voices of the young in the democratic debate, drawing a parallel to the time when it was thought acceptable to deny women the vote.
However, the decision led to disquiet among some Conservative politicians, who believe it could set a precedent for all elections.
Time will tell whether that comes to pass, but in a poll released today, it seems the 16 and 17-year-old voters favoured independence. A survey carried out by Lord Ashcroft overnight found that, as many suspected, the majority of support among the age group lay with Yes, with 71% to the 29% who voted No.
Among this newly enfranchised demographic - around 100,000 strong - the survey showed that feeling among the Yes voters was strongest over certain issues, not least the prospect of independence meaning a possible end to Conservative governments, and the ability for Scotland to have control over its own decisions.
However, the Ashcroft data should not be seen as representative, given it surveyed just 14 respondents aged 16 and 17 in a poll of over 2,000 people.
On the streets today, the mood among the teenagers who voted was mixed. In Edinburgh, Charlotte Darroch, 16, who was voting for the first time, felt a sense of dismay shared by many of her peers. The result of the referendum, said the young Yes supporter, was “just crushing, quite devastating.”
“I genuinely thought the feeling on the ground was different,” added the schoolgirl, wearing a Saltire draped over her school uniform.
Elsewhere in the capital, however, young supporters of No were relieved and emboldened by their decision at the polling booths.
Loren Eadie and Abigail Peters, who questioned the uncertainty of Scotland’s currency options in the event of independence, were planning a referendum party in the aftermath of the declaration.
“I have done a lot of research into the economics of it and the currency options,” said Ms Peters, 16. “It was really exciting, I’m glad they reduced the voting age.” Ms Eadie, 17, added: “Staying in the UK is going to help keep the economy strong.”
Lukas Christie, 17, a pupil at Trinity Academy in Edinburgh, said he voted Yes but didn’t expect much from the politicians on either side.
He said: “I voted Yes but I don’t think the politics has anyone who really represents the people from the poorer parts of the country. I think we need to look at the whole political system and I don’t think I’ll vote in the Westminster election.
Felix Christie, 19, from Edinburgh, who is studying politics at Strathclyde University, voted Yes and said he felt the campaign had been positive.
He said: “On the whole the referendum has been positive, in terms of the number of people who have engaged in the process.
“However I think it’s been a missed opportunity, I don’t know anyone in my group of friends who voted No, so it seems to be a generational thing with the silent majority carrying the vote.”
Alice Yeoman, 16, from Glasgow, voted No. She said: “It felt exciting, exciting to know that my vote counted towards the end result.
“This made me engage in politics by listening to both campaigns and trying to work out what was best for Scotland and also myself.”
Allowing 16-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum is proof of why the voting age should be lowered in all UK elections, Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones said.
He said: “How often do we have discussions bemoaning the fact that young people don’t vote ... that didn’t happen yesterday. The case has been made much more strongly for 16 and 17 years to get the vote more generally in elections across the UK.
Campaign group Votes at 16 said there were a number of countries where 16-year-olds got the vote in key elections - such as Germany, Slovenia and Brazil. Scotland, it said, had set an example the rest of the UK should follow.
A spokesman for the group said: “It is impossible to justify the automatic and blanket exclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds from the right to vote because, at 16, the law allows a person to do a number of things such as get married, join the armed forces or give full consent to medical treatment.
“Not only are 16 and 17-year-olds by law able to make complex decisions and take on wide-ranging responsibilities, they are also showing in practice that they want to make a positive difference.
“Locking them out is patronising: it relies on out-dated views about young people’s capacities.
“One hundred years ago, people thought that women shouldn’t get to vote, and in 1970, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.”