Pro-union campaigners were celebrating last after students at one of Scotland’s biggest university voted “no” in a mock referendum on the prospect of leaving the UK.
More than 2,500 students took part in the vote at Glasgow University yesterday which was held after series of lectures and debates staged at the institution in recent weeks on the prospect of Scotland becoming independent. The result was declared just after 8pm last night and saw 63 per cent rejecting independence, while 37 per cent wanted to leave the UK.
Carys Hughes, from Glasgow University’s pro-union Better Together, said: “We are really delighted with the win. Our campaign was led by the students and wasn’t consumed by party politics. We talked about the issues.”
The event was seen as an indication of the way Scots will vote in the referendum in autumn next year, although the student population generally is seen as being more sympathetic to the Nationalist cause.
Polling had taken place throughout yesterday at three sites, including the university’s two student unions in the city’s west end and its Crichton campus in Dumfries.
Organisers at Glasgow University described the poll as “the biggest in the last decade” as thousands of students flocked to the ballot boxes to cast their votes.
The event even received attention from senior political figures including Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who visited the campus last week, as well as Green co-leader Patrick Harvie and Yes Scotland boss Blair Jenkins. On the pro-union side, former Labour minister and MSP Jackie Baillie was also there, along with party colleague and MP Willie Bain.
Mr Jenkins said: “While I am disappointed for them, we have to remember that some 2,500 out of 20,000 students actually cast votes and this undoubtedly reflects the fact that a large section of the student and general population has yet to make up their minds.
“We have made considerable progress in recent polls and we will continue to work tirelessly to convince people, including our students and younger citizens who have the biggest stake in securing a better future, that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from being a normal, independent country.”
Michael Gray, president of the Dialectic society at Glasgow University and organiser of the referendum, said he anticipated that most students voting in the mock poll would be eligible to take part in the real independence referendum in 2014.
“We believe it is the biggest turnout for a university election in almost a decade,” he added.
“The referendum has encouraged young people to think about the issue of independence and offered an opportunity for students and young people to share their views. It has allowed young people to be at the heart of the debate.”
Prior to the result being declared, a debate was staged at the Glasgow University Union from 7pm, featuring Mr Jenkins, independent MSP Jean Urquhart, as well as Ms Baillie and Mr
Bain and journalist Lesley Riddoch.
Mr Gray added: “It has been great to have politicians take notice of the referendum and we welcome all interest in the event.
“The event is all about young people and offers them an opportunity to get involved in politics. Independence is an issue which they feel passionate about.
“People are often critical of young people and say they
aren’t bothered about politics, but what I have seen today –thousands of students queueing at ballot boxes – proves that
isn’t true. The stereotypes and sceptics have been proved wrong.”
In the lead-up to the event, organisation members were on campus handing out leaflets to students in an attempt to secure votes.
Oliver Milne, chair of the Labour club at the university and supporter of the Better Together campaign, said: “We have had a great response. The referendum is all about starting the debate with young people.
“There seems to be a view that most young people are more likely to vote for independence, but I think that there are a broader range of views that need to be represented and today was an opportunity to explore the issue.”
The polls closed around 6pm yesterday evening.
Heather Whiteside, a
third-year politics student and organiser of the debating committee at the university, said: “We have had a fantastic turnout and it’s definitely the most attended election we have had in a number of years.
“There has been a real buzz about the campus leading up to the event and we have had a fantastic response from people, including some students who haven’t had any political involvement at the university before.”
Extra polling booths and staff could be laid on to deal with the expected surge in turnout levels for next year’s independence referendum, election chiefs have said.
Turnout levels of up to
80 per cent are expected for the historic vote with the addition of 16 and 17-year-olds to the franchise also contributing to the big increase in the number of voters expected to participate compared with normal elections.
The measures may
be taken to avoid queuing and confusion among