Only one in five of the young Scots who will be voting for the first time in next year’s referendum currently support independence, new research has revealed.
The findings of the largest poll of its kind examining teenage attitudes to the referendum shows less support among the youngsters for leaving the UK than among the general population.
The poll found that 60 per cent of 14- to 17-year-olds currently intend to vote to stay in the UK, with just 21 per cent favouring independence and 18.8 per cent undecided, although two-thirds say they want more information before making a final decision.
The outcome is a blow to the SNP because the survey covers young people who will be 16 and 17 at the time of next year’s historic referendum and be allowed to cast a ballot for the first time at the lowered voting age of 16.
First Minister Alex Salmond demanded that the franchise be extended to this age group as part of the negotiations to stage the referendum, amid a widespread belief that the younger generation would be more sympathetic towards independence.
A spokesman for the pro-union Better Together campaign said the results of the survey showed youngsters “cannot see the sense” in Scotland going it alone. Yes Scotland campaigners insisted the results were only from one poll.
More than 1,000 teenagers aged between 14 and 17 were interviewed as part of the study by Edinburgh University academics for the Economic and Social Research Council.
When the “undecided” votes were excluded, almost 26 per cent said Scotland should be an independent country.
Support for independence among the wider adult population tends to be about 35 per cent in latest polling, although this fluctuates.
The survey follows mock referendums held among students at the University Glasgow and Edinburgh’s Napier University recently which both came out decisively in favour of staying in the UK.
The latest poll asked the question that will be posed to voters in the referendum next year: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
A total of 60.3 per cent said no, 20.9 per cent said yes and 18.8 per cent were undecided.
The young people were then asked about the debate over Scottish independence so far. A third of them (32.8 per cent) said they had enough information to make a decision, but 67.2 per cent felt they would like more before doing so.
According to other survey findings, the teenagers were found to be “very interested” in participating in the referendum, with only 13 per cent stating that they are unlikely to take part.
Michaella Drummond, 17, a Better Together youth representative from Kirkcaldy, said she was not surprised by the results.
“I know that the overwhelming majority of my friends and the majority of people my age that I speak to simply cannot see the sense in Scotland going it alone,” she said.
“Right now we have the best of both worlds. Drawing a line across an island and saying ‘everyone north of this line is different from everyone south of it’ is irrational and untrue.”
But a spokesperson for Yes Scotland insisted that youngsters can be won over between now and the referendum in September 2014.
“It is just one survey, but it is very heartening that so many feel engaged and say they intend to cast their votes,” he said
“It’s great to hear the views of these young people and Yes Scotland will be working very hard over the next 15 months to persuade them and others that Scotland’s future should be in their hands, with a Yes in the referendum.
“As we get closer to the referendum, the choice will become very clear: we can either have more of the same damaging changes to Scotland’s society and economy with a No, or we can ensure we have fresh start and new opportunities with a Yes.
“We know Scotland’s got what it takes to be a successful, independent country, which can build a brighter future for young Scots like these.”
National identity matters to some extent, according to the latest study. Those who identify solely as Scottish, excluding those who are undecided, have a greater likelihood of intending to vote yes, at 67.5 per cent.
Among those who felt more British than Scottish, 96.2 per cent would vote No. The more British a person identifies the less likely they are to vote in favour of independence.
A large group of young people, 59 per cent, said they were interested in politics generally, with only 7.8 per cent saying they are not interested at all.
Those who conducted the research said it was “noteworthy” that when asked which political party they feel closest to, almost 59 per cent of those questioned said “none”.
There was also found to be a substantial association between teenagers’ voting intentions and those of their parents, with about 57 per cent of children chose the same category as their parents.
SNP campaigns director Angus Robertson said: “There have been many polls and surveys showing different voting intentions by Scotland’s young people.”
A spokesman for the UK government said: “This poll shows that younger people in Scotland are thinking through the issues and taking the positive view that Scotland should stick with the UK family.”
But the Scottish Government said many still have open minds on the issue.