SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE: 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 possible 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 Tory politicians, who believe it could set a precedent for all elections.
Time will tell whether that comes to pass but, in a poll released yesterday, 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 at 71 per cent, compared with 29 per cent 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 yesterday, 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 No supporters 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 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: “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.”