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Scottish independence: young people and the prospect of shaping a new nation


Scottish independence: young people and the prospect of shaping a new nation

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The Scottish referendum on independence is fast approaching, with the vote taking place on September 18, 2014. It has been characterized by a bitter rivalry between two opposing campaigns, the pro-Scottish independence Yes campaign and the pro-union Better Together campaign. The referendum has been dubbed the “most important political decision in 300 years” of Scottish history.

One of the most important demographics of this referendum will be the younger generation (under 30 years old) of Scottish society. If the majority of Scots vote for independence in September it is this generation that will be responsible for shaping the new political, economic and social landscapes of a new sovereign country.

For the first time in a major ballot in the United Kingdom, 16 and 17-year-olds will have the opportunity to vote. This initiative has been met with both praise and criticism, with many accusing the Scottish National Party (SNP) of bringing in the new age rule specifically because the young generation was expected to vote for independence. In fact, the problem for the SNP is that the majority of 16 and 17 year olds feel they have joint British/Scottish identity and polls suggest only a fifth will vote YES in September.


- There has been a 307-year-old political union between England (and Wales) and Scotland since 1 May, 1706.

- In 1997, a referendum was held for the devolution of more powers to Scotland, which returned a YES vote. Thus a Scottish Parliament was created.

- The Scottish National Party is a Scottish nationalist political party in Scotland which campaigns for Scottish independence.

- In May 2011, the Scottish National Party gained outright control of the Scottish devolved government after a remarkable electoral victory. It is the largest political party in Scotland in terms of membership, MSPs and local councilors.

- An agreement was made between the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom government, the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, which set out the arrangements for a Scottish referendum on independence.

- It was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 14 November 2013 and received Royal Assent on 17 December 2013.

Some believe that the young people of Scotland will just vote in the same way as their parents – or that they won’t vote at all. Others believe that people of this age are not mature enough to make a rational decision on such an important issue. However, according to the 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey, these stereotypes of young Scots are not true. This survey shows that the young people of Scotland do have an interest in politics and generally do not vote the same as their parents. Levels of political interest are very similar between young people and adults, with only 13% of young Scots polled “very or rather unlikely” to vote. Only around 56% of young people surveyed had the same voting intention as their parents.

Interestingly, the survey also finds that young people are in fact less likely to identify with a main political party, as large parties do not offer as many opportunities to young people compared with adults. 57% of young people indicate that they do not feel close to any political party at all. The results of the 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey suggest that the young people of Scotland are perfectly capable of making informed decisions as much as adults are. We can see that the dealignment of this group with political parties is not a reflection of political disengagement, but rather young people seeking different identifiers than those provided by traditional actors. This initiative has brought to light discussion on the possibility of lowering the voting age for Westminster elections and others. In the UK a 16 or 17 year old must pay taxes if they work, but they don’t have the right to vote for the government that their taxes will go to! What is certain is that the politicians involved in both campaigns must find a way to reach out to young people, as it seems all have failed to do so far.

The most recent What Scotland Thinks poll has showed a steady decrease in the number of young Scots voting no to independence from a high of 60.3% in June 2013, to 52% at the end of May 2014. Conversely the number of young Scots voting yes has risen from a very low 20.9% in June 2013 to 30% at the end of May. The “Don’t know” responses have remained steady at around 18% throughout this period.

I spoke to some young Scots to find out what they had to say about the referendum:

Sean Rodgers, Glasgow

Sean Rodgers, a pro-independence voter, is from Glasgow. He is currently studying Law and French at the University of Strathclyde

“I believe in independence in order to split with Westminster. Since World War II, the UK General Elections have not been altered by the Scottish vote. Also there are parties represented in Westminster that a lot of Scottish people have not voted for and feel do not represent them, for example the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). Many of these parties are right wing.

“I believe that the pound is an asset of Scotland as well as the rest of the UK. If UK Government refuses to allow Scotland to continue using the pound sterling, then they will have to take our share of the national debt. Scotland is also England’s second biggest trading partner, so it would be wise to continue trading in the same currency. To be honest, if Scotland did gain independence I would like to see Scotland create its own currency in 10 to 20 years, but for now we need the pound for stability. I don’t believe George Osborne when he said that if Scotland becomes independent there will be no currency union between us and the rest of the UK.”

Michaella Drummond, Fife

Michaella Drummond, a Better Together Youth Rep from Fife speaking on

“Nationalism and separation make no sense to young people in Scotland. The referendum is the only part of my life where I am being asked to think smaller and that’s exactly the reason why young people are rejecting Alex Salmond’s separation plans

“Being part of something bigger means more opportunities for young people in Scotland. We know that we are stronger and better together.”

The referendum has initiated a genuine interest in politics for the vast majority of Scots, to the extent where the people want more and more information from both campaigns and elected representatives. The referendum has also shown that many Scots are disenfranchised with politicians and party politics, in particular the young generation.

There seems to be a lack of trust between many Scots and the SNP over much of the information and statistics that the SNP has provided on the major issues of the independence debate. What some Scots are still failing to understand is that a “Yes’ vote is not a vote for the SNP, it is a chance, nay an opportunity, to have attempt at the “new world concept” and to build a Scotland that the Scots themselves want to see, without interference from Westminster. However, with such a huge decision to be made, many citizens of Scotland fear the unknown that lies ahead.

What is certain is that most Scots believe that they have a distinct identity and culture that differs from their English and Welsh neighbours.

The major issues of the Scottish referendum on independence

Would Scotland have a place in Europe?
- The President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, has said it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
- He stated that a new independent Scotland would have to apply for membership and be confirmed by the other EU member states.
- Almost two-thirds of Scots believe an independent Scotland would be admitted to the European Union according to a recent ICM poll, from a sample of over 1,00 Scots.
- The Yes Scotland manifesto declares "Scotland already is part of the EU – so there is no doubt that we meet all the requirements for membership"

Will Scotland keep the pound sterling?
- The Yes campaign believe this is an ideal situation for both countries as Scotland “is the rest of the UK’s second biggest trading partner, not sharing the Sterling would cost businesses south of the border an extra 500 million pounds in transaction costs.
- The Chancellor of The Exchequer (UK Minister of Finance), George Osborne, has said that if Scotland leaves the UK there will be no currency union between the new independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. He stated, “walking out of the UK means walking out of the UK pound.”

Will the Queen still be the monarch of an independent Scotland?
- Again the Yes campaign would be favour of an independent Scotland maintaining the Queen as a constitutional monarch, much like Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries have done.
- However, there are many Republicans within the ranks of the Yes Campaign and the Scottish Nationalist Party who do not agree with their colleagues and would like to see an independent Scotland become a republic, without a monarch.

Can there be a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation?
- One of the great British institutions is the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The SNP suggests that the BBC would continue to exist in Scotland, but under Scottish control.
- However, the problem with dividing the BBC is that it will be difficult to divide the BBC’s assets between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. There will also be problems with funding this new Scottish Broadcasting Corporation and the access it will have to BBC programmes in Scotland.

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Main photo credit: Flickr/The Laird of Oldman

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