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.
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 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 bettertogether.net
“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.
Main photo credit: Flickr/The Laird of Oldman