The minimum voting age for the Scottish independence referendum will be 16 rather than the usual one of 18. Many commentators have expressed strong views on whether this is a good idea or not. On the one hand it has been argued that younger people can judge the merits of or problems with independence just as well as anybody else, and that they ought to be involved in a decision about what will very much be their future. On the other hand multiple public figures have claimed that under-18 year olds would be ill-informed, largely uninterested, and inclined to follow the views of others rather than make a choice for themselves.While sometimes presented eloquently, these viewpoints, were not usually based on any empirical research. Until now there has not been any investigation of the attitudes of a representative sample of 14-17 year olds towards Scottish independence – even though all those currently aged 14 ½ or more will be able to cast a vote. Funded by the ESRC a team of researchers from Edinburgh University (Prof Lindsay Paterson, Prof John MacInnes, Dr Michael Rosie and myself) has now filled that gap.The core finding of the survey is intriguing: Only just over one in five said they supported independence, while 60% disapproved and just under 1/5th said that they were undecided. This represents a markedly lower level of support for independence than in any recent poll of the adult population.This difference suggests that young people are inclined to make up their own minds rather than all simply following the lead of others, in particular their parents. That indeed is the case. As well as interviewing 14-17 year olds themselves, we also asked one of their parents whether they supported or opposed independence. This revealed that while 59% of young people had the same view as the parent to whom we spoke, over 40% held a different view.
‘Young people cannot be trusted with political decisions’ – Why actually?
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