Revolution is in the air for Scotland's young voters

26th September 2014 at 01:00
Schools report surge of political interest in wake of referendum

The Facebook and Twitter timelines of Scottish teenagers were once dominated by pop stars such as Miley Cyrus. But now the faces of political figures such as Nicola Sturgeon stare out from their social networking accounts, teachers say.

Modern studies teachers report that pupils have been showing "unprecedented levels of interest" in politics in the aftermath of the referendum. The enthusiasm for political engagement in schools could remain high, they said, especially if the voting age were lowered for future general elections.

"It's been really positive and the level of interest has been huge," said Ruth Sharp, chair of the Modern Studies Association.

Voting had become a "collective experience", she added, with large groups of friends travelling to polling stations together. Ms Sharp, who works at Renfrewshire's Gryffe High School, said she had never seen interest on this scale, with pupils badgering teachers to reveal how they had voted.

Since 18 September there have been huge numbers of applications to join political parties that supported a Yes vote. The SNP said that membership had more than doubled from about 25,500 to 60,000 in the days after the referendum.

And Ms Sharp suspected that many school pupils had contributed to those numbers. "I'm pleased that young people are still keen and motivated to engage in politics, even after the referendum," she said.

Shortly before the vote, East Lothian's Musselburgh Grammar School held a debate with prominent speakers from the Yes and No campaigns. Ruairidh Nicolson, a modern studies teacher at the school, said that being able to vote had "empowered" pupils. "The passion for politics has increased greatly," he added. "Having spoken with many pupils since the referendum, I do not believe that the young people will cease to engage in politics because the vote has been held.

"On the contrary, I believe young people will continue to embrace the festival of democracy we're experiencing."

Under current rules, teenagers who voted last week will not be able to do so in next year's general election unless they have turned 18. A decision to lower the voting age for UK and Scottish parliamentary elections can only be made at Westminster, but support for the reform has been growing.

Labour leader Ed Miliband has made encouraging statements in recent days, and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said this week that she was "convinced" 16- and 17-year-olds "should be included in future democratic processes".

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: "If a young person is old enough to pay taxes, choose to marry or join the army, it is fundamentally wrong that they should be excluded from the democratic process."

Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock said there was "no reason" why 16-year-olds should not vote in all elections.

Annie Lennox, a 17-year-old Yes supporter who represented young voters at Blabbermouth, a National Theatre of Scotland event held in Edinburgh last week, said: "It's slightly demoralising that power is being taken away for the general election. They have said, `Yes, you're responsible enough for the referendum vote but not for parliamentary elections.' "

No voter Craig Hogg, 17, who also attended the event, said: "There's obviously going to be a lot of people who are not mature enough aged 16 or 17. There was some aggression on the Yes side, with No voters being called `spineless' and I think that aggression comes from a lack of maturity."

Overall, however, he believed that lowering the voting age had "worked well".

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