Scottish youth divided over referendum

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17 Apr 2019

In June this year, it will be 700 years since Robert the Bruce led his band of young Scots into the Battle of Bannockburn, defeating a much larger English army, and in the process cementing his place in Scottish history.


The unofficial national anthem, “Flower of Scotland”, celebrates the victory and still, all these years later, makes the English squirm as Scots proudly sing about the defeat of King Edward’s army which, in the words of the song was “sent homewards to think again”.

The song laments the fact that Scotland is no longer an independent nation and goes on to proclaim that “we can still rise now and be the nation again.”

Now, 700 years later, Scotland has the chance to do just that, and to do it not on the battlefield but through the ballot box. 

In September this year, Scotland will vote on whether to become an independent nation. However, the youth of today do not possess that same passion that drove their predecessors to the blood soaked fields of Bannockburn.

According to all the polls Scots are about to deliver a resounding “no” to independence, and surprisingly it is my peers who are leading the charge against the very cause that, in the words of the song, the battlers at Bannockburn “fought and died for”.

A recent survey of more than 1000 young Scots conducted by Edinburgh University’s Economic and Social Research Council found that only 26 per cent support independence.  According to the BBC, 67 per cent of young people in Scotland feel they would like more information before making a final decision.

Victoria Robertson, 21 a medical student from Ladybank, Fife said: “I think my student lifestyle means I live in a bit of a bubble, we’re probably a hard target audience to attract. I personally don’t think I have enough information about the referendum so I probably won’t vote but if I had to I think I’d vote no, as I feel Scotland would benefit from its connections with England in the long run”.

The “Yes Scotland” camp and “Better Together” have been extremely active on Facebook with more than 200,000 “likes” between them but more needs to be done to reach out to Scotland’s young people to help them make a decision about which way to vote at the polls.

Paula Sclater, a 23-year-old call-centre worker from Barrhead, Glasgow said: “I don’t really know what the Independence campaign is about. I’ve seen people talking about it on Facebook but I don’t really understand it so I wouldn’t know what I was voting for.”

In the run up to the referendum, Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond, controversially succeeded in lowering the voting age from 18 to 16. He had hoped that young people would prove less conservative than their parents or grandparents and more willing to embrace change.

But when it comes to independence it would appear that the youngest voters are among the least supportive.

Samantha Sloan, a 16-year-old high school student from Cupar, Fife said: “I would vote no because I think it’s all too farfetched.  Alex Salmond is kidding himself in believing that the EU would accept us and we need to be a part of the EU to remain economically stable.

“It would cause an even greater gap between the Scottish and English and we’ve fought so long to become a united nation so I don’t see why we should destroy that. I think it’s all a bit confusing and information that isn’t biased to help younger people to understand the election is scarce”.

The issue of nuclear weapons (Britain’s nuclear armed Trident submarines are based off the west coast of Scotland) has been central to the campaign and it is what drives me to have a difference of opinion to many other young people. The Scottish National Party’s declaration that the weapons will be removed from Scottish soil if the country votes yes to independence is a vote winner for me. I don’t want to live in a country that possesses hideously expensive weapons that can never be used. The saving in running costs alone could amount to the training of 3,880 nurses or 4,527 teachers, or to build 13 to 20 primary schools.

Annie Aitken, 22, a student from Lathrisk, Fife agrees: “I think that at the moment, Westminster is never going to be able to come up with policies that suit everybody and in the end they make policies that suit London rather than anywhere else. Everyone is scared of Scotland being on its own because it’s so small but that means that it will be easier for everyone’s voices to be heard and an independent Scottish government will be able to make decisions which best reflect what Scottish people need and want”.

The battle for the votes of the young has seen both camps use teenage supporters as spokespeople for their campaigns.

Michaella Drummond, 17, from Kirkcaldy, Fife is passionately opposed to independence. A spokeswoman for “Better together,” she appears to be preaching to the converted.

“I know that the overwhelming majority of my friends and the majority of people my age that I speak to simply cannot see the sense in Scotland going it alone,” she said.

“Right now we have the best of both worlds. Drawing a line across an island and saying ‘everyone north of this line is different from everyone south of it’ is irrational and untrue.”

Hannah Thomson is a journalism student from Scotland.


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