September 15, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
As we near a referendum that is looking likely to be incredibly close, with polls published yesterday morning indicated leads for both sides, focus should turn to the group of voters that could swing the result decisively – 16 and 17 year olds.
I am all for 16 year olds being eligible to vote. As someone with a job that means I spend a lot of time with teenagers, I see a group of people who take on many responsibilities at an age, including the need to pay tax, but don’t have proper representation as they are not part of the franchise. They have access to education over issues, as many of them are at school, and so many of them are less likely to be taking a wild stab in the dark when they vote.
Furthermore, the future of Scotland is absolutely their business, as the vote on Thursday will affect their lives massively. It will affect how they are taxed, how they are defended, their prosperity, and the type of country they will live in. So there are some very strong arguments for this change in who gets to vote.
Yet there is another way to look at it. Alex Salmond came out of whatever negotiations with David Cameron with an astonishingly good deal on this referendum. Extending the franchise to 16 year olds was part of that? Why, because they are more lilkely to vote Yes.
They are more likely to vote ‘Yes’ because teenagers like change. They are more likely to vote ‘Yes’ because teenagers like to rebel and take the revolutionary option. They are less likely to take the concerns expressed of the negative consequences of independence by the ‘No’ campaign seriously as they are more comfortable taking risks. Most of them will have never paid tax and are about to need a lot of public money to spent on them, particularly their education but also in support of them as they leave university. Therefore, the ‘Yes’ campaign’s promises of ‘a Fairer’ society, meaning higher tax rates and more redistribution via public spending, will benefit them. I would imagine also that the image presented of the small country against the might of Westminster bullies and the romanticised vision of being in charge of their own destiny will appeal to them far more too.
So, if there is a narrow ‘Yes’ victory, I wouldn’t be surprised if it comes via the votes of 16 and 17 year olds. Which is why the rest of the Uk needs to help an independent Scotland be successful in the future. Because they may well be coming knocking on our door in the future to repent, like teenagers often have to do.