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Will 16 and 17 year olds make a difference in the referendum?

Authors: Jan Eichhorn (University of Edinburgh)

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In the referendum on Scottish independence next year 16 and 17 year olds were ble to vote, the first time they will have had the right to do so in a major ballot in the United Kingdom. Using data from a survey of those aged 14 to 17 conducted in the spring of 2013, this briefing assesses the validity of some of the claims that have been made about young people’s attitudes towards politics in general and Scotland’s constitutional future in particular. The results of this survey are compared with those obtained by surveys of Scotland’s adult population, and especially those obtained by the 2012 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey.


Young people in Scotland do not appear to be any less interested in politics than the overall population, though they are much less likely to identify with a political party. Turnout in the referendum amongst this group looks set to be high, albeit perhaps somewhat lower than amongst eligible voters in general. In contrast, support for independence itself seems set to be relatively low, because young people are more likely to have a reasonably strong sense of British identity and more likely to be worried about the practical consequences of independence.

This briefing begins by looking at how much interest Scotland’s young people have in politics and whether they are likely to vote in the referendum. We then examine how they say they will vote in the referendum and compare their views with older voters, and especially those aged 18-24. Finally, we try to cast some light on why young people hold the views that they do.