Scotland's selfie generation cool on independence

Robert Leslie
Stereotypes about Scotland are legion, although few refer to the great artists, philosophers and scientists the nation has produced over the centuries of its proud history
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Stereotypes about Scotland are legion, although few refer to the great artists, philosophers and scientists the nation has produced over the centuries of its proud history (AFP Photo/Andy Buchanan)

Edinburgh (AFP) - Young Scots aged 16 and 17 are getting the vote for the first time in Scotland's independence referendum, but the selfie generation looks set to defy expectations by mostly rejecting separation.

First Minister Alex Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP), which is spearheading the campaign, fought hard to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 for the September 18 ballot, in anticipation of a youth bounce.

Both sides have run slick campaigns on Facebook and other social media to get as many young people involved as possible. At least 80 percent of those eligible have registered to vote.

But while most teenagers might be expected to disagree with their parents, opinion polls suggest their views on independence from Britain are in line with older Scots, most of whom look set to vote No.

"People my age are very switched on and do want to listen to the issues but they're engaged with a politics that isn't about slander, the smear and the scaremongering," said Robbie Nicol, 16, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament campaigning in an Edinburgh shopping centre to get teenagers to register.

"They're wanting to be involved in the politics that engages with them and talks positively about the issues, constructively rather than mud-slinging from both sides."

Overall, most opinion polls currently give the pro-union camp 45-50 percent of the vote and put the pro-independence side in the range of 35-39 percent.

Under-18s are thought to make up around three percent of those who can cast their ballots.

Some 52 percent in that age bracket favour Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom, according to a study by Edinburgh University researchers published in June, which has been one of the few to focus on young voters.

This compared to 29 percent of teenagers backing independence and 19 percent undecided.

Louise Macdonald, chief executive of youth charity Young Scot, said the referendum was "an incredibly important moment" for 16- and 17-year-olds.

"I would defy anyone to meet young people in Scotland and feel that they're apathetic -- they're absolutely not," she said.

- YouTube and memes -

Realising they will not reach those who have grown up with the Internet through leaflets and public meetings, both the Yes and No camps have been running online campaigns tailored for young people.

One YouTube video by the SNP's youth wing shows an irritating neighbour visiting local teenagers and telling them where they are going wrong with activities like learning to drive and playing the guitar.

"Imagine if 'can't do' became 'can do'," says the slogan at the end. "Independence offers us the chance to change so much."

The Facebook page for Better Together, the campaign that wants Scotland to stay in the UK, features memes which jibe at Salmond and has more than 160,000 likes.

Some 67 percent of young voters have been following news of the referendum campaigns on social media compared to 63 percent for television and radio and 48 percent for online news websites, according to the Edinburgh University researchers.

As with adults, young people see the question of whether Scotland's economy would be stronger after independence as key to the debate.

The Edinburgh team called this "the most important decision-making factor" but also highlighted the question of national identity.

Jan Eichhorn, a fellow in social policy at the university who worked on the figures, said that for many young people who have access to such information, borders make less sense than for older voters.

"If you think about their national identity, they are somewhat more transnational," he said.

"What we find is that they are not less Scottish in their national identity -- it's only about 10 percent that say I am more British than Scottish -- but they are also less likely to favour their Scottish identity over their British identity."

If the polls are borne out, it could ironically be the youth vote which helps to preserve a system of union between Scotland and England which dates back more than 300 years.