SNP leader Alex Salmond backs voting reform in Scotland

Alex Salmond has defended his backing for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given the vote in an interview with school-age reporters.

The Scottish first minister said they were old enough to get married and sign up for the armed forces, so should be able to vote - including in a poll on Scottish independence.

But the extension of the vote is opposed by the Westminster government.

Mr Salmond was being questioned as part of the BBC News School Report project.

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SNP leader Alex Salmond discusses Scottish independence

It is part of a series of interviews by young reporters, including UK party leaders and leading political figures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, many of which are being broadcast on Radio 4's The World at One.

Pupils from other schools interviewed other Scottish party leaders and their impressions are below.

In his interview with students from three Scottish schools, Mr Salmond said 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote, particularly in elections on the country's future, as "they were the people with perhaps the most stake" in it.

He told Ethan, Ruth, Josh, Ellie, Jacob and John that in other respects they were treated as adults, so this should be extended to voting.

Asked whether some voters of that age wouldn't make an informed choice, he said some 60 and 70-year-olds would be in the same position - and he said it would give people an early introduction to the democratic process.

Selling water?

Mr Salmond outlined his support for Scottish independence, saying although many things would not change - people would still go to work and school - it would give the Scottish parliament "full control" over economic and social policy.

"For example, in Scotland we don't have tuition fees for people going to university or college - so we can make these choices at the present moment.

"But there's a lot of things we can't make choices about - like folk with disabilities at present losing their benefit, that's controlled at Westminster. [And] the ability to decide whether you send troops to war."

If Scotland did become independent, Mr Salmond said, it could begin selling some of its resources to neighbouring countries including England - such as water.

"There seems to be developing a major and perhaps long-lasting water shortage in parts of England, particularly the south of England," he said, "and there might well be an argument at some time for the transportation of water resources, and because of the cost of transport, you would sell it on that basis as a commercial transaction."

Tuition fee 'anomaly'

Mr Salmond defended the expenditure involved in Glasgow's hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, saying the projected £600m bill was of a "different degree" of the multi-billion-pound spending on London's 2012 Olympic Games.

"We need the facilities anyway, it will put Scotland on the map internationally," Mr Salmond said - and the Games would leave a "legacy effect, more than just bricks and mortar".

Asked what he thought about the fact that students from elsewhere in the UK had to pay at Scottish universities, while students from elsewhere in the EU did not, he called the situation regarding EU students "an anomaly".

"I'd love to offer free tuition to everyone, but for obvious reasons I can't," he said - adding that his government was trying to find a way to introduce a charge that did not contravene EU law.

He said unlike in England, where universities will be allowed to charge tuition fees of up to £9,000 this year, university admissions in Scotland had been maintained - and the numbers of full-fee-paying international students had risen 20%, "which must be a bit of a tribute to Scottish education".

School Reporters also interviewed other party leaders in Scotland - here are some of their impressions.

If you want to read more from these schools, you can click through to their websites from the alphabetical list here.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont

Sam, Anna, Declan, David and Connor from All Saints Secondary School interviewed Labour leader Johann Lamont.

"Approaching the parliament, we were overwhelmed by the iconic structure and beautiful scenery in our great capital city. After security checks and filming of links, we went to the press area and sat full of excitement and nerves as we perfected our script.

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Johann was welcoming, funny and - most importantly - personal. She was genuinely interested in our questions and answered them honestly.

The most illuminating thing that we learned was that she too had a daughter completing her school exams and so also felt the same concerns that we had.

The funniest part of our interview consisted of Johann admitting that she would love to be in [Scottish soap opera] River City with Anna, our reporter. She also confessed that reporter Declan was quite scary and she anticipated that she would meet him again one day at Question Time - she would have to sharpen up her skills!"

Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party leader Ruth Davidson

Liam, Justin, Rebecca and Lauren from Williamwood school interviewed Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party.

They chose their questions by discussing what issues were most important to them.

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Unlike Mr Salmond, Ms Davidson was against lowering the voting age for the independence referendum in 2014, saying: "I don't think that anything should be done that's different about voting just for the referendum."

The pupils found Ms Davidson's view that children should be able to leave school and begin vocational training as young as 14 very interesting. Such training meant, she said, "going to colleges and doing training, some of them on the job, some kind of like apprenticeships... Apprenticeships are great because it's about doing that sort of training on the job and you're earning money at the same time."

And Ms Davidson opposed cuts to Scottish colleges at a time of high unemployment, saying "if there are less people going to college that means more unemployed young people".

Liam summarised the experience by saying: "It was interesting hearing [her] views on issues central to us and our future."

Scottish Liberal Democrat party leader Willie Rennie

When Willie Rennie visited Balwearie High School to answer questions from Samantha, Ariadne and Anastacia, he described how politicians use presentation techniques to get applause at party conferences, such as emphasising words, pausing and speaking more loudly at the end of sentences.

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He spoke about how politics has a profound effect upon the lives of everyday individuals - issues such as tuition fees, transport - witness the Edinburgh Tram debacle - and even football in the case of Rangers Football Club recently going into administration.

When asked about some of his past experiences in politics, he told us a funny tale about his run-in with the late Screaming Lord Sutch of the Monster Raving Loony Party, who hogged the camera at a by-election result in England.

As a member of the Liberal Democrats Campaigns Department, it had been Mr Rennie's job at the time to ensure that this did not happen, and he subsequently had to deal with the offender!

The pupils really enjoyed meeting Mr Rennie and thought he was "a lovely, funny man".

Samantha said: "It was good to meet Mr Rennie and I found what he had to say was very interesting. He taught us a lot about the impact of politics on people's lives and why, when it's time to do so, that it is important to exercise our constitutional right to vote."

The full version of Mr Salmond's interview will be available on the School Report website on News Day on 15 March.

School Report is an annual BBC project which helps young people make their own news reports for a real audience.

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