Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Tuition fees is key issue to young voters, research finds

Over 7,000 students gather for a debate on the referendum at Glasgow's SSE Hydro
Image caption Over 7,000 students gather for a debate on the referendum at Glasgow's SSE Hydro

Tuition fees is a key issue for 16 and 17-year-olds as they consider what way they should vote in next week's Scottish independence referendum.

A questionnaire filled in by 1,048 young people attending a TV debate in Glasgow found 97% of them thought fees was the most important issue to them.

But the economy (94%), currency (88%), welfare (88%) and pensions (84%) also scored highly.

About 7,500 first time voters attended the BBC's Big Big Debate special.

They were asked to fill in the six-question form ahead of the SSE Hydro arena recording which is to be broadcast on BBC One Scotland at 21:00.

Image caption The Big, Big Debate panel consisted of Patrick Harvie, Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and George Galloway

Just over one thousand young people responded with their views on what issues were important to them; where they get their news about the referendum and whether they were likely to go to the ballot box on Thursday, 18 September.

For the first time in the UK, 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland - the majority of whom attend high school - can vote.

Along with the rest of the electorate in Scotland, they will be asked the "Yes/No" question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

What are key topics for 16 and 17-year-old voters?
Topic Importance
Tuition fees 97%
Economy 94%
Currency 88%
Welfare 88%
Pensions 84%
Energy 83%
Defence 82%
Relationship with the UK 78%
EU 78%
Immigration 74%
Broadcasting 66%
Where do 16 and 17-year-olds get referendum news?
Source Never Often Sometimes
Family 6% 64% 30%
Friends 6% 64% 30%
Newspapers 27% 22% 51%
Radio 38% 19% 43%
School 29% 28% 43%
Social Media 8% 63% 29%
TV 4% 69% 27%
Web 13% 52% 35%

Dr Jan Eichhorn, from Edinburgh University's School of Social and Political Science, said he was not surprised students saw tuition fees as the most important issue.

He explained: "Tuition fees for a lot of young people are obviously the thing that is most relevant to them, just like for the older part of the population, pensions would be regarded as more important.

"But there's a tendency they'll tick things they think are really important in the debate but might not necessarily move them to 'yes' or 'no'."

Dr Eichhorn conducted two surveys of 1,000 young adults and their parents in 2013 and 2014.

The high ranking of the less likely young people's topics of pensions and welfare was also found in his own research.

Most students who responded to the questionnaire, which was web based and conducted over the last 10 days, said they got their information about the referendum from TV, social media, friends and family.

How was the questionnaire carried out?

The six multiple choice questions on the web form asked students the following....

  • How important certain issues were to them when making up their minds about the referendum?
  • How likely they were to vote in the referendum?
  • How often they used particular sources to get referendum information?
  • How informed they felt ahead of the referendum?
  • If their favourite celebrity came out for "Yes" or "No", would it influence their vote?
  • Which council area they lived in?

The questionnaire was sent to students who attended the debate.

It was filled in anonymously over the past 10 days.

It did not ask about voting intentions.

Dr Eichhorn said students typically use social media to find links to other websites - something which he says has an "enabling effect" on the young adult.

The academic added: "This means there's less of them just following one newspaper.

"We know nearly all the newspapers favour one side or the other, so the young people are now much more likely to use multiple news sources.

"Social media for most of them is a gateway to other sources - not a news source in itself."

Responses to BBC Scotland's online questionnaire also suggested that 88% of students were highly likely to vote.

However, a third of respondents said they still felt only partially informed about the referendum issues.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption University tuition is free for students in Scotland

Dr Eichhorn commented: "I've seen them discuss the referendum in school groups and they're not making these decisions on a whim.

"I think they sometimes get really offended when people say they'll just follow their parents or follow what their teachers said.

"Students have quite a complex understanding - the key thing about how the majority of people are thinking about this is in terms of what will happen to Scotland after independence.

"Is it going to be a better or worse Scotland rather than 'I am very Scottish and therefore I will vote like that'.

"They understand that doing well includes not just good business, but a functioning welfare system."

The questionnaire also found that 76% of respondents would not be swayed by a declaration of voting intent by their favourite celebrities.

Classroom environment

Dr Eichhorn said a great deal of student engagement was down to the role schools had played.

He added: "Where schools do engage interest goes up, self-confidence goes up - schools have played a really important role which doesn't normally happen in general elections because of age."

However, the data, collated by the BBC news website, suggested that 29% of respondents said they never gained any information in their classroom environment.

As BBC Scotland reported last month, Dr Eichhorn said this could be due to the highly sensitive nature of the independence referendum.