What now for the 16 and 17-year-old referendum voters?

By Laura Bicker
BBC News

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The voting age was lowered for the Scottish independence referendum

They were widely regarded as the winners of the referendum - the 16 and 17-year olds who were given a voice in the debate to decide Scotland's constitutional future.

The voting age was lowered for the independence referendum. But in six months, many in this generation will have to stand on the side lines as the UK heads to the polls in a General Election.

I visited Bellahouston Academy in the south side of Glasgow to ask what they thought.

Teacher Murdo MacDonald put it to his geography class that they would not have a vote in May. How do they feel about that, he asked.

"Left out," shouted one.

"Let down," voiced another.

Image caption,
Saffron Dickson was a vocal pro-Yes supporter during the referendum

All in the class felt the law should be changed and for some, having a place in the independence argument has changed their outlook on life.

Seventeen year-old Cameron Bell is now studying economics.

He told me, "I wasn't really interested in economics or how a country should be run or political parties, but because I was watching the referendum on the TV with Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, that's what brought me into politics.

"Actually I want to do it as a career now, I want to be a politician because of that."

Some of the students admit that not all of their friends were fully engaged in the referendum debate.

Sixteen-year-old Hira Khan said: "Not everyone has got the political mind or knows the proper strategies to understand what is right or wrong. People were voting Yes or No without looking at the proper background - without knowing anything about politics."

Who voted?

Scottish independence referendum

  • 3.6m - Voters who turned up to the ballot box

  • 100,000 - Registered 16 and 17-year-old voters

  • 55% - Those who voted No

  • 45% - Those who voted Yes


But 17-year-old Saffron Dickson, a vocal pro-independence campaigner during the referendum, pointed out: "There are 60-year-olds that I wouldn't trust with a bus pass never mind a vote - that's what happens in every generation and we are just as smart and just as capable to have a vote and make it count."

Sixteen year-old Phillip Buchanan felt it was time politics was taught more widely in schools.

He said: "If it was throughout the curriculum people would be a lot more interested in it and have a better understanding. And you'd have educated decisions not just - 'that's what my pal John's voting so that's what I'm going to vote'."

'Shred of evidence'

There seems to be consensus in Scotland on the success of the teenage vote.

In September, the First Minister Alex Salmond won cross party support for his call to give 16 and 17-year-olds a say in future elections. He described the case as "overwhelming" and said there was "not a shred of evidence now" for arguing that they shouldn't have a vote.

The Scottish Labour leader at that time, Johann Lamont, agreed, saying her party was "committed to votes at 16".

Ruth Davidson from the Scottish Conservatives added her voice saying: "There is no doubt in my mind that those 16 and 17-year-olds added to the debate and have proven by their intelligence and their conduct that we must now look at the franchise across the whole of the UK."

Image caption,
Charlie Jeffrey is professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh

Although welcoming the debate, the UK government said: "There is no consensus on this and there are no plans to change the voting age during this parliament."

So, it looks unlikely that Scotland's newly politicised generation will have their say in the General Election in May 2015.

But what about the Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2016?

This will depend on the findings of the Smith Commission which is looking at what further powers should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Charlie Jeffrey, professor of politics at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We know that the Smith Commission is thinking about various items for additional devolution.

"I think elections administration will be one of those, and I think if the Scottish Parliament did have full control of future Scottish Parliament elections, then I think 16 to 17-year-old voting is a shoe-in.

"I'm less sure about UK level."

Well, all change starts somewhere and in Scotland, for 16 and 17-year-olds, it started in 2014.