Research shows that Scotland’s 16-17-year-olds are model democrats who outshine their rUK peers and their own older siblings


(c) Image PA

We all remember meeting or hearing of 16 and 17-year-olds who were very enthusiastic, engaged and, often, well-informed at the time of the Scottish Referendum in 2014. Despite that, there is still some hostility toward allowing further participation by this group in other electoral processes. Our long-standing knowledge of the low turnout and apparent lack of knowledge of political affairs of the 18-24-year-old group has sometimes led critics to oppose the emancipation of the younger group on similar grounds. However, recent research by the London School of Economics is strong evidence that this negative view is incorrect.

In the review preceding their own survey, the LSE authors point out:

  • We already know that the younger first-time voters are, the greater their participation. This effect is observed in multiple studies and is strongly pronounced for 16- to 17-year-olds.
  • It could also be observed in the Scottish context where the above-cited participation rate for these ages (75%) was much higher than the estimate for 18-24-year-olds (54%).
  • Voting earlier, while still being in school and more likely to live at home, is likely to increase voter participation, not reduce it.

The authors also tackle the popular view that the majority of the adult population are against 16-year-olds having the vote. While it is true that only 33% were in favour before the Scottish Referendum, this has now doubled to 60%, in Scotland, after people actually witnessed the frankly wonderful enthusiasm, intelligence and knowledge of that group, face-to-face or on TV, in the months leading up to the Scottish Referendum. The researchers state:

For the Scottish context, we then find, for example, that the levels of political interest in the independence referendum amongst those younger than 18 was very similar to that of the adult population overall.’

In 2015, the LSE researchers interviewed 16 and 17-year-olds across the UK to see:

‘whether levels of political engagement and political attitudes systematically differed for 16- and 17-year-old Scots compared to their peers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.’

They found:

‘that the newly enfranchised young people in Scotland indeed show substantially higher levels of engagement with representative democracy (through voting) as well as other forms of political participation (such as signing petitions and taking part in demonstrations); and they engage with a greater range of information sources about politics and reflect greater levels of political efficacy.’

And concluded:

‘The findings indeed suggest that earlier enfranchisement, together with other factors (such as the referendum, civic education, and parental socialisation) had a positive impact on young people in Scotland. Further research will be required to examine whether these positive effects are long-lasting. Evidence from Austria – where the voting age was lowered in 2007 and where similar first-time boosts could be observed – is encouraging, as later observations still confirmed the initial patterns.’

The researchers may have missed the effects of the fairly recent introduction of Scottish affairs into the teaching of National 4/5 and Higher History, and Modern Studies, and the new Politics Higher. That Scottish history or political affairs were not taught in any serious manner until quite recently would, of course, not have occurred to researchers based in England. Perhaps, more obvious, it seems strange that the researchers did not appear to have investigated the impact of social media especially the huge number of Facebook groups informing, debating and organising, especially the Yes campaign. Much research had already been done into the role of Facebook in the Arab Spring by this time, so we might have expected it to be an obvious area for investigation.

Anyway, as I hope you are, I’m much encouraged by these findings. There were 100 000 of these young voters in 2014. By 2018, a further 200 000 will be in the frame and we know they’re more likely to be Yes than No voters.


5 thoughts on “Research shows that Scotland’s 16-17-year-olds are model democrats who outshine their rUK peers and their own older siblings

  1. gavin December 11, 2017 / 5:32 pm

    There is still one political party which detests the very idea of young people engaging in politics and utilising a vote.
    The Tories don’t like the concept of youth: of young inquiring minds questioning the status quo : they prefer old, stultified brains locked into a past where, “they never had it so good” was a slogan for the gullible, and “we put Jerry in his place” posturing, up at the golf club bar.
    Youth brings change. Change is good. They are the future.
    Instead of change, we have the House of Lords! The slow, steady tick tock of relentless decline.

    Liked by 1 person

    • johnrobertson834 December 11, 2017 / 6:11 pm

      Well put. I suppose in means conservative as in hanging on to the past ‘glories’


    • Alasdair Macdonald December 11, 2017 / 8:43 pm

      And, it was not just the Tories. At the Independence referendum when the franchise was extended to 16 and 17 year olds, it was strongly opposed by Labour and the Lib Dems, too on exactly the same arguments as the Tories used.

      One of the things which Mr Corbyn did in England was invigorate the youth vote and, although the franchise remained at 18 years and older, the youngest age group, for the first time ever, voted in larger numbers than other age groups. There was evidence of this in Scotland, too.

      In the Council elections, with so many of the Labour old lags retiring there has been an influx of younger Labour councillors and the few that I have met have shown a greater openness to reach out to other parties on matters of common interest. Although they have not made much of an impact at Westminster yet, I think we must give the 6 newcomers the benefit of the doubt: Mr Murray, on the strength of his Tory tactical voters and his general reactionariness is probably irredeemable. At Holyrood, sadly, the dinosaurs still rule.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ludo Thierry December 11, 2017 / 6:25 pm

    Hi John, Hi Gavin – According to my good ol’ pal The Chookie Buccleuch the young folk of Scotland are far too busy taking up fox hunting to busy their wee heads wi’ stuff like politics, improving the lot of their fellow Scots, bringing Scotland into a modern, more rational political/social/economic era ‘n’ all that (see below):

    Europe’s largest private landowner claims fox hunting unites communities
    By Annie Butterworth –
    December 1, 2017

    EUROPE’S LARGEST private landowner has said fox hunting is an “important fabric of rural life” and wants to see it “thrive”.
    The Duke of Buccleuch, Richard Scott, claims that the practice “knits” people together living in rural communities.
    In 2002 the pursuit of killing foxes with hounds was banned in Scotland, however, dogs are still permitted during mounted hunts flush out foxes which are then shot.
    The 10th Duke of Buccleuch – who owns an estimated 280,000 acres of land in Scotland – has said there is a future for hunting in the country.
    Speaking with the Scottish Field magazine today (FRI) he said: “The local hunt bears my family name, the Duke of Buccleuch, and I’m privileged to be honorary master of it.
    “Although I don’t hunt hunt any longer myself, I am very interested in it continuing to thrive.
    The duke, owner of Drumlanrig Castle in Thornhill, near Dumfries, added: “I think it is such an important fabric of our rural life.
    “It knits people together and I am thrilled that there are so many young people still taking up hunting as it is a wonderful opportunity to corners of the beautiful Borders landscape which people otherwise would never get to.
    “It’s only on the back of a horse that you really get a true understanding of the lie of the land.”


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