Are Scottish teenagers more in favour of independence?

The polling evidence suggests not.

The hope among nationalists and the fear among unionists is that the decision to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish independence referendum will aid the SNP's cause. Young people, it is supposed, are more susceptible to Alex Salmond's patriotic appeal than their older compatriots. But the polling evidence we have suggests that this is not the case.

A survey by the Mail on Sunday last month found that support for independence stands at just 26% among 14 and 15-year-olds (who will be 16 or 17 in 2014), compared with 27% among the rest of the population. As pollster John Curtice noted:

This shows the assumptions made by some that younger voters tend towards independence is some way out. The crucial group are those over the age of 60, who are more inclined to vote. We may yet see a deal which extends the franchise for the referendum but we don’t know if the people in this category will turn up and vote, as turnout among younger voters is traditionally low.

The SNP will, naturally, hope to shift these numbers over the course of the campaign. But it's already clear that allowing young Scots to vote won't be the game changer that the party needs.

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond carries a sliver putter signifying the next location of the Ryder Cup. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.