Regardless Of The Outcome, The Scottish Referendum Debate Has Impassioned A Generation

The Donald Dewar statue with a Yes sticker in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, ahead of the Scottish independence referendum that takes place tomorrow.
The Donald Dewar statue with a Yes sticker in Buchanan Street, Glasgow, ahead of the Scottish independence referendum that takes place tomorrow.
Lynne Cameron/PA Wire

On Thursday, Scotland will vote on its future - an event which has divided the nation. But, regardless of the outcome, the referendum debate has inflamed and impassioned the hearts of this generation's young people like no other political event.

From campaigning on campuses and knocking on doors to student journalists churning out special independence editions, the appetite for engaging in politics has been fierce - and a far cry from the "disengaged youths" so many are quick to portray.

"It might sound dramatic, but I haven't seen a movement like this since Occupy Wall Street," 22-year-old Daniel Scott Lintott says. "On both sides people have rallied around what they really believe is best for the future of Scotland."

Lintott, who is the editor of The Journal, a student paper distributed in Edinburgh and Glasgow, adds: "I genuinely think that for both 'No' voters and 'Yes' voters, this has been one of the unique movements in my lifetime.

"I think it's been necessary for young people to get involved, not only because the voting age is 16, but because a good part of the debate has been around higher education."

Indeed the decision to give 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in the referendum was landmark decision - one long campaigned for by the SNP but previously opposed by the UK government. Although Salmond thought he was going to be able to galvanise this political win into more yes votes, it seems youths quite rightly have their own ideas about Scotland's future.

A recent survey by the Youth Debate, a prominent political youth platform, found just 21% of English 13 to 25-year-olds thought Scotland should be given its freedom, with nearly 45% of Scots agreeing with Alex Salmond, giving the "no" camp a 10.3% lead.

Lintott says the atmosphere has been tense in the last few weeks, as supporters from both sides acknowledge the importance of this referendum.

"I've seen many campaigners from the 'No' side door knocking all over the houses and flats of Edinburgh, whilst the 'Yes' campaign has had a large street presence.

"Recently though, I think the tension has been replaced with fervour and the hype around the issue has really electrified the debate. There is so much riding on this decision for everyone and you can really feel that.

"You can't escape the debate."

Ashley Husband Powton, a postgraduate at the University of the Highlands and Islands, says the atmosphere at her university has been "buzzing with excitement" and "alive with the staggering levels of democratic political engagement".

"From morning coffee in the university canteen to drinks at the pub on Friday night and cups of tea at someone's flat, the referendum is never far from conversation.

"I have not experienced anything like this before. Young people have been inspired by this broad, inclusive, diverse and exciting movement, charged with the hope and opportunity of a more positive future."

And the passion isn't just restricted to Scotland.

Although term time has yet to start at Oxford University, student Joseph Miles says the referendum has had an unprecedented level of attention.

"I haven't really encountered this much engagement on the same scale. When we had the last UK elections I was just going into sixth form and nobody really cared about politics that much.

"Since I've been in an environment where this is not the case we've had the re-election of Obama (which people did stay up to watch but there wasn't much attention outside of this), and mostly other elections that just don't get the same level of attention.

"The question at heart is fairly simple to grasp. Some people might say, and there may be a grain of truth in this, that young people are excited because there's "real change" at heart and that's a sentiment I've seen among some people.

"Then again, I know a lot of young people who are anti-independence so it might just be that this issue obviously affects people in a way that other political questions often don't."

At The Student newspaper in Edinburgh, which also published a special IndyRef edition, passions have been similarly aroused, with student journalist Tasha Kleeman commenting: "Political dialogue on campus has never been so dynamic."

Christopher Simpson, the president and founder of Cambridge University's Scottish society, agrees, saying the referendum has "absolutely" increased the engagement of young Scots in politics.

"People are so happy to debate ideas now and talk about the democratic process as opposed to just bemoaning the status quo."

The referendum has certainly inspired a passion in politics for many young Brits, including recent Cardiff University graduate Tom Johnson, who is already looking to the future.

"I'm inspired by the revolutionary action and engagement that this referendum has unleashed," he says, "and hope that the trend for greater popular political debate continues."

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