Will there be another Scottish independence referendum? I went back to my hometown, Nairn, yesterday to gauge the mood after the ‘no’ win. Highland Region split 53/47 for ‘no’, tighter than I imagined. I was also interested in the younger voters (and the newly-enfranchised 16 and 17-year-olds) – because their interest (or lack of it) may determine whether the issue of secession stays with us. Canadian PM Stephen Harper told me last month that Quebec’s youth got bored of the subject of secession, which is why the issue has cooled. As he put it,
I do believe that at some point that people, particularly the younger generation [of Quebec] started to sit back and say: we’ve been having this existential debate for 40 years and what is the resolution of this debate going to do about the things that actually matter in my life?
So this is why the younger generation of Scotland matters more than you might think – and why I went to Nairn Academy and interviewed some of its pupils for the Daily Telegraph today. My old school made headlines last November by holding a mock referendum with a 71pc ‘no’ vote. This chimed with other polls that showed the young against separation. At the time, I crowed that this showed that separation was an obsession of the the Braveheart generation, and no one else.
I spoke too soon. According to Lord Ashcroft’s exit poll, the 16- and 17-year olds were backed ‘yes’ by a margin of three-to-one. (Although he took was a tiny sample; I probably spoke to more teenagers yesterday than his pollsters did.) I found that they had swung towards separation – and I met three who voted ‘no’ but were open to voting ‘yes’ next time. And they all seemed pretty sure that there would be a next time.
I was amazed at their grasp of the issues. Here were dauntingly bright, passionate kids making great points on both sides of the debate.