I went back to my old school last week, Nairn Academy, taking my family to my native Highlands for half-term. I learned two things: that the gorgeous northeast of Scotland is one of the best places in Europe to go with young kids, knocking the spots of any of the overseas venues where I stupidly tried to holiday before*.
The second, more important lesson is that the pupils of Nairn Academy are not just ferociously bright but thought-leaders to boot. A few months ago, they rejected independence in a referendum – and a survey out today shows that two-thirds of the 16- and 17-year olds able to vote in September intend to do likewise.
As I say in my Telegraph column today, it does actually matters what school pupils think. I was speaking to them about journalism and politics – and I avoiding speaking for or against the union. Highlands & Islands Council rightly does not want the schools to become places where pupils are lobbied, but the pupils don’t need adults to stimulate political discussion. They are holding debates, and even mock referenda. Nairn Academy’s own vote showed 71 per cent in favour of staying in the union.
This isn’t to do with any lack of patriotism, but Scots with their futures ahead of them like the idea of being plugged into a network like the UK – with all of its opportunities. One pupil at Nairn told me she was concerned about English employers being that bit less likely to employ Scots, should they proclaim themselves foreign. (I personally don’t think that would be a problem, but I can see why she’d have concerns). Another told me he wanted to go to London, and didn’t specify a career. A fine ambition – and one hear in schools from Cardiff to Gateshead. It’s the British capital, with the best-paying jobs. Why would a Highlander be any less likely to want to make that journey?
Today, the I newspaper splashes on Labour plans to extend the franchise to 16-year-olds (right). But Ed Miliband should be careful if the thinks this will mean more Labour voter Scotland has shown that the teenagers won’t rush to thank whoever extended the vote to them. But I think the seriousness and maturity with which Nairn Academy pupils and others have taken voting does underline the case for extending the franchise.
* If anyone tastes a better steak sandwich served in lovelier surroundings than at East Grange, off the A96, let me know.