Coffee House

Scotland’s mature teenagers make the case for all voting to start age 16

6 June 2014

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.


More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us now.

  • Maidmarrion

    Do you mean these wonderfully intelligent young folk WANT a privatised health service?
    They don’t care that one in four other youngsters live in poverty?
    That the waters round Scotland mean they will continue to paddle ,play and swim in waters polluted by the MoD ?
    That they think 100 billion spent on Trident and her leaking hulk carriers is money well spent?
    Do these intelligent youngsters want to bankrupt their mums and dads while continuing their much needed education?
    And do they think it is acceptable to have their country run by warmongering Westminster /Washington politicians – who will happily send them off to foreign parts to kill others’ sons and daughters in the pursuit of cheap energy?
    I am truly impressed with your ” intelligent” young folk.

  • evad666

    The question a 16 yr old needs to ask is why does the politician want my Vote at 16 and why therefore should I Vote for him/her.?

  • Smithersjones2013

    It’s one thing to ramp up the pupils from ones old school but that’s hardly a random sample. Now how would all those kids involved in the rioting in 2011 have voted if they had an equivalent opportunity?

    We need more than quaint anecdotal homespun tales……….

  • Q46

    Voting Yes or No in a simple, singular issue requires little maturity.

    Voting for more complex matters requires more than being ‘bright’ it requires experience of life.

    In my view 18 is too young. People at this age have no wealth and are on the lowest income of their lives… wealth redistribution, income ‘equality’ looks attractive as does more taxes for the ‘rich’ as it won’t affect them, and they don’t have mortgages or other responsibilities that ‘progressive’ ideas will negatively affect.

    25, maybe even 30 would be a better age.

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    Minimum 5 years work experience before being allowed to vote IMO

  • RavenRandom

    They are children. We require them to remain at school or in education until they are 18 now. They are children. They do not work, pay tax, own houses, they are inexperienced. Importantly they have no responsibilities and therefore noting to lose, I do want them deciding the fate of responsible adults. They are children, we do not allow them to do many things until they are 18, voting should remain one of those things.

    • Damon

      Well said, and entirely correct.

  • Airey Belvoir

    No representation without taxation! Let the little blighters put something in to society before giving them the privilege (admittedly small) of a vote.

  • abystander

    The Union dividend

    Emigrate to get a job. Leave your home, family, girlfriend/boyfriend and go to London where you will never own anything no matter how hard you work.

  • MichtyMe

    Did like the bit about wanting to work in London and concerned about the English might not want to employ a foreigner. Almost burst ma breeks laughin at that. To work in London, whilst perhaps not being a requirement, does appear to be an advantage.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    The Speccie kid trolling out clickbait. The books are getting real tight, apparently.

  • Callum

    I sat next to Fraser in class when I was 16 at Dollar Academy in the late 80’s – Like Fraser, to make it in this little world I had to work for a decade and a bit in London and NYC and around the world to climb the corporate ladder – I’ve since moved my family and businesses back to Scotland. (It’s great, you should try it!)

    But, it is only when you look into the deeper reasons why students emigrate from Scotland to other places to grow their careers that you realise that Scotland gets the rough end of the stick – especially in 1989/1990 when the Thatcher sponsored de-industrialisation of Scotland laid waste to not only blue collar jobs but the sorts of roles that young graduates would step into as scientists, engineers, accountants, lawyers etc. This brain drain of young talent over 50 years has crippled Scotland.

    Those Scots old enough to have experienced the Thatcher reforms in Scotland (and other parts of the UK), across the socio-economic spectrum, are voting YES. What I can’t fathom out is why 16yr olds today, who have had to live close to half their life in austerity caused by rampant and arrogant spending by a Labour Westminster government, would vote for more of the same. Turkeys and Christmas?

    • Scrapper

      I work in Scotland, it’s not GREAT. It’s as if I’m surrounded by a mob of football hooligans who are just waiting for you to open your rmouth and betray the fact that you support the other team. My life is in danger in this over-heated atmosphere.

      • Jambo25

        Utter Drivel. My English wife with her strong English accent has lived up here for 40 years. She has never even had a verbal insult based on her accent and origins let alone felt that her life is in danger. The same is true of English friends who have lived up here (Edinburgh, Fife and West Lothian) for the same period of time.

    • HJ777

      “Those Scots old enough to have experienced the Thatcher reforms in Scotland (and other parts of the UK), across the socio-economic spectrum, are voting YES.”

      Are they? All of them? How do you know?

      Aren’t many grateful for the huge wave of inward investment that happened under her government in, for example, electronics (which created a jobs boom for electronics engineers – of which I was one – in Scotland)?

      What about the fact that Scotland was about 10% poorer per head when she came to power than England but that it had caught up by the time the Tories left power?

      • Callum

        indeed it did, but UK’s GDP rose from £2984 GDP per person (inc inflation) in 1979 to £3987 GBP per person (inc inflation) in 1990. So whilst Scotland undoubtedly did benefit during the period it was seriously outperformed by the other UK regions.

        It’s difficult to tell what happened to the electronics industry – there are still some great companies, e.g. Wolfsson – but Ireland really took the magic with the economic incentives during the 00’s and so the big players like GE, Wang etc have all diminished to a fraction of their former size. It wasn’t a long lasting trend unfortunately.

        • HJ777

          The point is that it performed better than the average.

          What happened in electronics was high costs and taxes while money was diverted into the public sector. No industry is more international and open than electronics.

  • swatnan

    Definitely not. They are still children at that age.

  • nae a belger

    A reasonable article – only one or two points (minor)
    1) You proclaim the students of Nairn academy to be “ferociously bright” essentially because they seem to reject Secession – or to put it another way they agree with you.
    Not sure that’s proof of intelligence (or stupidity)
    2) The two pupils in Nairn don’t really prove your argument. Being scared that English firms wouldn’t want to employ Scots doesn’t suggest that they “like the idea of being plugged into a network like the UK”. Rather that they are scared that the English might get aggrieved at being spurned.
    The other pupil wants to work in London and that is all you say on it. Neither you or anyone else can speculate no further. They might wish to work in Central Banking (in which case London is currently the only option) or musical theatre (might get a bit boring constantly playing in Eden Court, Inverness)
    However in the main, the idea of voting at 16 seems reasonable and I am glad that the pupils in Nairn are getting involved. Whatever happens it is their future on the line.

    • allymax bruce

      “1) You [Fraser], proclaim the students … to be “ferociously bright”
      essentially because they seem to reject Secession – or to put it another way they agree with you. Not sure that’s proof of intelligence (or stupidity)”

      Quite; another example of ‘bright young things’ (Evelyn Waugh), being ‘managed’ by the Westminster system.

  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    Fraser, we must throw the kitchen sink at this next …

  • @PhilKean1

    Fraser. I am not going to be angry with you for what I regard –

    as a short-sighted, irresponsible suggestion. Or with Cameron for his naive and un-Conservative decision to set an unwelcome precedent which will surely encourage Miliband to bring it in for UK General Elections if he become Prime Minister.

    No, I am going to accept that, along with this implied conclusion that 16 year-olds are mentally and intellectually mature enough to vote, we should also accept ………..

    (1) – That they should now be tried as adults in criminal prosecutions

    (2) – And that they no longer need to have their identity protected – (for legal reasons) – and so should not remain anonymous.

    Unless, of course, you think that 16 year-olds are not properly cognisant of their responsibilities and their actions for this to happen. Which means that ………..??

    • english_pensioner

      Yes, if they are considered responsible enough to vote, which I consider to be one of the most important responsibilities of the citizen, they should be treated as adults in all respects, including not only justice but also driving, drinking alcohol, smoking, fighting in the Services, etc. If the state decides that they are insufficiently responsible and need to be prevented from doing any of these things, they are insufficiently responsible to vote.

      • @PhilKean1


        Socialist SNP and Labour want it because kids tend to be left-leaning, and so seek to take advantage of their naivety. And dreamers wax lyrical about an ideal that has many contradictions and limitations.


        • Damon

          “[B]ecause kids tend to be left-leaning… .”
          I’m not sure that’s true. The assumption that they’re overwhelmingly “green” has also been shown to be bogus. I still wouldn’t give the little b_ggers the vote, however.

  • HookesLaw

    Takking to a Scottish couple on holiday, both of whom are going to vote No, they say Salmonds ploy of lowering the voting age has backfired bacause the young seem disposed to vote No as well

  • Swiss Bob

    Labour following its policy of treating children like adults?

    At least it’s better than their last attempt to ‘enfranchise’ children.

  • fundamentallyflawed

    16 year old voting is nonsense. Most 16 year olds do not have the maturity to embrace modern issues involved in running the country. Miliband wants 16 year old voting as in my experience (I was young once) 16 yr old students are generally more pro-socialist than when they get older.

    Except Miliband himself when his fathers views were aired in public by the Daily Mail said that they shouldn’t be counted because he was young… you can’t have it both ways

    • allymax bruce

      I don’t think Ed Miliband wants to ‘extend the franchise’ to 16yr-olds for a purpose of better democracy. I think Ed Miliband wants to further ‘enfranchise’ the populace into the politicisation of the People. In other words, we are being fed the bs that Westminster is fundamentally important to our lives. When, in-fact, it’s not.

      • fundamentallyflawed

        Not for a better democracy – more voters willing to vote labour by skewing the voting pool. For people in Wales/Scotland/N. Ireland they have de-evolved powers so Westminster isn’t as important to them anyway,

        • allymax bruce

          “Not for a better democracy – more voters willing to vote labour by skewing the voting pool.”
          I understand that; but my contention is that it’s not about ‘extend(ing) the franchise’, as Fraser suggests. Rather, it’s about instilling the ideal, that Politicians, by default, are the most important aspect of our lives, to more of the populace. It’s called The Politicisation of the Populace’. Think how politicians are now revered like celebrities, constantly on our tv screens, and why we’re given so much opportunity to voice our opinions? That all herds us, the populace, into the Political Dependency; owned and managed by politicians. When, in-fact, we don’t need them to control any part of our lives; they should be ‘working for us'; not the other way around!

  • HD2

    Don’t be so silly: 16yo are still children in so many areas of law.
    And most <25's don't vote anyway…

Can't find your Web ID? Click here