Those delightful chaps over at the No campaign's official Twitter feed seem terribly excited about a new poll of the referendum voting intentions of 14-17 year olds. It does seem to have been an honestly conducted poll, but a number of points need to be borne in mind about it -
1) It sits rather oddly with the results of the last two Ipsos-Mori polls, which clearly showed that 18-24 year olds were the most likely to vote Yes to independence. There isn't a direct contradiction because we're talking about two different age groups, but it does seem somewhat improbable that 14-17 year olds would be the most conservative age group, while 18-24 year olds are the most radical. After all, 18-24 year olds are the 14-17 year olds of yesterday. Are the two cohorts really so different, and if so, what factor or factors can possibly explain that? Or does something magical happen to people around the date of their 18th birthday? Or is this polling evidence failing to tell the whole story?
2) The poll was conducted by telephone, and it may well be that young people aged 14-17 are more susceptible to a feeling of obligation to give the 'expected' answer to an authority figure down the line. A similar survey conducted online would be interesting for the purposes of comparison.
3) Perhaps most importantly of all, the poll was conducted by Market Research UK. This is presumably the same MRUK that became notorious for their inaccurate polls during the 2007 Holyrood campaign. Because they were the Herald's official pollster, this led to a number of comical articles which earnestly reported that Labour were sailing to victory, ignoring the fact that virtually every other pollster had the SNP in the lead.
4) Regardless of the true state of play among the youngest voters, we need to keep a sense of perspective about the overall significance of the youth vote. 16 and 17 year olds will make up only a very small percentage of the electorate next September, and will probably turn out to vote in lower numbers than older age groups. (I expect the turnout to be unusually high across all age groups given the importance of the vote, but it will be proportionately lower in the youngest groups.) Thus, the decision to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote will only swing the balance if the result is incredibly close.
The No campaign also tweeted this comment from 17-year-old Michaella -
"I like the fact that we are part of something bigger and staying united makes sense to me."
I also like being part of something bigger, Michaella, and staying united with the rest of the EU makes perfect sense to me. Unfortunately, Scotland's status as part of the parochial, right-wing UK is imperilling our continued membership of the European family of nations.
Luckily, we have a unique opportunity to do something about that.