Support for Allowing 16- and 17-Year-Olds, Commonwealth, and EU Citizens to Vote in the Event of a Referendum on Scottish Independence

August 14, 2021
R&WS Research Team
Elections | GB Politics | Scotland
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As our latest independence referendum voting intention poll in Scotland revealed, the question of whether Scotland should become an independent country remains highly contested, with views differing strongly according to respondents’ age and political preferences.

Beyond the issues of whether and when a second referendum on independence should be held, the latest research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies takes a closer look at who Scottish respondents think should—and shouldn’t—be allowed to vote in the event of a referendum on Scottish independence.

In the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum, the voting age for Scottish elections was lowered from 18 to 16, thereby allowing 16- and 17-years-olds to participate in the referendum. Yet, seven years on, we find that the Scottish public remains split over the voting rights of young Scots.

Overall, 51% of respondents say 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland should be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence, and this proportion rises to 80% among those who would vote in favour of independence. Conversely, only 26% of respondents who would vote against Scotland becoming an independent country think 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland should be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence. Overall, 40% of respondents think 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland should not be allowed to vote in a referendum, and 8% are unsure.

These results are likely correlated to the fact that younger respondents in particular are more likely to be in favour of Scottish independence—62% of both 16-to-24-year-olds and 25-to-34-year-olds would vote ‘yes’ if a referendum asking whether Scotland should be an independent country were to be held tomorrow. As such, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in a referendum may increase the likelihood of the pro-independence side winning, which could explain the high levels of support for allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote among respondents who adopt a pro-independence stance.

Support for 16- and 17-year-olds being allowed to vote is also notably high among 16-to-24-year-olds (67%) and 25-to-34-year-olds (58%). Support tendentially declines with age, with respondents aged 65 and above the one age group in which a majority says 16- and 17-year-olds should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence.

Further, political preferences also appear to play an important role in determining respondents’ views on extending the right to vote to under-18s. While 77% of 2019 SNP voters and 53% of 2019 Labour voters think 16- and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the event of a referendum on Scottish independence, only 16% of 2019 Conservative voters think the same.

Where British citizens who are now living in Scotland but have only lived there for a year or less are concerned, half (50%) of respondents say they should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence, compared to 35% who think they should be allowed to vote and 15% who are unsure. Among respondents who would vote in favour of Scottish independence, 45% say British citizens who are now living in Scotland but have only lived there for a year or less should not be allowed to vote, while 41% say they should be allowed and 15% are unsure.

Further, a majority of 56% of the public agrees that British citizens who identify as Scottish (due to birth or ancestry) but now live elsewhere in the UK should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence—including 50% of respondents who would vote in favour of Scotland becoming an independent country. Conversely, 31% of respondents overall and 39% of respondents who would vote for independence think British citizens who identify as Scottish (due to birth or ancestry) but now live elsewhere in the UK should be allowed to vote in a referendum, and 13% overall say they don’t know.

Even more decidedly, 66% of respondents overall say British citizens who identify as Scottish (due to birth or ancestry) but now live abroad should not be allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence, while 22% think they should be allowed and 12% don’t know. Among respondents who would vote for Scottish independence, 58% think British citizens who identify as Scottish (due to birth or ancestry) but now live abroad should not be allowed to vote, compared to 30% who think they should be.

Respondents’ views are more positive when it comes to giving the right to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence to Commonwealth and EU citizens who have a demonstrable connection to Scotland. As such, 47% of respondents overall say Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote in a referendum on independence, and an equal proportion of 47% say EU citizens living in Scotland should also be allowed to vote. By comparison, 34% would oppose Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland being allowed to vote in a referendum on Scottish independence, and 39% would oppose EU citizens living in Scotland being allowed to vote. 19% and 13%, respectively, are unsure.

In both cases, support for giving the right to vote in a referendum on independence to Commonwealth and EU citizens living in Scotland is significantly higher among pro-independence respondents than among the Scottish public at large: Among those who would vote ‘yes’ if a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country were to be held tomorrow, 57% think Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote, compared to 28% who think they should not be, and 64% think EU citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote, while 27% think they should not be allowed.

Further, respondents’ political preferences also appear to influence their views on this matter. On the one hand, 46% of 2019 Labour voters and 55% of 2019 SNP voters think Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote in the event of a referendum on Scottish independence, and almost identical proportions of 2019 Labour voters (48%) and 2019 SNP voters (57%) think EU citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote in the event of a referendum on Scottish independence. On the other, the views of 2019 Conservative voters differ notably. Among this demographic group, the proportion of respondents who think Commonwealth and EU citizens living in Scotland should not be allowed to vote is higher than the proportion of respondents who think they should be allowed to, in the event of a referendum. Moreover, 2019 Conservative voters appear to draw a clearer distinction between Commonwealth and EU citizens than 2019 Labour and 2019 SNP voters: While 43% of 2019 Conservative voters think Commonwealth citizens living in Scotland should be allowed to vote in the event of a referendum, a significantly lower proportion of 31% think EU citizens living in Scotland should enjoy the same right.

Overall, these results thus suggest that Scottish respondents in general—and pro-independence respondents in particular—are broadly in favour of allowing a wider group of voters to participate in a potential second referendum on Scottish independence. The notable exception here concerns British citizens who identity as Scottish but do not currently reside in Scotland, as majorities of Scottish respondents think this category of voters should not be allowed to cast a vote in the event of an independence referendum.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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