Holyrood 2016: Thousands of teens prepare for first vote

Council staff deliver signage and materials for set-up of the Lothian Chamber polling station ahead of tomorrow's election. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Council staff deliver signage and materials for set-up of the Lothian Chamber polling station ahead of tomorrow's election. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

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THOUSANDS of 16 and 17-year-olds in the Capital are getting ready to vote for the first time in tomorrow’s Scottish Parliament elections.

The voting age for Holyrood elections has been lowered from 18 after the success of the move at the 2014 independence referendum.

Not all my friends are as interested, but they understand the importance of getting the vote, so they are going to vote, although they have not all made up their minds.

Ellie Buglass

Across Edinburgh there are 6465 under-18s eligible to vote, with another 6882 in the rest of the Lothians.

The SNP’s Mhairi Black, 21, the youngest MP in the Commons, is due to visit Edinburgh today to meet young voters.

And other parties have also been targeting those able to take part in the election for the first time.

Owen Jones, 17, from Forrester Park, a pupil at St Augustine’s High School, is enthusiastic about having the vote. “Lots of things affect young people and we need our say,” he says.

“Everyone I know of my age is planning to vote – and not because their parents are making them; they’re interested and want to.”

Owen lives in Edinburgh Western and is going to vote SNP in the constituency vote but is still trying to decide between the SNP, the Greens or Rise on the list vote.

He says the issues that matter most to him include having a second referendum, tuition fees, the cost of education, renewable energy and the Gaelic language.

“I think it’s fascinating that all the parties have accepted the SNP is going to be the government. It’s kind of disheartening because it’s a democracy and they shouldn’t be thinking that way.”

Ellie Buglass, 16, from Colinton, who goes to Firrhill High School, plans to vote Green.

“It’s not easy because you see them all talking and it sounds great – they’ll do this and do that – but you need to dig deeper to make a proper decision. I did quite a bit of research.

“Older people don’t really realise how political social media can be. It’s quite easy to use Instagram or Tumblr or Facebook to do research about politics.

“It depends on your circle of friends, but quite often I will get political videos popping up.”

She mentions inequalities in education and housing among key issues.

“The Green Party has a long-term goal of equality for everyone. As a young voter, I’m voting for the future.

“As far as Labour are concerned, I do like Jeremy Corbyn but it’s hard to support a party that’s divided in itself.”

Tom Lance, 17, from Corstorphine, says he is voting Liberal Democrat in Edinburgh Western.

But he says: “From my perspective it’s just an anti-SNP vote. It’s going to be an SNP landslide, so I’m voting for the candidate who has any chance of beating the SNP.

“I don’t support independence and I don’t think they’ve done a good job on tuition fees because although they’re free it has ended up costing 152,000 college places – not that I think any of the others are much better. They are all about as incompetent as each other.”

Tom, right, has yet decide on his list vote.

He is pleased the voting age has been lowered for Holyrood elections. “You can drive at 17, pay taxes at 16, what reason is there not to give 16-year-olds the vote? The only justification people have for 18 is ‘It feels right’, but that’s not a proper justification.”

He believes 16- and 17-year-olds should also be getting a vote in the EU referendum. “I would be voting Out,” he says.

He expects a good turnout among new young voters. “North of the Border, post-referendum, I think there will be a lot of young people voting. All my friends are voting.”

Erin Lowe, 17, also from Corstorphine, says she has always tended towards the SNP but took time to look at what the other parties were saying before making up her mind how to vote.

“I watched all the leaders’ debates, listened to all the parties and I still found myself voting SNP – but that’s after a lot of thought and consideration. The most important issues for me are free higher education because I’m going to university next year, and mental health treatment because a lot of my friends have been affected by the system.”

Erin is interested in politics and is delighted to be able to vote.

“Not all my friends are as interested, but they understand the importance of getting the vote, so they are going to vote, although they have not all made up their minds,” she said.

Erin turns 18 next month so unlike many she will be able to vote in the EU referendum. “I’m really grateful I can vote in that – a lot of my friends won’t be able to and it’s very frustrating for them. You’re given you voice and then it’s taken away again.”

Toni Giugliano, SNP candidate in Edinburgh Western, who will be going with Mhairi Black to meet young people at the Millennium Centre in Muirhouse today, says he has no doubt lowering the voting age was the right thing to do.

“A lot of young people are working and paying taxes or thinking of going to university.

“We want to give them the confidence at the earliest possible stage to be masters of their own future and shape the society they live in. Mhairi Black is a great role model.”

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Lib Dem candidate in Edinburgh Western, said he had written to all first-time voters in the constituency.

“The issues that are important to young people are very similar to the ones that are important to their parents – from education to crime to employment opportunities.

“We’ve found as we go round the doorsteps that a lot of 16-year-olds often reflect the same kind of views as their parents – although sometimes you get really radical, galvanised young people who come out with very different ideas.

“But all the ones I have met are really excited about voting.”

Sarah Boyack, Labour candidate in Edinburgh Central, is impressed with how seriously young people take voting.

“Before Christmas I visited some schools to talk about the climate change talks in Paris and I was really struck by how much knowledge they had and how interested they were in what was going to happen in their lifetime.

“They were informed and engaged. You could tell it was an issue they had been covering in the curriculum but they had also been discussing it themselves.”

She says young people see voting as a responsibility and they often do research before making up their minds how to vote.

“They take time to read the literature, go online and check out the websites.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com