BY LISA FALCONER firstname.lastname@example.org
Following a Democracy Week at Plockton High, pupils voted Yes to Scottish independence in a referendum ballot held in the school last Friday.
The week of events was organised by the school’s ILC Youth Forum and culminated in a vote involving the entire school. A total of 265 pupils voted, resulting in a 55 per cent Yes vote while 44 per cent voted No and there were three spoiled papers.
Of the school’s 120 pupils who will be eligible to vote on 18th September, 58 per cent voted Yes and 40 per cent No, with two spoiled ballot papers. The remaining 145 pupils also favoured independence but with a closer margin at 51 per cent.
The week opened with a whole school assembly attended by Highlands and Islands MSPs Rhoda Grant and Dave Thompson, representing Better Together and Yes Scotland respectively. Each was given 10 minutes to address the audience before taking questions from the floor.
Introducing the MSPs, the school’s democracy ambassador — S6 pupil Emily Kilbride from Applecross — said: “This week is all about giving pupils of voting age the information they need to make an educated vote in the independence referendum and those that are not eligible a better understanding of all the issues within this important event.
“This concerns all of you, no matter how old you are, as it’s all to do with your future.”
RHODA GRANT, herself a former pupil of Plockton High, said: “In Scotland we have the benefits of devolution plus the stability of being part of the UK, and that union has worked well for us for the last 300 years. If you want to know some of the benefits of being in the UK – those are not just benefits I highlight as being part of the UK – they are the benefits that the campaign for independence highlight as being benefits. They are the benefits that they want to keep after independence.
“They want to keep the pound, they want to keep our currency union, they want to be part of the UK energy market. We have international co-operation because we are well recognised, we have trade – the rest of the UK is our largest trading partner. With NATO membership we have an open border with the rest of the UK, we have European membership and it is very clear that the campaign for independence want to retain membership.”
She added: “I believe strongly in devolution and I know that devolution and independence are two totally different things. Independence is about pulling powers to one place, so taking them to Edinburgh instead of London. Devolution is about putting powers out, making them happen more locally, and I think decisions should be taken as locally as possible.
“I would suggest that you vote to stay in the UK because you’re young. It’s your future and this is probably more important to you than someone of my age, who is getting older. We are part of the UK family — and how many families here have relations in England and Wales and Ireland? We don’t want to split them up and neither do we want to split up the UK family so I very much hope that you will vote No on Friday when you get the chance to vote and in September you also vote No.”
Dave Thompson then addressed the audience of students and teachers. He said: “If you look at what we are going to be doing on the 18th of September, we are going to be voting on the future of Scotland. It’s a great opportunity. It’s an opportunity to create the kind of country we all want to live in and some of you in here will actually be able to vote on that day. It’s an opportunity to vote for a really exciting future and for the chance to make sure we always get the government we vote for in Scotland.
“There is nothing wrong with independence. It’s a normal thing. There is nothing strange about it – we would just be the same as all the nearly 200 independent countries across the world, a lot of them smaller than Scotland but thriving nonetheless. We want to turn a rich country into a rich society where everyone benefits. The richest country in terms of how much they produce per individual is Luxembourg, with a population the size of Edinburgh, and nobody is telling them they can’t or shouldn’t be independent.
“We are a wealthy country — we are not a country on its knees, we are not a small bankrupt place. Nine point one per cent of the taxation that went to London last year came from Scotland and we only have 8.3 per cent of the population. Imagine how many of you when you leave school and go and get a job want to stay with your parents for the rest of your lives? Do you want to come home and hand over your wages and get so much back? Or do you want to strike out there with your own job, own house and make your own future? That’s what I’m suggesting we need to do in Scotland. It’s time we voted for our independence — to stand on our own two feet, to make a really exciting future for ourselves. More of the same is not going to be good. Don’t miss that opportunity.”
FOLLOWING the assembly the MSPs met with S6 pupils for a more informal discussion and were also shown ‘opinion boards’ specially created for the week, and designed to further inform pupils about both sides of the argument.
Afterwards several pupils said the chance to talk directly with the MSPs had helped them arrive at a decision, the majority backing independence and eagerly pinning on colourful ‘Yes’ badges which Mr Thompson had handed out. He gifted his own gold Yes pin to pupil Kirsten Glover from Applecross, who said: “The Yes campaign were stronger today — not necessarily in general, but there was more information and facts and figures.”
Her fellow pupil, Alexander MacLeod from Broadford, added: “Before, I was very stubborn towards the Yes campaign but I think now that they have presented both sides of the argument it opened my mind and to be honest I am more inclined to vote Yes.”
Over the course of the week various events were held, designed to inform and educate pupils before they cast their votes. A referendum-themed baking sale also raised £32.25 for the Plockton ILC Youth Forum.
SPEAKING AFTER THE VOTE, Plockton High rector Susan Galloway said the week had been “tremendously successful”.
She said: “Today’s referendum vote showed all pupils how to go about the actual process of voting and the entire week has engaged the whole school in the processes of democracy. The ILC Youth Forum Group have worked really hard with youth leader Paul Bassett in planning the week and organising all of the events; they have been focused and extremely well-organised and deserve a great deal of credit for their efforts.”
Democracy ambassador Emily Kilbride added: “When people had voted, I did a small survey asking if they felt better informed about voting, the referendum and democracy in general and 76 per cent felt they had more information and they could make a more informative vote. Ninety per cent of those asked for their views thought having politicians in to address the school was a positive and informative experience.
“I feel this week was highly beneficial to Plockton High School, because it has made the pupils more politically aware. The week has given first-time voters an opportunity to experience voting and helping to reduce their fears and anxiety about voting.”
Welcoming the Yes vote, Mr Thompson said: “I am obviously delighted at the result of the whole-school referendum vote held by Plockton High School given that the majority of the children that voted voted Yes to Scottish independence. After all, these children are Scotland’s future and they have the opportunity to take control of the future of their country.”
He commended the pupils. “Their behaviour was impeccable,” he said, “and their questions were well thought-out and showed that they have thought about the referendum and the opportunities that are available for them in an iMrs Grant added: “The referendum will impact most on young people and the opportunities they will enjoy in the future. Hopefully when the real vote comes they will vote to take down barriers rather than put them up. I hope that come September they will vote to remain united.”
Whatever way the vote goes in September, if Plockton’s pupils are any indication it is clear that Scotland’s young people are taking seriously the right to vote – and have a say in their country’s future – and that can only be a good thing.