Scottish independence: Meet the 16-year-olds who could change the referendum's outcome

On 18 September, they will turn 16 – and head straight to the polling station. As Scotland prepares to decide on its independence, the photographer Craig Easton toured his homeland to find out how the UK’s first under-18s to be given the vote are bearing up to the responsibility

It's quite the 16th birthday present: the chance to decide the future of your nation. Well, to have a say in it, at least. That's the situation a clutch of Scottish teenagers will find themselves in on 18 September, as the referendum on independence allows 16-year-olds to cast their vote on whether to stay within the United Kingdom or go it alone.

Although he no longer lives in Scotland, the Edinburgh-born photographer Craig Easton works in his native land a lot and feels the referendum is "potentially a major turning point in the history of not just Scotland and England, but the UK as a whole and the wider world too". While the debate rumbles on, he was struck by how, despite the bold decision being taken to give teenagers below the age of 18 the vote, no one was really asking for their opinions.

"Inevitably with these debates, the headlines are concerned with politicians, business leaders, celebrities and activists who strive to make their voices heard," he says. "It occurred to me that if we are asking 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, they should be given an opportunity to take part in the debate and have their opinions heard." And so he set about photographing and documenting the opinions of Scotland's newest voters.

Easton has no axe to grind; this project was determinedly not concerned with his opinion on independence (he won't even reveal his own stance for this article); it was about the next generation of Scots. And so, in order to give as random and unbiased a sample of teenage thoughts as possible, he hit on the idea of finding the very youngest, freshest of voters: those whose 16th birthdays fall on 18 September.

He went through councils and schools to track down his sweet 16s, because – bizarrely, given that these young people are being allowed a say in the potential break-up of the United Kingdom – they're unable to consent to being photographed. Easton had to obtain permission from parents and guardians first, "something that will bring a wry smile to many a documentary photographer", he drily observes.


Easton's images show the teens against backdrops that convey something of their life, personality or hobbies. "I wanted to know a little bit about each of them, their interests, their passions, where they hang out," he explains. "It then seemed obvious to include a reference to that in the picture. Sometimes it's the location we chose – school, bedroom or outdoors. Sometimes it was a hobby – bagpipes or ballet. I wanted these portraits to be an opportunity for each of them to present themselves and their opinions in their own way."

To that end, the project also includes each subject's handwritten notes, explaining their voting intentions and their thoughts about independence. From neat lines to scruffy scrawls and furious crossings-out, they hum with individuality. For Easton, it was a precious opportunity to present these young people's opinions entirely unmediated.

Their comments reveal, as you would expect, a wide range of opinions, ranging from a Yes vote because they see independence as offering a chance to establish a fairer society, to a No vote under an "if it ain't broke…" rationale.

Easton was heartened by his discussions with his subjects, finding them to be an engaged, thoughtful bunch. "There were one or two who expressed feeling a heavy weight of responsibility and that they didn't feel equipped to make such an important decision, but all of them are thinking very deeply about it and are very knowledgeable about the issues," he says.

"I think they are very conscious that it is their future that they are voting on, and I heard really impressive and coherent arguments put forward on both sides."

Some may argue that 16 is too young for responsible voting. We don't let 16-year-olds drink, drive, get a tattoo or even watch particularly gory movies, after all. But if there's one thing the project has proved to Easton, it is that Scottish youngsters deserve to have their say.

"It could be argued that the youngest voters have the most at stake, so their views are as valid and as important as everyone else's. It's their future, and it seems to me that they are at least as well informed as any of the adults I've spoken to."

For more:

people And here is why...
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all failed
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

LSA Level 3 required in Caerphilly

£50 - £60 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: O...

Welsh Year 6 Teacher required in Barry

£100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?