Leading article: Too clever by half, Mr Salmond

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The Independent Online

Never let it be said that Alex Salmond lacks ingenuity. The proposal that 16- and 17-year-olds be allowed to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence is a display of considerable political initiative by Scotland's canny First Minister.

Mr Salmond's plan is to use the majority of his Scottish National Party (SNP) in Holyrood to force through measures to lower the voting age, so that he can make the most of the fact that polls consistently suggest that younger Scots are more strongly nationalistic than the older generations.

Surveys on voting intentions put the two sides neck-and-neck on the issue of independence, typically somewhere in the region of 39 per cent each. Assuming Mr Salmond presses on with his scheme, he will add anything up to 125,000 people to the electoral roll, which could be enough to tip the balance.

It is not difficult to see why the idea looked like a good one. But there is a downside to all this otherwise impressive creativity. It smacks rather too much of electoral sleight of hand; not playing fair; one might even say, bending the rules.

Eldridge Gerry, governor of 19th-century Massachusetts, learnt the hard way. He created a salamander-shaped Boston voting district to boost his party's votes, and he and his 'mander became a byword for electoral manipulation. The lesson for Mr Salmond? It is possible to be too clever.