IT’S a remarkably encouraging stat, in what’s been otherwise usually a grim week – the sixth anniversary of the first Scottish independence referendum. Some 71.3% of 16 to 34-year-olds currently support a Yes vote, in an aggregate of polls done by the New Statesman. Those over 55 are still heavily No (63.5%), but even the 35s to 54s are solidly pro-indy (at 58.3%).

I’m wondering today whether this extraordinary Yes percentage for younger voters connects with wider, more structural trends – particularly around the generation gap between political positions.

To begin with, it’s worth noting how much this indy youth majority has solidified over recent years. The Scottish Referendum Study’s final report in September 2015 noted those aged 25 to 29 were 62% for independence, with 30 to 39-year-olds at 55.2% Yes – but those in their teens and early 20s were reported as 54% for the Union.

It’s perhaps not that difficult to speculate on why that 16 to 34-year-old pro-indy vote has consolidated itself in the last half-decade. One obvious thing: not only has Brexit run roughshod over the Scottish majority Remain vote, but the franchise granted to 16 to 17-year-olds to vote in the indyref was withdrawn from them in the EU referendum. It has been withdrawn in every UK General Election since (although they will be able to vote in next year’s Holyrood election).

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Being given your political human rights by an independence-supporting government? That might be one good reason for you to give their ideas the benefit of the doubt. But there are certainly deeper, more material reasons for this indy youth-quake. We could draw a speedy parallel with the 2019 UK General Election, in terms of generational divides. Labour led by 43% in the youngest strata. Among the oldest, the Tories were ahead by 47. (Compare this to 2010, when Labour led the Tories by only 1% among 18 to 24-year-olds).

On the post-Corbyn left, there are some strong theories about this – which could also help explain the indy numbers. Keir Milburn, author of the excellent book Generation Left, notes that these political-generational gulfs have opened up all over the place. Take Sinn Fein’s youth-driven electoral success at the start of the year. Or, in the US, the clear age divides in both the Democratic primaries, and subsequent responses to popular protest.

Milburn notes that, at their core, current right-wing electoral coalitions are built on “propertied pensioners and home-owners at or near the end of their working lives”.

This group does well from their property values and their financial sector investments. The young, however, have no property or investments; their income is solely reliant on their wages; and their wellbeing rests on being able to afford their rented housing (or not).

Post the crash in 2008, newly-printed central bank money flowed in to plump up the financial securities of the Boomers. At the same time, young workers in the 2010s faced the “weakest decade for wage growth since the Napoleonic Wars”. The young face a different world with different priorities, which (for Milburn) explains their support for socialist figures such as Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez in the US, and Corbyn and McDonnell here.

Does this economic and social gulf also explain the solidifying of younger voter support for pro-indy parties such as the SNP and the Scottish Greens? It might do – if the young thought that fully sovereign powers could bring a significant reduction in the precarity and uncertainty of their lives and livelihoods. Maybe many do. These conditions have only intensified, under a number of perfidious Tory regimes, since 2014. So one might have thought that such youth alienation was an open goal for the SNP Gov to blooter its policy ball into.

Yet there are signs that the SNP leadership are pretty cloth-eared to the demands of this “radical generation” (or “Gen Alpha”). For example, SNP MSPs allied with the Tories to vote down all of Green MSP Andy Wightman’s proposals for financial support for tenants.

ACCORDING to the Resolution Foundation, “40% of renters are more likely than the population at large to be in workplaces that have been shutdown during the pandemic” – with the majority of those being young adults. This hits Gen Alpha right in the solar plexus.

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Or consider the level of protest around the Scottish Government’s algorithmic downgrading of this years exam results. It caused a full backdown, a noisily filled George Square crammed with articulate young women and men, and the coining of the 21st century’s most striking protest chant yet: “F**k your algorithm!”

The tide is trickling even into the corridors of the SNP as a party. This May, I noticed the Young Scots for Independence group noisily objecting to national service-like plans for a “volunteer resilience force” for future pandemics, suggested by the hawkish SNP MP Stewart McDonald.

This is a generation peculiarly sensitive to their labours and passions being taken for an unpaid, under-resourced, rip-off ride. To be urged by a slick minister to “voluntarily take on the burden of national security, in addition to the military”, will seem ludicrous to a generation with such a weakly resourced grip on their future.

Add to this the general radicalisation of Scotland’s young – in climate strikes/Fridays for the Future, Extinction Rebellion’s stunts and happenings, the ramifications of Black Lives Matter/decolonisation protests, and #MeToo.

These protests often take the Scottish Parliament building as the signifier of an establishment that is as complicit in the general ruin as any other. This isn’t entirely fair, but it isn’t entirely inaccurate either.

We should be happy to see the civic and public militancy of younger voters and citizens, whether supporting indy or other progressive causes. Particularly in a pandemic era which will isolate and immiserate them as acutely as any other groups, and in some aspects worse.

Psychologically, activism with others is much preferable than succumbing to addictions and narcissism, fuelled by social media such as Instagram and TikTok. The other night, I sat through the mea-culpas of various Silicon Valley tech bros, in the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma (very much worth watching).

They have designed a social media that profits from polarisation, body insecurity and status anxiety. If Gen A uses these networks instead to inform, mobilise and organise, they use them against their current grain.

Milburn suggests strikingly that what young radical adults might be doing is “re-inventing adulthood”. This was a maturity so clearly defined by neoliberalism as the mortgaged house, the display of goods, the high-performing job.

And now? The stories I hear from my youngest one is that the creatives among them are revelling in their communal, flat-hopping, post-materialist lives. They grow and share culture, food, care networks, digital resources and other opportunities among themselves.

They are super-conscious about how their immediate actions have global consequences (veganism, refugee solidarity and climate militancy are the most obvious expressions).

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In Scotland, these Alphas might well be what Milburn calls, quoting the German sociologist Karl Mannheim, an “entelechy” – meaning, the generation that helps to realise the potential of those around it.

Professor Ailsa Henderson, one of the authors of the original Scottish Referendum Study, mailed me yesterday to say that scholars used to think that 2014 Yes/No vote difference was explained by the “age effect” (younger/optimistic, older/grumpier).

Now she says, it’s regarded as “a generation effect … we’re seeing not just increased support for Yes among the youngest, but majority Yes support from age groups that, in 2014, were typically favouring No rather than Yes”.

Youth and younger adults are a growing energy source for the next indy campaign. What bridges can be built between their yearning precarity, and the over-55s’s defensive security? A question for another column.

But on the sixth anniversary of that most rubbish of all days, let’s also bathe in a little shaft of optimism. The weans are revolting. And we should be grateful.