Scotland’s vote for independence is now complete, and the nays have it. With the highest voter turnout in Scottish history, 55% of Scots voted to remain in the union, spoiling a breakaway for the 45% who voted to leave.
Although most Americans don’t consider the contemporary British government to be a bastion of conservative thought, the citizens of Scotland tend to be more liberal than the United Kingdom as a whole. The 2010 election of a Conservative British government angered many voters in Scotland where the Conservative Party is deeply unpopular. Many in Scotland desire to spend less on defense and more on social programs like healthcare, education, and welfare. Scottish First Minister (and leader of the independence movement) Alex Salmond argues that Scotland should have total control of their own affairs, and that revenues from Scotland’s offshore oil fields should belong to Scotland alone, and at least 45% of Scotland believes him.
What I found fascinating about Scotland’s move for independence was the demographics of the election results. For Scotland’s vote for independence, 16 and 17 years olds were allowed to cast ballots. Although the election was decided by 10 percentage points, the vote among teenage Scottish voters was more lopsided, with over 70% voting in favor of independence. Some pundits are saying this was an election of hearts vs. heads. A popular myth attributes British statesman Winston Churchill with quipping: “If you are not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, if you are not a conservative at forty you have no brain,” which might explain some of the reason young Scots tended to vote to leave the relatively more conservative United Kingdom, and older Scots voted “no” out of fear of becoming a more socialistic Scotland.
While I am slow to admit that all older voters are smarter than all younger voters, I am quick to suggest that in social democracies, nearly all younger voters experience citizenship differently than nearly all older voters. For example, from age 0-16, most children live a life of dependence where they produce very little and yet consume quite a bit. Although not their fault, very little is demanded of youngsters in social democracies, yet they experience being well fed, well educated, and they enjoy access to urgent health care systems that are rather responsive to the common ailments of youngsters. Nary a thought goes through a teenage head about who pays for all the amenities they almost universally enjoy. On the other hand, the average 55-year-old voter must work for their food, education, and health care, and in social democracies they also have to pay for the food, education, and health care of voters who don’t work. This contrast in experiences explains a lot about the predictable outcomes of voter demographics.
In the future, we are going to see aggressive efforts from the Left in social democracies to lower voting ages because the life experiences of the young predestines their voting behavior towards social utopias. From their vantage point, food is always on the table, school is always in session, and health care is always available; and, someone else always pays for it. Only the older voter, who actually pays for the social programs in social democracies, truly appreciates the real costs.
As governments continue to shift away from republican/constitutional forms towards more social democratic systems, conservatives are going to be at a structural disadvantage. Demagogues will persuade the young that with correct leadership and technology, we can all enjoy an overflowing cornucopia of government provided goods and services completely paid for by someone else. Unfortunately, in free societies that burden their most productive citizens with taxes and regulations to finance utopia, the golden geese tend to fly away to societies that burden them less.
Whether suffrage will come to 16 year-olds in the U.S. anytime soon remains to be seen; however, for the security of the republic, we need to ensure young voters understand that at some point, they will be expected to give more than they take from society. Those who don’t understand this expectation may find themselves trapped in a system they voted to create.