TWO years ago, Alex Salmond explained why 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote in the independence referendum.

It was important, he said, to give them the vote, especially in elections on Scotland's future, as "they were the people with perhaps the most at stake" in it.

Yesterday 500 potential first-time voters, part of the generation that could hold the key as to whether Scotland votes on September 18 to secede from the union, filed into Hamilton's Townhouse for the South Lanarkshire schools' debate on the independence referendum.

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Representing the Yes side were MSP Linda Fabiani, Elaine C Smith, and Michael Gray, from Business for Scotland. For the No side were Annabel Goldie, Mike Dailly from Govan Law Centre, and Daniel Swain, a Better Together youth representative.

There were eight questions in all, formulated from submissions by pupils in advance and posed by Angus Simpson, the moderator. They covered a lot of ground.

Should the minimum voting age be reduced to 16 for every election? Will there, post-independence, be more job opportunities for young people? Will Scotland be better off economically in an independent Scotland or as part of the UK? What additional powers is Scotland likely to accrue in the event of a Yes vote?

What about the country's security? How final will the referendum result be? Did the panels anticipate a divided Scotland after the referendum? And how can we prevent personal abuse on social media?

The panellists' replies contained no surprises - each camp adhered, of course, to its respective lines - but the tone was intelligent and informed. No-one here was talking down to an audience just because it happened to consist of teenagers in school uniform.

Issues such as renewables, Trident and the online trolling of JK Rowling were all aired.

On the subject of jobs for young people, Daniel Swain referred to a report about the high number of Scottish businesses that were owned and operated from outside the country. The centre of economic power would not, he insisted, move to Holyrood, or Edinburgh, after independence.

Putting the opposite case, Michael Gray said there would be more job opportunities. He spoke of the jobs potential in such fields as healthcare and exports.

On whether Scotland would be better off economically, Annabel Goldie argued knowledgeably that the country would be much better off as part of the UK.

Elaine C Smith, replying, said she became a grandmother three weeks ago; a few weeks earlier she had read a Herald report that one male child in every four born in Glasgow this year would not live to the age of 65. She referred to the average male age expectancy of 58 in Glasgow's East End. "I'm sorry. If this is Better Together, if this is the best of both worlds, you can keep it."

At the start of the debate, the pupils had been asked if they intended voting in September, if eligible. Their responses, via touchpads, was 85 per cent yes, 10 per cent no. Not sure, five per cent. After the panel discussion, the question was put again. Now 93 per cent said they would vote. Those who wouldn't decreased to seven per cent. The panellists had clearly had an effect.

Many pupils were influenced by what they heard, though others were confirmed in their opinions. Francesca Lawson, 16, of Holy Cross High, in Hamilton, who will vote Yes, said: "It was really interesting. I thought the Yes campaign delivered a lot more better than the No campaign. They had a lot more passion - I felt they connected with the young people more."

Stephen Farrell, 16, who will vote No, said: "The points that the No campaigners were making, I thought, were better, more informative. But the Yes campaign put their points across a lot better - their speaking was a lot better."