Scottish independence: MSPs back referendum franchise plans

Children running alongside sign showing referendum date
Image caption The independence referendum will be held on 18 September 2014

Plans to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in next year's Scottish independence referendum have been backed by a Holyrood committee.

The Referendum Bill Committee also said it was right that convicted prisoners should be barred from voting.

And it said arrangements should be put in place to ensure service personnel were able to take part.

The committee has been scrutinising the Referendum (Franchise) Bill, which sets out who can and cannot vote.

A referendum on Scottish independence will be held on 18 September next year.

Allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote for the first time in a major Scottish election will add an extra 120,000 people to the register of those entitled to vote.

The committee's report backed the argument of Scottish ministers that it was right to give younger people a say in Scotland's future.

The MSPs said they were content with plans for a separate register of young voters, to protect identities, and dismissed fears that schools would become politicised ahead of the referendum.

On the issue of ensuring serving military personnel were able to cast their vote, the committee's report stated: "The committee is content with the Scottish government's proposed franchise in respect of all service personnel.

"What matters now is effective joint working between the Electoral Commission, electoral registration officers and the Ministry of Defence in order to provide information to these personnel about the registration options available to them."

The right of service personnel to vote has attracted "considerable interest" but some of the media reports on the issue have been "inaccurate", Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said during her evidence to the committee.

Forces personnel will have a range of options for registering to vote, the committee heard, and it will be up to electoral registration officers (EROs) to decide whether they are eligible.

However, Electoral Commission director of electoral administration Andrew Scallan told the committee that registration "is not available to all service personnel all of the time".

Registration options

Their ability to register depended on their particular circumstances, he said, and it will be for EROs to make a determination based on the information provided.

Ken Macdonald from the Information Commissioner's Office also highlighted "a possible gap in relation to the children of service personnel", noting that there is no provision for teenage children living overseas to make a service declaration and "would therefore be disenfranchised".

Electoral Commissioner for Scotland John McCormick said the Commission was cooperating with the MoD to provide information on the registration options for service personnel.

Referendum Bill Committee Convener Bruce Crawford said: "The Franchise Bill sets out who will be entitled to vote in the referendum and also how people, especially 16 and 17 year olds, will be registered in advance of the referendum.

"This committee has scrutinised the Scottish government's bill closely to ensure that parliament, and the people of Scotland, can have confidence in the franchise arrangements.

"Our committee recommends to the parliament that the general principles of the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill be agreed to."

The full parliament is due to debate Stage 1 of the Bill on 14 May, and it is expected to complete its parliamentary passage by the end of June.

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