Scottish independence: Bill to lower voting age lodged


Students at Linlithgow Academy on their impending responsibility in voting in Scotland's independence referendum

Proposed legislation to let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in the Scottish independence referendum has been formally brought to parliament.

SNP ministers said it would ensure everyone aged 16 and over on the day of the autumn 2014 vote could take part.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said young people had the biggest stake in the future of the country.

Labour said further clarity was needed to ensure every 16-year-old was able to vote on polling day.

And the Scottish Conservatives said they did not support using the referendum for a "trial extension" of the voter franchise.

The Scottish government's bill to lower the voting age from 18 came just ahead of a separate piece of legislation on the arrangements to hold the referendum itself.

Ministers said their The Scottish Referendum (Franchise) Bill would:

  • Set out who can vote in the referendum, placing young voters on an equal footing with other electors.
  • Give electoral registration officers powers to register those who will be 16 or over on the day of the vote.
  • Store information on young people separately from other electoral registers, with restricted access to ensure the data is secure.

Lowering the voting age for all elections is a long-standing SNP policy, and the party says it has been backed by organisations including Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS, as well as the Scottish TUC, National Union of Students and the Electoral Reform Society.

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Nicola Sturgeon - backed by other parties, with the exception of the Conservatives - is adamant that it is right to extend the franchise for this referendum”

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The UK government previously opposed votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in the independence referendum, although the measure was eventually included in the Edinburgh Agreement, which set out the terms for the vote and was signed by both Westminster and Scottish ministers.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said: "No-one has a bigger stake in the future of our country than today's young people and it is only right that they are able to have a say in the most important vote to be held in Scotland for three centuries.

"In next year's referendum, Scotland's 16 and 17-year-olds will be given the opportunity to shape their country's path by choosing what type of country they want Scotland to be."

She added: "We want to make sure that our young people have the opportunity to engage in Scotland's democratic process.

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It's an exaggeration to believe that 16 or 17-year-olds are markedly more likely to vote in favour of independence”

End Quote Prof John Curtice Polling expert

"We want to give them the right to voice their views, freely and confidently, on the matters that affect them."

The bill was welcomed by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who said: "Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the independence referendum is an important step in our efforts to build a fairer society.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats will be proud to support this move and hope that it will open the door to wider reform across the UK."

Labour MSP Neil Bibby also backed the legislation, but added: "Questions have been raised about the practicalities of ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote, is able to vote and we will scrutinise the legislation closely to ensure that these have been answered.

"There is now a short amount of time between the legislation being submitted, debated, passed and it being implemented across Scotland later this year."

The Tories' Annabel Goldie said young people would only have a "very restricted" opportunity to test their knowledge and opinions against life experience, adding: "The Scottish Conservatives are not hostile to debate on the different age limits for different activities, but are not supportive of singling out the independence referendum for a trial extension of franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds."

Young people "ready to vote"

kyle thornton

Kyle Thornton, who is 18 and vice-chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said 16 and 17-year-olds were ready to vote.

The Glasgow University student, who became a community councillor at the age of 16, told the BBC: "Independence is going to affect 16 and 17-year-olds more than any other group in society, because they're just going to be around the longest.

"I think they're ready to vote, I think they've got the intelligence, I think they've got the ability to cast a vote, and, if I'm honest, I can't see a difference between a 16-year-old voting and an 18-year-old voting."

He added: "Not that many young people are interested in politics, but I think young people get interested in the issues and interested in things that affect them, affect their lives.

"Use the word politics, it will put off most people, but if you talk about things like equal marriage, talks about things like jobs, the economy, young people then get interested."

Polling expert Prof John Curtice said there was a lack of evidence to suggest that younger teenagers could play a big role in achieving a "Yes" vote - a point raised by critics of the SNP's policy.

He added: "If you look at the polls in the round, what you discover is, yes, younger people are perhaps a little more likely to be in favour of independence than those who are in their 30s or 40s.

"Certainly it's an exaggeration to believe that 16 or 17-year-olds are markedly more likely to vote in favour of independence than everybody else."

The franchise bill, which needs to be passed by MSPs before becoming law, will base voter eligibility on Scottish parliamentary and council elections.

That means groups of people entitled to vote include people living in Scotland who are British, Irish or from other EU countries, "qualifying Commonwealth citizens" and members of the armed services serving overseas who are registered to vote in Scotland.

The Scottish government has already lowered the voting age to 16 in one area, when it piloted health board elections in Dumfries and Galloway and Fife.

The Scottish Parliament's special cross-party referendum committee will now scrutinise the bill, and issued a call for evidence to the public.

MSPs on the committee said they wanted to hear from young people on how best to reach younger teenagers who were not politically engaged.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Remember that Scottish law allows 16 year olds to marry. If it is deemed that they are 'old enough' to marry then why is this voting at 16 or 17 so 'offensive' to some people?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @2. sealpup

    Substitute the phrase '16 year olds' for 'women' and how does your statement sound - wasn't that long ago that allowing women to vote would have been deemed preposterous.

    Personally, the more negative campaigning I see from the NOs the more I warm to a YES vote. I'm also concerned that if there is a NO vote then the gloves will be off at Westminster and we'll be targetted with cuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Alex Salmond may be a lot things, but stupid certainly isn't one of them! A very contrived move to get exactly what he wants for himself. In my view, and hopefully that of many others, this whole farce is for his personal aggrandisement only. Hopefully our 16 and 17 year olds don't want to live in 1314 and it won't be a case of all hail King Salmond...perish the thought...

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    why should they vote when they cannot vote in local or general elections,why are foreigners living in the country allowed to vate when thousands of scots living in england and elsewhere arenot allowed a vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Let's see...

    You can work and pay tax at 16. You can get married at 16. You can legally have sex and have a kid at 16. You can enlist at 16.

    Nope, not seeing a problem with this or any other vote actually.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    How long before BBC Scotland close down comments?

    Not longer than an hour on past form.

    How long before they are open again for comments?


    BBC Scotland is a disgrace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I would have loved being able to vote in an election when I was 16 or 17 (I missed out on the Scottish election in 2003 by a few months). There are many at that age working, at uni or college, or who have a real interest in politics - they deserve a say.

    I have fond memories of having political debates with school friends online in my teenage years. I welcome the vote of 16 and 17 year olds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    @Damian #5

    16\17 year olds are old enough to leave school, live alone, get married and work so old enough to take part in a vote that will impact their lifes.

    They can probably even spell "guarantee" by that point.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    More anti-independence guff from the usual suspects at BBC Scotland and by outed UKIP supporter Prof Curtice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    without the 16/17 yr olds Salmond does not stand a chance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This should be a permanent extension of the right to vote.

    No taxation without representation - that should be the battle cry. If you are old enough to pay tax, then you are old enough to vote.

    Yes, some 16 year olds have a limited understanding of national and local politics. But then again, there are plenty of 50 years olds that are semi-literate and have no understanding either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    It's just another blatantly cynical move by a blatantly cynical party, who hope that a younger and less mature demographic will be more susceptible to all the sentimental posturing and emotive tub-thumping that will no doubt ramp up as the great day approaches. Never mind worrying about how we'll pay for education, health and pensions - just remember Bannockburn!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    The franchise for Scotland's 16 & 17 year olds shouldl be extended to all elections!

    The support 16 & 17 year olds should receive prior to vote is to read the disapointing anti Scottish comments posted on bbc boards by the no change camp.

    16 & 17 year olds should ponder what Darling offer them once he has his peerage, trident's been renewed and we are dragged into another war?

    C McK

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    A good decision. Now let us extend it to all elections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I,m very sceptical of any new initiative that politicians introduce where voting is concerned and i really dont think that there will be too many 16 and 17 year olds who will be interested in it. If there is a low turnout as i expect there will be on this what will be the repercussions as the amount of people eligible to vote has increased.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Lets face it Salmond would sell his mother into slavery if he thought he would get a vote out of it.
    With a man like him on the horizon the Scots should be careful what they wish for. They might get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It is obvious that the SNP sees an advantage in this measure towards achieving a 'YES' vote in the referendum. If not, Salmond would not have pressed for it. Without the involvement of the entire UK electorate, this referendum is a farce and the fact that the Westminster Parliament has aquiesced so meekly to SNP demands is a disgrace, given that secession was never part of the UK devolution agenda

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    If the SNP thought it would help then they'd be making cats and dogs eligable to vote. If they want a 'yes' that badly just give the vote to England and I gaurantee you'll get a 'yes'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    There isn't much difference between someone who is 16 and someone who is 18 and since this independence would affect them the most then they should have their fair say in the matter.

    They should definitely get the vote here. They are the ones who will have to grow up with this final decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    If it doesn't happen next year it will happen eventually.

    The new generation are free-thinking, proud and many are fed up with imperialism and "britishness"


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