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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  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    29. bagospanners

    Are you suggesting that in order to vote you must be a taxpayer? Perhaps you should have paid more attention at school. Many 16 and 17 year olds have part-time jobs and pay income tax, they also pay VAT on everything they buy and tax on any savings they have. I assume you have been confused by the Daily Mail but there are other sources of information why not seek them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Comments are open? It must be 'bash the SNP' time!

    I was 17 in 1987 and missed the general election by two months, it left me angry and frustrated that I couldn't play a part in trying to oust Thatcher and the Tories (we had a Tory MP at the time). I was 22 by the time I could vote again, this time against John Major's government. I wish I had the satisfaction voting against Thatcher though!

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    Comment number 39.

    I am happy enough that 16-17 yr olds vote in this. Only query is why now Mr Salmond, why not push for it as a manifesto pledge for ALL votes?

    The way it has come about seems like gerrymandering by SNP.

    I just wish S & S would be upfront about what a Yes vote means, how everything will be paid for and why no in/out vote on EU? Why have independence from UK just to become MORE dependent in EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    16yrs old , you can get married and join the army ! why not vote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The fact that the SNP think they have the right to change the rules to their advantage should be a warning for all those naive enough to support them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I don't mind 16/17 year olds having a say on this matter. One thing is for sure the standard of debate in schools will be much higher than the pack of lies we 'adults' will have to endure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    @11 What tripe you speak. Extending the franchise is a positive thing and will help engage younger people in the long term. Stop trying to use pathetic point-scoring to suit your own agenda of keeping everything the way it is just because its easier.
    We'll end up with a more democratic more engaged population and you respond with ancient battle references. Get a grip. Its 2014. I'll be voting YES

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The SNP have been brainwashing schoolchildren for years with their own, one-eyed view of Scottish history and culture. No wonder they are keen to allow 16 year olds to vote as they have been drip fed Salmond's drivel about independence since entering secondary education.Stand by for a social media onslaught by SNP as they try to put the last thought before voting into their empty heads

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Lets give the kids a vote as the SNP knows they are easily swayed by tales of the hated Sasenach's.
    Clutching at straws. If Scotland wants independence let them have it. The EU can subsidise them instead of us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    22. It's nothing to do with it being "offensive". It's to do with that age group being less likely to think seriously about the consequences. Yes, some of them will be mature for their age, and yes, there are many older people I wouldn't trust with a vote on "I'm a celebrity" but, *on average*, under-18s will be more likely to be swayed by emotive bull - and there will be no shortage of that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    By all means include 16 year olds, but As a shareholder in UK plc, and therefore affected by any change in its status, Why cannot I vote in the Referendum? This vote is being rigged by a self interest group that can perhaps be described as racist or zenophobic. It is interesting that the proponents are so desperate that they even precluded Scots living abroad from voting . Democracy denied?

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    Comment number 30.

    It smacks of moving the goalposts to get the desired result - of course I may be wrong....

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    Comment number 29.

    I get to vote as I pay tax and I have a democratic process to say how that money should be spent. All 16 year olds will now be in full time education until 18 why should they have a vote when they will not be paying into the system. This is another move by the SNP to try and get a yes vote that is miles away as it stands.

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    Comment number 28.

    @ boabstar 15

    well, I'm sorry that you seem to feel my dyslexia somehow excludes me from having a right to voice an oppionion. How very forward thin king of you, you must be so proud and let me guess, voting 'yes' by any chance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    16 is the age you can enlist and die for your country - the least your country can do is give you the vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I see this as being those 2 fishy characters - Salmond "silent d" and Sturgeon - being intent on fishing for votes amoungst the younger generation, a necessary ploy as both the First Minister and his Deputy have forgotten that "You can fool some of the people some of the time but not all of the people all of the time."

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    2 problems with this. The 16 & 17 year olds who will get this vote are currently 14, 15 & 16 years old. Children. Who will soon be targeted with an overwhelming amount of political dogma.
    A better use of time, if the franchise was to be changed, would be compulsory voting, thus ensuring no question as to the result, one way or another.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Given so few citizens actually vote then expanding the franchise to all adults in Scotland may be a way to reduce the democratic deficit.
    In all cases all adults In Scotland should have say in their future. Refusing this right will only disillusion more. 'The only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy'.
    Have an opinion then vote! Salmond bashing will not negate this citizens right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    A recent poll showed that 16 and 17 year -olds want to remain in the Union in the same proportion as adults, so it will make no difference to the outcome of the referendum.


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