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 182.

    RE: 158.Shooie-B - "after the impending YES landslide victory all you British loving lot can go take a hike south of the border"

    As a matter of fact, there are vastly more Scots living and working south of the border than there are English working north of it. So, if Scotland wants to be run by nationalistic zealots and isolationsts, I'm sure they'll all want to move back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    ac151.penguin337 Only one ScottishTory MP exists out of 650 MPs in the House of Commons The quisling David Mundell recently said ""After the 1707 Treaty of Union Scotland ceased to exist as a country and is part of England"
    I don't fancy his chances at the next Election............LOL.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Salmond only wants to change the voting age so that he can manipulate their minds into voting for him!

    At 16, they can leave home, get married and have a child.
    We will allow them to be responsible for other peoples lives, but we wont allow them to watch an X-rated movie....
    NO SENSE!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.


    Your comment makes me want to tear my eyes out. 'Pat them on the head, bless, what nonsense, let them have a shot but never mind it's all a laugh' How utterly patronising and offensive.

    I'm leaving the board, it's too depressing to be surrounded by so many ill informed trolls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    166 VKpro

    I have no doubt whatsoever that there are some very clued-in teenagers. But there are far more who aren't. Too many people here want to indulge in all-or-nothing sweeping generalisations. You are asking young and inexperienced people to make an enormous decision when they're barely out of childhood and the majority (not all!) will simply not be mature enough to offer a reasoned opinion.

  • Comment number 177.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    With parental or court permission, two persons aged 16 years old can be married and have a child (legally) nine months later.

    If they can been sanctioned sensible enough to be adults then surely it is RIGHT HONEST and DEMOCRATIC they be allowed to vote for changes that will affect themselves as well as their own children.

    16 and 17 year olds should be sensible enough to make democratic choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    It's true that there needs to be some alignment between voting, marriage, active service etc. Personally I would raise the age for all of them to 18.

    Patience is never a bad thing to learn, especially for certain age groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Think on this - If and I say if advisedly the Tories are re-elected in 2015 they want to have a referendum to take the UK out of the EU.

    If we vote for independence in 2014 we will be voting to stay in the EU.

    Interesting sutuation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    nice to see the people of falklands thousands of miles away celebrate staying British. Its nice to see unity in the news as opposed to all the SNP trash we read about like this article.

    No Edinburgh Control!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    Well said Brookone. I said the same but the BEEB removes my comment.Laughable!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    16yos pay tax? OK-so do under-16s (VAT for instance). 16yos' lives are affected by political decisions? Under-16s even more so.

    They just want to reduce the age to improve chances of a YES vote, because young people are more likely to be swayed by unsubstantiated arguments.

    Do they understand complexities of the oil revenue issue? Scotland won't (can't) legally get what they think they will.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    159, probably when they watch the SNP politicise the school curriculum, slash colleges cash (to pay fees for rich kids at Universities), create a democratically unaccountable police force, slash legal aid, cut rail spending.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    @163 Andy, I think its your basic misunderstanding of the nationalist view that will lose you the vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Fantastic move by the SNP and the Scottish Government...I hope this sets a precedant so that this is implemented at all elections, not just in Scotland but in all elections across these isles. Good luck from Wales on voting for independence...wish all the nations could vote on our respective self-determination.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    Simple fact is most peoples politics change as they age - remember the days of politically active students demonstrating up and down the country - jobs, families, mortgages, etc all change peoples views. The SNP are deliberately targeting the young idealistic voters to help their cause. Why didn't the SNP campaign for young votes in earlier elections?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.


    How can you bare comment on their ability of what they can and can not do? You might not have been able to, but that is you. I know plenty of very intelligent and clued in 16 year olds. The problem is you aren't even giving them the chance.

    I feel sad for this whole debate, really I do. It's like talking to a solid red, white and blue brick wall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.


    That's "leap of faith" logic. You don't like the current UK setup, so let's go independent. But what will independence offer? We wait and wait for mature discussions of the points, but both sides - and I do mean both sides - eventually get dragged into a petty shin-kicking and hair-pulling contest. If grown adults have a hard enough time getting to the facts, what chance do adolescents have?

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Will not post anymore...etc

    There's no point in getting angry

    There's no point in censorship either

    This upcoming vote is way-way bigger than any vested interests or political opinions could ever be

    People are really getting a big say about their own future and the future of their children with this vote

    This is a real Once-in-a-lifetime vote

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    The nationalist view is based on idealistic nonsense stemming from irrelevant history, mis-placed national pride and a complete inability to understand (or attempt to understand) basic economics.

    Vote no and put an end to this nonsense once and for all!


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