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 222.

    211. Except I don't. I wouldn't vote for the SNP in an independent Scotland, so that's another fail you've made there. The only delusion around here is yours. You don't even understand the Barnett Formula, for a start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.


    We know already the BBC don't include Scotland as part of the UK. We see it every day in their 'National News@ coverage..

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Am I a cynic or do I detect a spurious motive by the SNP who want young voters who are easily swayed by jingoistic platitudes and haven't the attention span to find out the dangers inherent in an independent Scotland. [Mt father was Scottish].

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    BBC has withdrawn the 'Have Your Say/Comment' facility in Scotland. My late father fought to uphold our freedoms in WWII. He would be horrified to know that the BBC, whose charter proclaims the right of freedom of speech, is restricting that right in the most important debate in Scotland in 300 years. Shame on the BBC - your bias towards the No Campaign knows no bounds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    213. AndyS
    The arguments on here against the idea, seem to think they have almighty power and only a select few should vote.

    And that is a candidate for the daftest statement made yet on this thread. Since when was "anyone over 18" the "select few"?

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Whilst I would never want to tar all 16 year olds with the same brush, fact is the majority are more intersted in trivial nonsense on facebook, Twitter and "reality" TV than on the real world.

    I would, if anything either raise the voting age, or make people take some sort of political knowledge test before being allowed the vote!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    How ill informed some posters are.

    There is NO evidence to support the claim that 16-18 yr are more likely to vote yes.

    It's purely anti- Salmond/SNP/Scottish rants - which appear to be mainly from south of the border.

    This will only lead to cross border conflict & encourage a protest YES vote from youngsters!

    Many Thanks to the BBC for providing a platform for it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    I think people are suspicious because a party is actually doing what it said it would.
    They're used to believing David Cameron "We will have an EU referendum!"
    Nick Clegg "We will oppose a rise in tuition fees!"
    Dave Miliband "We're not just Tories, honest!"

    So when a party makes a promise and actually follows through with it, alarm bells ring, there must be something suspicious afoot!

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    it's an excuse for politician parties to cash in on voters who are sympathetic to their cause, if they were not sympathetic, then i doubt this would have been pushed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    The arguments on here against the idea, seem to think they have almighty power and only a select few should vote. The way democracy is heading in this country will surely end up with no democracy at all. What is needed is a shakeup of the system and if this helps then so be it. I have teenage kids and they are far more clued up than some adults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    134.Zarkoff .Thats when Scots Tory David Mundell put his foot in it!.
    It means that If Scotland says YES! to Independence thay start with a new squeeky clean Parliament (away from the cesspit in Westminster).By declaring a completely new State SCOTLAND IS NOT ELIGIBILE to inherit any debt from the UK. Scotland starts off life free of all debts.We wouldn't OWE anybody anything. Vote YES!

  • Comment number 211.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    I'm sorry but the average 16/17 year old hasn't got brain in his/her head.This is quite simply a cynical ploy by the snp to utilise the braveheart factor.I just hope they also tell them that they are the party that won alot of votes at the previous election by promising to replace council tax with a local income tax so as to benefit lower paid households.Once in power this was rescinded !

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Most of them need their mother to tell them to change their underclothes

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I have no comment to make on teenage voters but I do want to point out that BBC News 24 are using well out-of-date library pictures of Scottish Parliament proceedings to illustrate this story on their bulletins. They show Alex Ferguson as Presiding Officer - he hasn't been in the chair since SNP were elected in May 2011. Please update your library!

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    If the SNP wish to lower the voting age, then perhaps it would be in their interests to put Politics as a subject in secondry school curriculum to create a better understanding of exactly how the system works. I'm not denouncing the intelligence of 16-17 years olds, but I would think that at such a young age if your not educated in the subject, politics is not high on the agenda for young people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    @182. Brookone

    So, if Scotland wants to be run by nationalistic zealots and isolationsts...
    I'm not sure that UKIP have much of a presence north of the border. But rather than rant and throw insults around here's a challenge for all unionists - list 3 positive things over the next 20 years that will benefit Scotland by remaining part of the UK (try and be positive, no negative campaigning).

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    its not about voting for SNP though, it is about voting for country independence, that just happens to be currently under SNP rule.
    SNP rule will not last, but independence will.
    At 16 I thought I knew it all, my mother told me different - I'm in my 30's now, and do you know what? - she was right!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.


    No doubt there are some tax paying 16 year olds but I'd bet that the vast majority are NOT tax payers, they are still at school. Lets be honest the SNP want these people to vote because they havent yet realised that they will have to pay for it. At 16 only Mom and Dad pay tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.



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