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 642.

    Indy Rules

    £ 50 charge to cross the border.
    English money will be accepted as long as it does not have the queens head on it, if so there will be a £5 surcharge
    All males will have to wear the kilts
    Red head females only
    No bairns
    No English food will be allowed - searches will be made.
    Mixed marriages will need to be approved by King Salmond

    Break the rules will result in a haggis pelting

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    In case you missed tonights BBC News. Proposed legislation to let Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds vote has been formally brought to parliament and new leglislation proposed by all parties (except the Tories) for England,.Wales and Northern Ireland to let ALL16yr old to vote.
    Once again Scotland shows the way forward! Vote YES!.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    I Don't think they will have a clue who to vote for. Most teenagers are not interested . May your God go with you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    It's not surprising that people opposed to Scottish independence are also opposed to extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds (they do tend to be reactionary old Tory types). It's just another reason why we should all be voting yes in 2014.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    The problem that faces Scotland is no different from the problem that faces England or any other country on our planet.
    All Political Leaders pretend they know best.They are always right.
    The big problem,which none of them will ever admit to,it takes a lot of money to get elected.
    Integrity destroyed before they even start to campaign.
    Why does it cost a lot of money to get elected?

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    You see, the only reason I ask these questions is becuase I got married in Scotland (seemed a smart thing to do at the time) and I like to go there with my wife, if it's going to be difficult, changing money, border checks and the like, I don't think it's going to happen. Probably go to Europe instead if I need a passport and different currency to visit Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    @631 Clinton

    You are missing the point!

    We, the SCOTS will be FREE and and do our own thing without London telling us what to do anymore and the BBC (EBC) will DEFO go as it is not fit for purpose any more up hear EH!

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    If Scotland leaves, what's the leagal tender going to be? Can I still spend my British pounds in Scotland? Will we still have free movement between the countries? What if the rest of the World refuses to ackowledge Scotlands independence and it becomes like Palestine? A country that's not a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    It begars belief when it comes to the methods used by this SNP government as I see yet again another bribery tactic used to get the young folks to back them up in their efforts to gain an independant Scotland. A Government with genuine wishes to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote would and should have done this earlier than now instead of using it as a political device to get more "yes" votes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    Could we not do something sensible to please everyone?
    Have the referendum in Scotland to see if Independence is what they really want.Have a referendum in England on the same day to see if our neighbours would really like to be rid of us.

  • Comment number 632.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    Someone keeps asking why should Scotland stay in the UK? Why should it leave? Why is that the "natural" thing to do? Scotland should leave if the people want it (and preferably if it benefits them too). The real question is; would Scotland truly benefit from leaving or staying? Not just economic benefit either, but social, political, power related benefits. Scotland will lose much of those things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    My understanding is you can pay tax at any age if you receive income. So following the arguments on here 2 year olds should be able to vote? There are many clever and intelligent 16 year olds however IN GENERAL they tend to be more interested in other things and more radical - hence the reason the SNP wants them to vote. How will we cope with all of RBS's debts though if we gain independence?

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    627 Golgotha - Better representation from a more localised government?

    Wait... damn, that isn't one either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    Just to be clear

    Labour support lowering the voting age to 16

    As do the Lib Dems

    Funny thing, BBC political editor Brian Taylor asking "can lowering the voting age swing the vote for the SNP" but he's not asking if it can swing it for the unionists?

    Suggestive reporting!

    More on Newsnight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    626.K Mackay

    There must be lots of good reasons for Scotland to stay in the Union, what about... Um... How about... Ah, the... Hmm... Surely someone more knowledgeable has an answer? ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    Seriously? With all the unionist posters on here, not one of you has a good reason for us to want to stay in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    All these age restrictions are just arbritary anyway. Why is a child who is 15 years and 11 months old more "mature" than say, a 16 year and 1 month old? Why not allow 15 and over? or 14 and over? why not just let everyone in the World vote on it? It will affect everyone anyway? It's all arbritary restrictions that are in the end meaningless. Fun to argue about though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    Being able to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes has nothing to do with responsibility but the maturity of your body and the effects on it which many health organisations have asked for the age to be 21.

    Unless people think its responsible to smoke and believe all over 18's are responsible drinkers, I have many photographs from T in the park which could easily counter that argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    Any positive reasons for the people of Scotland to want to stay in the union? Andy? Anyone?

    Come on, you must have at least one good reason or else why would you beleive in it? Or is it Stockholme syndrome?


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