Government challenged to reduce voting age after it drops opposition to 16-year-olds taking part in Scottish independence referendum

 

The Government was tonight challenged to lower the voting age across the United Kingdom after it dropped its opposition to 16 year olds taking part in the planned referendum on Scottish independence.

Supporters of the move believe the concession to Scottish voters will revive the controversy over when teenagers should be allowed to participate in general elections.

Senior Conservatives are hostile to the plan, although Tory sources acknowledged that the decision would put the issue back on the wider constitutional agenda for the UK.

Tonight critics accused the Conservatives of acting in self-interest by defending the status quo as young adults are less likely than any other age group to support the party.

The Tories picked up just 30 per cent support among 18 to 24 year olds at the last election, compared with 37 per cent across the electorate as a whole. It was the only group where the Conservatives lagged behind Labour.

The Liberal Democrats are in favour of lowering the franchise and Labour is expected to support the step its next manifesto.

The move would boost the British electorate by about 1.5 million and proponents believe it would help to engage younger people in the political process.

Mr Cameron will meet the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, next week to agree the terms of the referendum which will take place in the autumn of 2014.

Although agreement has not been reached on some details, the broad outline of the vote has emerged. Scottish voters will be asked a simple yes/no question of whether they want to remain in the UK, which is a key demand of the UK Government.

In return, the electorate for the referendum will be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds, which the Scottish Nationalists believe will increase the chances of the independence vote being carried.

Tonight supporters of electoral reform urged Mr Cameron to seize the moment to widen the franchise across the United Kingdom.

The Labour MP Natascha Engel said: “I’m really excited about what’s happening in Scotland. People should have the right to have a say over the issues that affect them – it’s a real denial of fundamental human rights for people who are 16.”

Willie Sullivan, the Scottish director of the Electoral Reform Society, said: “If 16 year olds are to be granted a vote on the future of the Union, it would be ridiculous not to give them a say on the trifling matter of their next local MP.”

Michael Dugher, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “It might just do our democracy some good by making politicians listen to our young people.

“I can see why Tories might be against – you’re unlikely to vote for Cameron if he’s taken away your educational maintenance allowance, hiked up your tuition fees or if you face joining the one million young people on the dole.”

The Communities minister Don Foster, who is a Liberal Democrat, said: “The fact there are people who are arguing for votes at 16 for a political purpose strengthens the case for votes at 16 more widely.”

Grant Costello, the chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, described the referendum as a “seminal moment for Scottish democracy”. He added: “Allowing 16-year-olds to vote in this referendum will pave the way for the franchise to be extended in all future elections. After all, if we trust young people to vote on Scotland’s constitutional future, then we must surely see the case for allowing them to vote in all elections.”

But a Conservative minister said: “We will oppose it for Westminster, we will say ‘no’ to that idea.” A Downing Street source added that there were “no plans” to look afresh at the voting age.

At the Tory conference today, Mr Cameron appealed to his party to campaign against Scottish independence with “everything we've got”. He said: “There are many things I want this coalition to achieve, but what could matter more than saving our United Kingdom?”

Mr Salmond said: “Great progress has been made and I’m certainly hoping and optimistic that a deal can be done next week. But a deal ain’t done until it is finalised. There are a number of issues that are still to be resolved.”

It was initially believed that 16 and 17 year olds would be more enthusiastic about independence than older Scots, although polls suggest the youngest and oldest votes are most opposed to a breakaway than other groups.

A survey this week showed opposition to independence hardening in Scotland. It found that 53 per cent said they would vote against, compared with 28 per cent in favour of breaking up the UK.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas