Scotland starts formal process to lower voting age to 16

 

Proposals to lower the voting age to 16 in the independence referendum have been formally lodged with the Scottish Parliament.

The Bill sets out the franchise for the ballot, due in autumn next year.

Politicians at Holyrood will determine the arrangements, as agreed in Edinburgh last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and First Minister Alex Salmond.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill is deemed necessary to ensure all eligible 16-year-olds will be able to register in a canvass scheduled to run from the end of the year to next spring.

If passed, the Bill will give electoral registration officers a duty to collect information and compile regional registers.

The data will not be published beyond a “limited group of people” and will be limited to legislation relating to the referendum.

The wider franchise will be the same as for Scottish parliamentary or local government elections.

It will be for British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens, Irish and other EU citizens resident in Scotland. It also covers members of the House of Lords resident in Scotland and service personnel serving in the UK or overseas who are registered to vote in Scotland.

The franchise is not being extended to convicted prisoners in jail.

A separate Bill detailing the proposed single-question referendum will be brought forward later this month.

Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola 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.

"It is a straight choice. An independent country where we make the big decisions affecting our future here in Scotland or leave our destiny to be determined remotely. It is a choice about the type of country we want Scotland to be and I am confident that young people in Scotland will want to take responsibility for Scotland's future.

"At 16, young people can marry, have children and pay taxes and it is therefore correct that they are given the right to vote on the future of the country in which they live. In modern Scotland, giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds is the right thing to do.

"We want to make sure that our young people have the opportunity to engage in Scotland's democratic process. We want to give them the right to voice their views, freely and confidently, on the matters that affect them. We believe 16 and 17-year-olds should be able to vote in all elections - but the Scottish Parliament does not currently have the power to make that change.

"However, following the Edinburgh Agreement, the Scottish Parliament does have the power to decide whether to extend the franchise for the historic 2014 vote, and I am very pleased to be introducing this Bill today."

The pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign group appointed a 16-year-old to its board at the weekend.

Ellie Koepplinger will sit alongside politicians and public figures as it attempts to deliver a Yes vote next year.

Chief executive Blair Jenkins said: "Yes Scotland fully supports this move, not because we think it will influence the vote one way or the other, but because it is the correct and democratic thing to do."

Patrick Harvie, MSP and co-leader of the pro-independence Scottish Green Party, said: "Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote in the referendum is an important step for democracy in Scotland, but we must make a real effort to promote participation and ensure a high turnout of younger voters.

"Both sides in the campaign have a duty to offer young people a compelling and positive vision for the future of Scotland."

Michael Low, 17, of the pro-UK Better Together campaign, said: "My friends and I are all delighted that 16 and 17-year-olds will have their say in what will be the biggest political decision of our lives.

"I'm one of the Better Together youth reps. We are going to be working hard over the next 18 months to speak to our peers about the issues.

"This will mean speaking in schools, in colleges and universities. It's hugely important that we have the facts in front of us before we go to the polls next year."

Scottish Labour MSP Neil Bibby welcomed the legislation but said questions remain about practicalities.

"I'm also keen that our schools are given clear guidelines from the Electoral Commission about how the referendum is discussed and debated, to ensure that there is parity between both sides in the referendum in our classrooms," he said.

"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 Scottish Parliament's Referendum Bill Committee issued a call for evidence to help its scrutiny.

In January, MPs at Westminster backed a proposal to give 16-year-olds the vote in all future elections and referendums.

The vote was not binding on the UK Government and Constitutional Reform Minister Chloe Smith said she was not in favour of the change.

PA

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