Scottish and UK government ministers are facing renewed calls to guarantee 16 and 17-year-olds a vote in the upcoming referendum on independence – and all future elections north of the Border.
In a joint letter issued this morning, the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) and National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland urge control over the franchise and registration for the referendum and subsequent ballots be transferred as part of any section 30 order to ensure a legally binding poll.
The letter, addressed to Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, and Bruce Crawford, Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy at Bute House, stresses the vote on Scottish independence should represent a “launching point” for allowing those as young as 16 to vote in subsequent elections.
Chair of the youth parliament, Grant Costello, and NUS Scotland President, Robin Parker, who are joint signatories, write: “While we agree the current constitutional framework provides a direct impediment to 16 and 17-year-olds voting, which Government should administer the franchise is not directly relevant. However, the fact there are administrative difficulties should not be used as a shield to deflect from the underlying principles.
“We are similarly unconvinced this referendum would be undermined by allowing 16-year olds to vote. We believe if you accept the principle that 16-year-olds should vote, then surely the issue they are voting on is not relevant. Either they are capable of making an informed decision about democracy, or they are not.
“We agree that it would be wrong to allow 16-year-olds a vote only in the referendum – but that is an argument for the UK Government to legislate to allow 16-year-olds to vote in all Scottish, or as we believe, UK-wide, elections. It is not an argument to deny them their vote on this occasion.”
First Minister Alex Salmond has already outlined his support for lowering the voting age ahead of a vote on Scotland’s constitutional future expected in 2014, though the proposal has been met with scepticism from Westminster counterparts.
In February this year, Scottish Secretary Moore stressed a “convincing argument” had failed to emerge in support of the shake-up prior to the referendum, calling for “a simple, clear franchise which is the same as the Scottish Parliament one”.
However, the SYP alongside NUS Scotland have demanded the two administrations take part in talks over the proposal, including discussions on provisions as part of any section 30 order.
“We also are concerned that there have been occasions where Government Ministers have pledged their support for votes at 16 in principle, but then failed to support positive steps to make this a reality,” the joint letter reads.
“We believe allowing votes at 16 in this referendum will clearly legitimise 16 year-olds voting, and therefore should be supported by everyone who supports extending the franchise.”