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by Tom Freeman
13 October 2014
Lower voting age to 16 and discuss politics in school, report advises

Lower voting age to 16 and discuss politics in school, report advises

Lowering the voting age to 16 in the Scottish independence referendum was such a success it should be extended to all elections, an Edinburgh University report has suggested.

A study by Dr Jan Eichhorn, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science, advised rolling out the lower voting age could increase young people’s engagement with politics, especially if accompanied by more informed political discussion in classrooms.

The study of under-18 year-olds in the referendum found that young people were at least as interested in politics as adults. Only seven per cent had never talked about the vote with anyone.

The report also found schools were more influential than parents in giving young people confidence in understanding politics, especially when lessons focused on the referendum rather than political parties.

Dr Jan Eichhorn, from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Social and Political Science and the author of the study, said: “Fears of under-18s being inappropriately ideologised stem from an underestimation of young people’s capabilities. We found these fears to be unfounded. Their engagement with politics is complex and they appreciate school as a space to do this.

“To have a lasting, positive impact, we need to trust schools and teachers to discuss politics actively in the classroom. There are positive effects on young people’s political understanding and confidence that parental influence cannot achieve but school can.”

Political parties welcomed the findings. SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: “The SNP has always believed that the right to vote should be extended to 16 and 17 year olds for all elections - and with the vibrant, passionate contribution of our young people to the incredible democratic debate Scotland enjoyed during the referendum, they have more than repaid that faith.”

Drew Smith, Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on the constitution, said: “Labour are fully committed to introducing votes for 16 years old in all UK elections, and Ed Miliband has said that encouraging the participation of young people in our democracy will be a top priority for the next Labour government.”

At a UK level the Conservatives do not back the proposal to lower the voting age, but Scottish leader Ruth Davidson told Parliament recently she backed extending the franchise, and fellow Conservative John Lamont said not to would be withdrawing the vote from those that had, and “the wrong thing to do”.

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