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by Kirsteen Paterson
24 January 2024
Scottish Government axes plans for 16-year-old MSPs

Teenagers in Anstruther, Fife | Alamy

Scottish Government axes plans for 16-year-old MSPs

Plans to allow 16 and 17 year olds to become MSPs have been axed by the Scottish Government.

Provisions allowing younger people to enter Holyrood or become local councillors were considered as part of broader electoral reforms.

But steps to lower the candidacy age from 18 have been scrapped after a consultation revealed overwhelming opposition from the public.

However, foreign nationals living and working in Scotland on a time-limited visa will become eligible to stand for election if a new bill is passed.

The Scottish Elections (Representation and Reform) Bill includes measures to encourage the piloting of digital polling cards and powers for the rescheduling of contests in ‘Covid-style’ health emergencies and other unforeseen circumstances.

It also includes steps to ban anyone found guilty of intimidating political campaigners or electoral workers from being an MSP, as well as controls against spending from overseas and permission for ministers to provide funding to drive up democratic engagement.

As many as 77 per cent of respondents were opposed to changes for teenagers and foreign nations with limited leave to remain. 

However, organisations who answered the consultation were mostly in favour of the measures.

Concerns about the implications for young people included worries around safeguarding.

The Scottish Government said the legislation aims to "enhance Scotland's democratic processes" and will now be subject to parliamentary approval.

George Adam, Minister for Parliamentary Business, said: "A robust electoral system is fundamental to the success of Scotland being an inclusive and vibrant democracy that makes everyone feel included and empowered.

"It is important that as many people in our society as possible feel they have an effective and independent means to hold government to account and feel encouraged to take an active role in politics and civic life including voting and standing for elections.

"Everyone living in Scotland should have a say on how Scotland is run and the wide-ranging measures in this bill share the common thread of empowering everyone with an interest in improving democracy."

Voting rights were extended to 16-year-olds ahead of the 2016 Holyrood election.

Foreign nationals with leave to remain, including those with refugee status, got the rights in 2020. 

Ross Greer of the Scottish Greens became the youngest MSP ever when he was elected on the West of Scotland regional list in 2016.

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