Scotland leads the way on votes at 16

Votes at 16
19 Jun 2015

Yesterday, two very different things happened around the same issue in Scotland and England.

At 4:22pm in Westminster, during a debate on the EU Referendum Bill, MPs voted 310-265 against giving 16 and 17 year olds a say in the referendum.

40 minutes later up in the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, MSPs voted unanimously in favour of the Bill which promises votes at 16 for all Scottish elections. What is going on here?

The Electoral Reform Society has long argued that the franchise should be extended to include 16 and 17 year olds. This is about engaging more people in our democracy – educated teenagers, thousands of whom are interested in politics and want a voice. So we were obviously delighted that yesterday Holyrood gave young people the opportunity to participate in all Scottish elections. But Westminster’s refusal to do so for the European referendum is a massive missed opportunity indeed – and furthers the division between England and Scotland.

Wales too will soon get votes at 16 and 17, with the current Wales Bill going through set to devolve powers over the franchise to Cardiff Bay.

The UK government should follow Scotland’s – and soon Wales’ - example, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the upcoming EU referendum. Why?

One reason is, quite simply, the Scottish independence referendum showed when young people are given a say, they use it.
16 and 17 year olds threw themselves wholeheartedly into the Scottish referendum, with 75% voting and 97% saying they would vote in future elections. Even those opposed to extending the franchise for the referendum now agree that they participated with enthusiasm and made valuable contributions to the debate.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP has said that her position changed to support an extension of the franchise after watching and debating in front of 16 and 17 year olds throughout the referendum – including stadiums and theatres packed full of school students eager to get involved. Moreover, research undertaken by Jan Eichhorn at the University of Edinburgh found that young people accessed more information from a wider variety of sources than any other age-group.

But after yesterday’s Westminster vote, it would be a gross generational injustice if the very same young people will get a vote in all Scottish elections, but not the vote on Britain’s membership of the EU. For ermine-robed Lords to be specifically allowed to vote but not the generation who helped bring such vitality to the Scottish Referendum would be an insult to those young people and democratic negligence at its worst.

Young Scots turned towards democracy and political action when they were given the chance. Up to that point young voters across the UK were turning their backs on formal party politics. The politicians who saw this should bear witness in Westminster and ensure 16 and 17 year olds are enfranchised not just in Scotland but across the country.

We hope MPs will rethink the decision to exclude well over a million young people from the upcoming EU referendum. There is still time for this decision to be reversed while the Bill is going through, particularly after yesterday’s precedent-setting example in Holyrood when Scottish MSPs voted to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

One thing is clear - Westminster shouldn’t let this become an issue which drives a wedge between the nations of the UK. 16 and 17 year olds deserve a vote in the EU referendum, not just in Scottish elections.

Nonetheless, yesterday’s Holyrood vote shows the way towards a fair franchise. It’s just a shame Westminster missed the opportunity - although there will be more votes on reform, particularly with the EU Referendum Bill soon going to the Lords, where peers are expected to call for votes at 16.

We need a three pronged approach: extending the franchise, expanding voter registration, and educating young people about politics. All three go hand in hand, and would allay any worries of a lack of readiness to vote at 16. When given a voice in Scotland, young people educated themselves. A national programme of citizenship education would extend this even further.

Finally, we need a UK-wide franchise which is open, democratic and which sends a positive message to our young people that their opinions genuinely count - a genuinely ‘one nation’ franchise which engages our young people, instead of excluding them. This EU referendum is still a real chance to follow the success of the Scottish referendum in giving 16 and 17 year olds a say in a decision which will massively impact their futures. There’s still a strong possibility those young people will indeed be heard next year. 


15 Responses to Scotland leads the way on votes at 16

David Field 22 Jun 2015

When the teachers Unions in this country are free of the Left Wing bias which infects them, only then will it be sensible to allow 16 & 17 yr olds to vote.     Presently we depend on the common sense gained by actuial experience of life outside the classrooms to dilute the drivel our children are fed .  That works.  Don't change it !

David White 24 Jun 2015

England is a complete plie of shit as usual.
You can join the army at 16, you can f**k at 16, at 17 yiu can drive  but can you? NO!  YES they should, be over 65 and sa senile pratt you can still be an MP, let a member of the House of Lords.
Yes let the 16  years old vote, better than the senile over 65s who are mad.

Marguerita Morton 24 Jun 2015

I fully support votes at the age of 16 in Parliamentary elections.  We have a chance to push for this again when we debate the EU Referendum Bill.  It is only right and democratic.  Young people can choose to marry, work and pay taxes, join the army and die for their country, so why should they not have the right to vote?
The same arguments that were used to prevent women having the vote are now being used against youth under 18 yrs.  It is time that we changed this.  Maybe if 16 year olds had the vote, we would not have got involved in the Iraq war in 2003.

roger cartwright 24 Jun 2015

Giving the right to vote at 16 has to be right. Most political decisions affect the future for young people more than the old!

David Turner 24 Jun 2015

THis is NOT a good idea! Many16 year olds do not have the maturity or understanding or education or ointerest to take part in seriopus political decision making at that age. If you have to  be18 tto leave schol or fight for the country or  get mariecd you should have to be 18 to vote.
Dave Turner

Richard Burnett-Hall 24 Jun 2015

I fully recognise the strength of the arguments for votes at 16. But if 16/17 year olds are to be regarded as fully competent to decide who governs them, then we have to be consistent and not treat them as minors in contract law, nor prevent them from marrying without parental consent (in England, though not Scotland), nor make special allowances and put the blame on others if they decide to go off to Syria to fight for the Islamists.  Are we happy to treat them as adults in all circumstances?  If not, how do we distinguish between those where they should be free to do what they think fit and accept in full all posible legal consequences, and those where they are to be treated as insufficiedntly experienced and responsible?


Why are you worrying about 16^18 year olds not having the right to vote when there are thousands of British citizens who have been working in E.U. countries for more than 15 years  and who lose the right to vote in UK elections and refererenda.  I speak for some of those British engineers and scientists who are and were on a British government funded scientific project at Cern, Geneva  and who can no longer vote after 15 years !

Phil Senior 24 Jun 2015

One cannot help thinking of the Suffragettes and their demand for women's votes. If  young people with an interest in what we are pleased to call "democracy" remain disenfranchised what impression are they to have of this "democracy" or the Establishment's interest in their future?   Phil 

Martin Price 24 Jun 2015

16-17 year olds need to be allowed to engage in politics including  EU referendum and all elections.This age group have access to political information and , as shown in Scotland ,can become involved in debate.

Gerald Ward 25 Jun 2015

It was abundantly clear at the Scottish Independence Referendum That 16 and 17 year Olds cared enough to vote, Once again yet another sign of that the Tories don't want to really be part of a true Democracy, shifting constituency boundaries for their own benefit, I am a Scot who has Lived in the North East of England for more years than I care to remember, But as the old saying goes you can take the man out of Glasgow but you cant take the Glasgow out the man, I will always retain my socialist values, and it is no surprise that once again we Scots are leading the way by trying to encourage interest in the political scene after all the scandals that have surrounded it in the past few years, the expenses scandal being just one that automatically springs to mind,until the voting system is changed, along with the right to vote for the younger generation, the status qua will continue to favor the Tories who are literally for me getting away with murder, They wont release the report about the 10,000 Deaths of people on Benefits most of whom were deemed "Fit For Work" and be forced to go to appeal tribunals and win their case, and Die not long after this, how much of this is down to the stress, worry, and anxiety of having to deal with the ongoing "Reforms" we might never know, the I.C.O have told the Government to make the findings available to the Public, but we are still waiting, I Despise them with every fibre of my body, and as for that arrogant ........ Iain Duncan Smith along with his attitude towards those most in need he has got one of those faces you just simple would not get fed up hitting with baseball bat on a daily basis. enough of being nice have to go keep up the good work. (P.S) has anyone got a spare baseball bat they don't need? Just a thought. 

M Booth 25 Jun 2015

It seems ridiculous that we worry about whether children of any age are allowed to vote in Scotland or Wales when even 51 years olds don't have any say on English matters.
Until we have an English Assembly / Parliament there will always be 'a wedge'  between the nations of the UK

Jean Murphy 25 Jun 2015

16 and 17 year olds deserve a vote in the EU referendum

Dennis Wake 27 Jun 2015

44% of eligble electors aged between 18 and 24 voted at the last UK General election thus effectively reducing the average turnout. If, as seems possible, even fewer voters aged 16 and 17 voted this would further reduce the average turnout. Since the voting age was reduced from 21 to 18 turnouts have dropped. Is this a good idea ?
While it is true that people over 16 pay tax this also applies to children under 16 when they buy anything which attracts VAT.
Surely a degree of maturity, which normally comes with age, should be required of those who exercise the franchise. Many of them seem to recognise this because they do not actually vote. When I see things like 97 % say they will vote it makes me smile because turnouts of that level have never been achieved in any free democratic state.

P Beeden 27 Jun 2015

This attitude at Westminster  is very similar to that which was put forward by Jessy ~Norman, (Con ~Hereford) regarding TTIP. Leave it to the policticions as  its too compicated for the voters, to let them get involved!

Olivia W 22 Oct 2015

16 year olds across the country should be allowed to vote. Firstly, shown in the referendum, the turnout amongst 16-17 year olds was 75%, significantly higher than the 18-24 year olds which was only 54%. Surely then we can trust that the outcome of the voting system will be more fair as the percentage of votees are larger. Secondly, 16-17 year olds will have to live in the system that has been voted in, isn't it only fair if they are allowed a say in who controls the country? It is a real shame that the English do not think that people who can pay income tax, National Insurance and can become the director of a company "are not mature or educated enough to vote." If education is the problem then shouldn't the government only let people with degrees vote? No, because then it wouldn't be a democracy but then why should the people of 16 and 17 be denied that right. Why are they not deemed as important as everyone else?

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