votes at 16

Let's not be squeamish about bringing politics into the classroom

21st January 2014
21 Jan 2014
votes at 16
voter disengagement
fair franchise


Contact Tel: 

Responding to David Blunkett’s speech to the Centre for Social Justice on political disengagement[1], Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“David Blunkett is absolutely right to be concerned about the way young people are turning away from politics. Fewer than one in eight people under the age of 25 intend to vote[2], making our democracy increasingly illegitimate and skewed against those who don’t turn up.

“He is also right to call for political awareness to be ‘part of the natural development of young people’. Democratic politics is a crucial part of what it means to live in our society, and we shouldn’t be afraid to bring young people into contact with it. That means not being squeamish about bringing politics into the classroom, and recognising that explicitly political activism can be just as valuable as charitable volunteering.

“Schools could be places where both young people and adults start to build a new relationship with the idea of politics. If we combined an increased acceptance of politics at school with a stronger commitment to civic education and lowering the voting age to 16, then perhaps we can start to reverse some of these damaging trends. We need to change our culture so that politics is seen as a part of everyone’s lives, rather than something done by remote, alien people in faraway places.”

Scotland deserves debate and democracy

9th March 2012
9 Mar 2012
scottish independence
votes at 16


Contact Tel: 
020 7202 8601

Scotland deserves debate and democracy

The Electoral Reform Society in Scotland has today (Friday March 9th) submitted a response to the Westminster Government’s consultation: Scotland’s Constitutional Future.

Reflecting on the submission, Willie Sullivan, Director of ERS Scotland said:

If any referendum on Scotland’s future is to accurately represent the views of the Scottish people it must offer a real choice. It is clear that Independence or the Status Quo cannot be the only things on the menu.
Avoiding a ‘second question’ represents a false choice. It risks not giving the Scottish people a the choice of a future which polling shows many of them can unite around.

ERS Scotland does not have a position on which options should be included but would urge all parties to work to present clear choices to the voters. Scots will then be able to vote for the status quo or change. They will then have the opportunity to decide on the flavour of change that works for them.

The debate must consider what best serves Scottish democracy. Our experience with the Alternative Vote referendum suggests a lengthy lead in time. To that end, we support the Scottish Government’s proposal of an Autumn 2014 ballot.

There is no reason why 16 and 17 year olds should not be able to vote in this and all elections. However, we would strongly caution against a ‘false franchise’ made up only of ‘attainers’ - those 16 and 17 year olds who will have their birthday before the30th November after the polling day.

ERS Scotland plans to run a series of debates and public meetings discussing Scotland’s democracy over the next eighteen months. We look forward to both the UK and Scottish Government’s responses to their consultations and hope a clear, responsible and democratic decision can be made on how to run the poll.”


Notes to editors

The key conclusions from the response are:

  • The Scottish Government has a mandate to call a referendum on Scotland’s constitution the proposition and timing of such a referendum should be decided by the Scottish Parliament with the question, planning and organisation of the poll managed by the Electoral Commission in Scotland under the rules set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
  • A Section 30 order is the best option to ensure legal clarity. It would be extremely irresponsible to allow this matter to be contested in the courts and possibly damaging to the democratic institutions in Edinburgh and at Westminster.
  • Should a section 30 order be used, it should be made with only limited conditions attached in order to ensure:
  1. That the referendum is conducted using the amended generic PPERA rules.
  2. That the Electoral Commission in Scotland has responsibility for consulting on the wording of the question, and for the operation of the poll.
  3. That lines of accountability and reporting to both parliaments are clear and unambiguous and do not allow for any political interference in the operation of the poll.
  • The process of the Scotland Bill be put on hold until the referendum has been held and a decision taken by the Scottish people.
  • We support the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for all UK elections. This should not be done only for the referendum but for all public elections in Scotland. Additionally, we would not wish to see a ‘false franchise’ established by only allowing ‘attainers ’ to vote rather than all 16 and 17 year olds. Given the franchise is a reserved matter we would hope the UK Government would work with the Scottish Government to provide for this.
  • Our experience from the AV referendum is that proper debate, analysis and questioning of the arguments takes a good deal of time. Campaigns will present misinformation and partial arguments which can only be challenged and bottomed out over significant timescales. Therefore, we would favour a longer time for arguments to be fully tested and worked through, and for public information and arguments to disseminate into the public consciousness.
  • We feel that given current debates and state of Scottish public opinion, the best way to find out where consensus might be found is to hold a two question referendum with a so called gateway question on Status Quo v Change and a second question on Devo Max v Independence. The result of the second question will only be relevant if the first question is a positive vote for change. Any format that does not allow all three main options to be considered during the one campaign is unsatisfactory.
  • In response to arguments that the two questions (of independence or more powers) are separate constitutional issues, we would suggest that such labelling is disingenuous. Any change in powers will have to be negotiated between the Scottish Government and Westminster regardless of their extent. The referendum is to determine the preference of the Scottish people, in and of itself it will not change the constitution. We have some sympathy with Peter Kellner of YouGov’s position, expressed during the Scottish Affairs Committee of March 7th March 2012, that once that negotiation has taken place the proposals agreed between the two Governments should be put to the Scottish public in a second referendum.