Vote! Should 16/17 year olds vote in independence referendum?

I nearly did a poll post last Saturday but in rummaging around for a suitable subject, the only one I could think of was the date of the referendum.

And I decided against it.  Couldn’t face the furious, futile speculation you see, when clearly we were months out from it actually being disclosed.  How foolish am I?

The option I would have suggested would have been autumn 2014.  It was obvious really, for anyone who wanted to apply a modicum of thought to the process.  All those lazy journalists who reckoned on the Bannockburn 400th anniversary clearly still do not understand the modern SNP:  it has been trying to disassociate itself from the trappings of old-style nationalism for a while now, with some success.

But there were more prosaic reasons as well as strategic ones.  All the big ticket numbers lined up for 2014 – Bannockburn (the FM might not have been crying freedom, but he wouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to corral a sense of historic identity and patriotic fervour), the Commonwealth Games (a taste of Scotland occuping the global stage and limelight and inculcating a sense of national pride), the Homecoming (wha’s like us? anyone who wants to be) and the Ryder Cup (eh, rich blokes come to Scotland to play golf, and you can too?) – are being planned with inch-perfect precision in order to create the necessary big mo’.

Trust me – such is my luck – to pass on the chance to be lauded as the most prescient blogger in the Scottish sphere.  Such is life.

This week, there’s plenty to choose from but let’s focus on the issue de jour, the one that has been catapulted centre stage, simply because it puts clear tartan water between the pro and anti independent mobs.

I blogged on the matter of votes for 16 and 17 year olds last year, in an attempt to counter cries of nationalist opportunism and to demonstrate that this is a matter of principle rather than expediency.  Indeed, I think it was actually the current Depute First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, who led her party to commit to this policy, way back when she was the SNP’s Vice Convenor Youth Affairs.  Not that she looks much older these days.

So, a long-held principle but actually, Kez Dugdale MSP’s criticism carries a little sting.  Why hasn’t the SNP made more of this and enabled it to happen where it could?  Yes, it featured in the legislation to create electable health boards but there was also a bill on local government elections in 2009 which decoupled council elections from those for the Scottish Parliament.  It would have presented the perfect opportunity to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.

So why not?  Surely if the party was serious about its commitment, it would have ensured 16 and 17 year olds could also vote in the more humble local elections this year?  After all, anything that helps to increase the turnout must be a good thing.

[UPDATE:  as with most things relating to devolution, this turns out to be more complicated than first thought.  It would seem that to adjust the franchise, or indeed do anything that messes with the Representation of the People Acts, in relation to any election, requires an order to be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland.  This is the relevant section in the Scotland Act 1998.  So it seems that if the Scottish Government had wanted to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds for local government elections, it would require an order from the Secretary of State for Scotland enabling this.  This begs a few questions:  at the time of the last local government bill, did the Scottish Government consider extending the franchise and if so, did it approach the then Secretary of State, who I think would have been Jim Murphy MP?  If it did, what was his response (given that he is one of the MP supporters of votes at 16)?  And if it did not, why not?  By the by, another curiosity:  under Schedule 5 reserved matters, “elections” are reserved.  Which elections?  All elections?  Surely not, as otherwise all the legislation passed since 1999 relating to local government elections would be ultra vires?]

But the opportunity missed allows opponents of independence to sling some mud, and sadly some of it might stick, at least in the minds of the voters.

No matter.  The Scottish Parliament debated Scotland’s Future this week and voted to allow 16 and 17 year olds to participate in the referendum.  Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats might all have voted against, but they are duty bound to obey the will of Parliament.  After all, the SNP Government did it when defeated on the Edinburgh trams.  They can mump and moan – and they will – but it sets a very poor precedent – as they were quick to remind the SNP in different circumstances – for democracy if they ignore Holyrood votes.

In any event, if the epithet opportunist belongs to anyone, then it sits with the Liberal Democrats – who support extending the franchise to 16 year olds, except, it would seem, when it’s to vote for or against independence.  And a considerable number of Scottish Labour MSPs and MPs are just as culpable, having also signed up to the Votes at 16 campaign.  Indeed, some, including Douglas Alexander MP, Jim Murphy MP, Anas Sarwar MP and Margaret Curran MP all supported an amendment to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the AV referendum last year.  To qualify that support now smacks absolutely of expediency.

Moreover, Scotland would not be the first jurisdiction in these islands to have 16 year olds voting:  already, you can vote at 16 if you live in the Channel Islands or on the Isle of Man.  I didn’t know that.

But what do you think?  Should 16 and 17 year olds be allowed to vote in the independence referendum, in the vote which the First Minister has suggested, is the most important in Scotland in 300 years?

Before you vote, a thought.  Not mine, but someone tweeted it and it has stuck.  It is 16 and 17 year olds who will live with the consequences of this decision for far longer than any of us.  And if this person’s 90 year old granny gets a vote, with much less chance of seeing independence realised, should the vote be a yes one, then it seems very unfair not to allow the generation that not only might see independence, but live most of their adult lives in an independent Scotland, a say on whether or not that should happen.

And in case you’re wondering what I support – visit Bella Caledonia to find out!

27 thoughts on “Vote! Should 16/17 year olds vote in independence referendum?

  1. Pingback: Let the i Generation In |

  2. Can I just squash a myth please? 16 year olds can join the military but the law states they cannot be deployed in the front line until they are 18. Therefore ’16 year olds can die for their country’ (implying fighting in the front line) is untrue.

    That said, I have no problem with the voting age being dropped to 16. It should have been done some time ago when the issue was first discussed.

  3. I’d love to see a more detailed bit of research on this (not that this poll isn’t interesting in as far as it goes). My reckoning is that this won’t break down neatly across pro and anti independence lines, so that would be an interesting thing to look at, as would the balance of views from inside and outside Scotland.

    • Absolutely Jennie. I think it is one of those issues that transcends party lines with people having quite strong opinions one way or the other. And I am not offended: this is only a bit of fun. I try to keep it as neutral as I can in terms of question and options but know it’s a snapshot of a view of who comes to read the blog at any given time!

  4. of course they should be able to vote, if they were included in this process it would give them a stronger feeling of belonging and of course being listend to, which is very important

  5. I think the only valid reason for being against this is if, like Indy, you don’t agree with 16 being the age that people can legally do a lot of the things we associate with adulthood. However, as it stands, 16 is indeed the age you can die for your country, get married, and start a family – three of the biggest decisions a person could make in their life. If you’re not mature enough to put a cross on a sheet of paper, then how the hell can you be mature enough to start bringing up kids with the full blessing of the law?

    It’s interesting that you say anyone over the age of 5 should get a vote, Kate. Personally, I don’t believe you truly start developing your own views on such matters until 14 at the very earliest, so those under that age will just vote for whoever their parents say they should vote for. I think to avoid youths effectively being used as “vote fodder”, 16 is the right age. Although there could perhaps be an argument that as the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is 12, then that’s the age you should get to vote – old enough to be seen as an adult in the eyes of the law, old enough to vote?

    But no, I think 16 would be the right age. It really annoyed me that I couldn’t vote at 16, because I would most certainly have used it, and I bet many others would to, and perhaps lead to higher participation later on in life too?

    Incidentally, I have emailed each of the Labour MPs that signed that amendment to have 16 year olds allowed to vote in the AV referendum, and asked them if they agree the same should apply to the Scottish independence referendum. So far, I’ve received a handful of replies saying that it is against Westminster “rules” to reply to someone who is not in your constituency, and not much else. I shall delay writing a blog post calling them all hypocrites until they’ve had a week or so to give at least some sort of answer. But it’s not looking good…

    • Age of criminal responsibility is still 8 but what we have is no prosecution until at least 12 – was a fudge. Much better than what went before though.

      I disagree that children cannot form and express views on things. They do it all the time in the work that I am involved in, they have relevant life experiences to offer, just as relevant as the rest of us, and also a pint-sized view of the world, which the rest of us have left behind. They can and should be involved.

      Way to do it is through schools. Big school discussion programme, with school councils organising the voting so they are learning about the vote and importance of secret ballot etc. Would be amazing.

  6. One other – subtle but important – point about the date of the referendum. Late Autumn/early winter 2014 is just a few months ahead of the fixed date of the next UK GE. The UK parties will have to try and juggle a united pro UK Unionist line whilst simultaneously tearing strips of each other as they gear up for May 2015. The Labour party in Scotland will have it particularly tough, as their electorate see them standing side by side with London Tories opposing independence, knowing that they will be asked to vote for them in the spring to protect Scotland against those same Tories. Rock and hard place come to mind, and expect an SNP message along the lines off – If you are a Labour supporter vote for independence then you can get a proper Scottish Labour party back…..

  7. 16/17 year olds should be allowed to vote in all elections. They can work, join the army, get married and have sex so they should be able to help decide on the elected representatives.

  8. If the Scottish Government could have extended the franchise for local government elections they would have. That power is reserved however as Kezia Dugdale subsequently admitted. So it’s a bit misleading to suggest that the SNP Government has not taken every opportunity it could to extend the francise to16 and 17 year olds. In point of fact it has done that.

    Personally I don’t agree with votes for 16 and 17 year olds. I don’t think 16 or 17 year olds should be able to join the army or get married either so that particular argument does not hold any sway with me either. I think there should be a single age where an individual becomes an adult and takes on all the rights and responsibilities of an adult and that age should be 18.

    • Thanks for your comment Indy. Have researched issue – I just presumed that everything pertaining to local govt elections was devolved. My bad. But now does raise wider issues. If permission needed from Secy of State, was that ever sought at the time of the 2009 bill? Or just not thought about at the time. Or if asked, was it not granted?

      And in context of indy ref, it would seem from Scotland Act that if franchise for referenda covered by Representation of the People Acts then Scottish Govt will need an order from Michael Moore allowing this. Another fight beckons… Deliberate or serendipity?!

  9. Everyone pays tax not just those sixteen or above but regardless if you are allowed to finish your education, get married, join the armed forces, open a business at that age then there is absolutely no reason why you should be denied the right to vote. The young people in the United Kingdom are on the whole quite well educated and at sixteen are more than capable to making an informed decision to vote for the candidate or proposal of their choice.

    At sixteen, the law begins to effect you far more greatly and the decisions beings made will make a difference to your life, it is quite simply rather undemocratic to prevent those people aged sixteen and seventeen being allowed to vote.

    I can see why the unionist parties that are quite happily in favour of it any other time are not so in favour now because the young people of Scotland are far more likely to favour independence. If I remember rightly in my class of 16-18 year olds a few years ago around 95% were in favour of independence and although views change over time I think that’s evidence enough of the support in favour of independence. Having mentioned the ‘views change over time’ I was speaking to one person from that class yesterday that was a member of the Labour party and found out that he is now a member of the SNP.

    I voted yes, and believe it should be for all elections not just for the referendum although I appreciate that the Scottish Government does not have the powers to change the voting age but I look forward to Autumn 2014 in the hope that the referendum will be democratic and sixteen and seventeen year olds are permitted to vote. Hopefully, we can become that nation again.

    • Great comment, thanks for posting it. Agree wholeheartedly and heartening to hear a positive case for young people in this country being made!

  10. It’s a pawn in a game of political chess that will be sacrificed at the appropriate time.

    Now it’s time for the Bishops to advance.

  11. I say yes, because the age of majority is 16.

  12. I need a third [fourth] option, or a second question, or something of that nature!

    My answer is yes, on the principle that all elections should be open to those over 16 because those over 16 pay tax. But unless we change the way the Valuation Joint Boards gather information on the electoral roll now, then it can’t be done *fairly* so it should not be done at all. Currently the VJBs ask only for the names of members of the household who will reach 18 during the lifetime of the register (normally one year). This needs to be changed to 16 if this extension of the mandate is to be fairly achieved.

    The fact that 16 and 17 year olds can apply independently to go on the register is not a solution – why should most electors be placed on automatically but one section of the electorate have to join voluntarily? Not fair or democratic.

    So, in summary yes, but no, cos it depends.

    • There’s always one! Is the VJB issue because the law restricts whose data they require? Do we need to change the VJB legislation as well? Surely that is do-able. I agree it should be all elections and have just suggested to T Harris esq that he might want to lay an amendment to the Scotland bill….

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