Scotland politics

Cut in Scottish voting age passed unanimously

Young voter Image copyright Other
Image caption Scotland's voting age will be lowered in time for next year's Scottish election

A bill allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish and local government elections has been passed unanimously at Holyrood.

The move follows a similar extension for the independence referendum last year.

The age extension was also supported in last year's Smith Commission on further devolution for Scotland.

The voting age will be lowered next spring, allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to take part in May's Holyrood election.

Extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds during the referendum was widely considered a success in terms of engaging young people in politics.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: "It has been a long-standing policy of this government to lower the voting age to 16 where we can and that policy now has, I am pleased to say, cross-party support across the chamber.

"I am delighted to have reached consensus on the principle.

"Building on that, I have been impressed by the thoughtful and passionate contributions that young people have made to the debate on the current proposals to extend the franchise permanently."

'Democracy works'

He said the Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill "provides a detailed, workable and practical framework to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to register for and vote in Scottish elections", replicating the work done during the referendum.

He added: "I think it is a real missed opportunity on the part of the UK government not to enable 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the EU referendum."

Labour's Lewis Macdonald said: "This bill is notable in delivering a significant amount of change with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of agreement.

"In passing this bill we should celebrate the democratic participation of all our citizens, the 100,000 or so 16 and 17-year-olds, the million over-65s and everyone in between.

"We are extending the franchise precisely because we know from experience that democracy works."

'Important moment'

Conservative MSP Annabel Goldie told MSPs that the bill was an important moment for young people and democracy.

"This bill heralds an exciting era for our young people," she said.

"I think it is an opportunity for them to continue their high level of engagement in topical affairs that we saw with the independence referendum."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The ball is now in the court of Scotland's 16 and 17-year-olds to demand a fairer deal from all of Scotland's political parties.

"The right to vote comes with a responsibility to take part in our democratic debate.

"From cuts to college places to the crisis facing our hospitals, there are many issues which will benefit from the voice and power of 16 and 17-year-olds."

MSPs rejected a plea from Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes for the legislation to be altered so that Scottish ministers could decide if some young offenders could vote.

Young people aged 16 and 17 were not allowed to vote in the recent general election, and they will not be able to take part in the forthcoming referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union.

The UK government used a so-called "section 30" order, which avoids primary legislation, to pass power to the Scottish Parliament.

This mechanism was used to lend Holyrood the unequivocal legal authority to hold the independence referendum.

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