By a Newsnet reporter
As the Liberal Democrats assemble for their spring conference, the party have been challenged to say whether they support votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum over Scotland’s constitutional future.
Senior Lib Dems, including the Deputy Prime Minister’s PPS Jo Swinson MP, have given their backing to the ‘Votes at 16’ week of action which begins on Monday – but there is confusion over whether the party will back Scottish Government proposals to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the referendum.
Labour and Lib Dem MPs and MSPs including the Leader of the Lib Dems Nick Clegg, the Deputy leaders of both parties in Scotland and the Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran have given their support to the Votes at 16 campaign and the Lib Dems, who voted with the SNP to introduce votes at 16 in Scotland’s health board elections, promised to lower the voting age in their 2010 manifesto.
Commenting, SNP Constitutional Affair spokesperson at Westminster Pete Wishart MP said:
“The Lib Dems should use their conference to end the confusion and decide whether they do actually support votes for 16 and 17 years-olds.
“Or is this one of those policies, like tuition fees, where the Lib Dems say one thing and do the opposite. Indeed, the Lib Dems have already let young people down once, will they do it again?
“16 and 17 year olds already play a part in our society. They should be able to have their say over Scotland’s future.”
Prior to the 2010 UK General Election Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg voiced his support for allowing 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed to vote in referendums and elections. A situation that already exists on the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.
Mr Wishart claimed the refusal to allow the Scottish Parliament, who voted in favour of extending the franchise despite opposition from Labour, Lib Dems and Tories, amounted to attaching unacceptable strings to Scotland’s referendum.
“It is ridiculous that politicians who say they support 16 and 17 year olds having a vote in elections would not support them voting in a referendum.
“And of course Lib Dems in Scotland have already backed votes for 16 and 17 year olds as part of elections to health boards.
“Penalising those 16 and 17 year olds who will be looking to the future of their country in an attempt to attack the SNP is just another sign of how badly the Tories, Lib Dems and now Labour are
misreading the Scottish people.
“It is grossly unfair those aged 16 and 17 are able to play a major part in our society, to pay taxes, join the armed forces, consent to marriage but under UK Government plans will not be barred from making democratic decisions about their own future.
“All parties have accepted that the SNP has the right and mandate to hold a referendum on Scottish Independence. The Lib Dems and Labour members have accepted that 16 and 17 year olds should be given the vote. They should reaffirm their position, stop equivocating and ensure 16 and 17 year olds are able to vote.”
In October 2010 Labour MPs Margaret Curran, Douglas Alexander, Jim Murphy and Anas Sarwar all voted to allow 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed to vote in the one off AV referendum.
However, thus far the official stance of all Unionist parties is that 16 and 17 year olds should be barred from having a say in the 2014 independence ballot.
To adjust the franchise in order to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote requires an order to be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Lib Dem MP Michael Moore.