Lib Dems challenged on votes at 16

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By a Newsnet reporter

The Liberal Democrats have been challenged to say whether they support votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum over Scotland’s constitutional future after it emerged that the Deputy Prime Minister’s Parliamentary Private Secretary Jo Swinson MP is set to host a meeting of the Votes at 16 Campaign Coalition in Westminster.

While the UK Government has signalled it doesn’t want 16 and 17 year olds voting on Scotland’s future as they tried to dictate the terms of Scotland’s referendum, Ms Swinson says she will “bring together young people, organisations and parliamentarians to discuss the Votes at 16 campaign, including plans for a week of action”, on 27 February.

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.  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.

In an online meeting with party supporters prior to the 2010 Westminster election which saw the Lib Dems go into Coalition with the Conservatives, party leader Nick Clegg spoke of his strong support for extending the franchise to young adults aged 16 and 17.  

Asked if he would support extending the right to vote to 16 year olds, Mr Clegg replied:

“Yes I am a big supporter of votes at 16. The state can ask a 16 year old to fight and die for this country, why not vote too?”

Labour MPs including party leader Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and shadow Scotland spokesperson Margaret Curran, supported an amendment calling for 16 and 17 year-olds to be permitted to vote in last year’s AV referendum.

In 2008, the Labour party conference accepted the recommendation of the party’s National Policy Forum to press for votes for 16 and 17 year olds.

Commenting, SNP MP Mike Weir said:

“It is time the Lib Dems were honest about where they stand on votes for 16 and 17 year-olds.  Is this one of those policies, like tuition fees, where the LibDems say one thing and do the other. Indeed, the LibDems 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.

“Attaching strings to Scotland’s referendum is simply not acceptable.  The referendum should be decided by the Scottish people and the Scottish parliament.

“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 LibDems 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.”