Unionist parties under pressure over referendum voting rights for 16 year olds

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By G.A.Ponsonby 
 
Calls for 16 and 17 year olds to be allowed to participate in the 2014 independence referendum were strengthened today after the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) both voiced their support for the SNP’s proposal.
 
Both bodies have insisted that 16 and 17 year olds should be allowed to take part in the ballot that will determine Scotland’s future and argued that all elections should be open to the age group.

The row over participation follows the stance taken by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition who are against the move. 

However the failure of the Lib Dems to endorse the calls has brought criticism from advocates who have pointed out that the party’s own policy is to lower the electoral age to sixteen.

The calls by the NUS and SYP will increase pressure on the Labour party to back the proposals.  Last week Newsnet Scotland revealed that the Labour party had previously called for a lowering of the age for the AV referendum.

Labour politicians who voted to allow 16 year olds to participate in the AV referendum included Labour’s so called ‘Team Scotland’ – Jim Murphy, Willie Bain, Douglas Alexander and Shadow Secretary of State Margaret Curran.

The list also included Labour’s Scottish Deputy Anas Sarwar and Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The Scottish Government has argued that the process should be open to those who pay tax, start a family, drive a car and join the army.

Grant Costello, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said:

“The Scottish Youth Parliament has been campaigning for over a decade for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given the vote.  Therefore we welcome the Scottish Government’s desire to allow this for the proposed referendum on Scottish Independence.

“It is absolutely right those who are Scotland’s future should vote on the future of Scotland.  However, this must not be a one-off, but should be widened to cover all elections. 

After all, if over-16s can be trusted to vote on the constitutional future of our country, they should also be trusted to vote for the government of our country.”

Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, added:

“It is fundamentally unfair that 16 and 17-year-olds throughout the UK can pay tax, go to war and attend college or university, but not have a voice in how taxes are spent, how foreign affairs are conducted and how national education policy is set.

“NUS Scotland continues to advocate that 16 and 17-year-olds should have the vote fully extended to them in all elections throughout the UK, whether it be to select their local councillors, MPs, MSPs or to vote in referendums.”

Former Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament and Director of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy Rajiv Joshi claimed that it was time for young people to have a say in setting the course for Scotland and choosing their future. 

He added: “At the fall of apartheid, Nelson Mandela called for young people to have a say in the future – perhaps in Scotland we can follow suit and show young people they are not only seen and heard, but also listened too.  Starting with giving them a say from the age of 16 when they can rightfully marry or raise a family.

Humza Yousaf, the SNP’s youngest MSP repeated the SNP’s calls for young Scots to be allowed a say in the nations future.

“The SNP supports votes at 16 in all elections and where we have the power over Health Board Elections and even elections to the Crofting Commission we have ensured our young people have a say.” he said.

“With organisations representing thousands of young people calling for a vote in this referendum the anti-independence parties must reconsider their position.

“Labour MPs like their deputy leader Anas Sarwar backed votes at 16 in the AV referendum but want to withhold that right from young Scots in the independence referendum.  Labour must explain why they are determined to stand in the way of young scots rights to a say over their future.

“Young people of this age are already on the electoral roll and they play a part in our society.  It is only fair that they have their say.”