Welsh Labour Government backs votes at 16 – but Labour in Scotland remains silent

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By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish Labour have been challenged to say whether they support votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum over Scotland’s constitutional future – after the Labour government in Wales confirmed that it is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 in all elections and referendums.

Although the Welsh Assembly has no powers to change the law, Labour Finance Minister Jane Hutt AM told the Senedd: “16 and 17-year-olds are deemed old enough to pay taxes, leave school, marry and join the armed forces, alongside a wide range of other responsibilities.  Therefore, the Welsh Government supports the lowering of the voting age to 16.”

By a Newsnet reporter

Scottish Labour have been challenged to say whether they support votes for 16 and 17 year-olds in the referendum over Scotland’s constitutional future – after the Labour government in Wales confirmed that it is in favour of lowering the voting age to 16 in all elections and referendums.

Although the Welsh Assembly has no powers to change the law, Labour Finance Minister Jane Hutt AM told the Senedd: “16 and 17-year-olds are deemed old enough to pay taxes, leave school, marry and join the armed forces, alongside a wide range of other responsibilities.  Therefore, the Welsh Government supports the lowering of the voting age to 16.”

Ms Hutt’s proposal was backed by Assembly Members from Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives.  

Although officially in support of votes at 16, the Lib Dem Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore has voiced his disapproval over moves to extend the franchise to 16 for the Scottish referendum, saying that while he was in favour of voting at 16 in principle, he did not support it for “one-off” ballots like the independence referendum.   

Labour’s position on voting at 16 in the independence referendum remains unclear.  Scotland’s Labour MSPs and MPs, including Shadow Scotland Secretary Margaret Curran, have given their support to the Votes at 16 campaign, but the party’s elected Scottish representatives have maintained absolute silence on the franchise for the Autumn 2014 independence referendum.

21 Westminster Labour MPs representing Scottish constituencies have signed up to support the Votes at 16 Campaign.  An additional 4 MSPs have also officially given their backing to the campaign.  None has spoken out in favour of extending the franchise for young Scottish voters in the independence referendum.  

Labour’s silence on the issue will fuel speculation that Johann Lamont’s Scottish contingent is putting tribal loyalties before principle, and the only reason they have not spoken up is because they do not wish to support any measure promoted by the SNP.  

Calling for clarity, SNP Westminster equality spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“With the only Labour politicians actually in government in the UK arguing for votes at 16, Johann Lamont needs to end the uncertainty around her position, and say whether Labour supports votes for 16 and 17 years-olds in the independence referendum.

“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 that young people have a say. 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland must be able to have their say over Scotland’s constitutional future.

“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.”