MSPs have backed a bill which will let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
Holyrood’s Referendum Bill Committee has endorsed the general principals of the Referendum (Franchise) Bill, which sets out who can and cannot vote in the referendum.
MSPs say that the Ministry of Defence must work with electoral authorities to ensure that armed forces personnel are eligible to vote in the independence referendum.
The Bill will enable 16 and 17 year olds to vote for the first time in a major Scottish poll, and ban convicted prisoners from having their say.
The right of service personnel to vote has attracted “considerable interest” but some of the media reports on the issue have been “inaccurate”, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the committee.
Forces personnel will have a range of options for registering to vote, the committee heard, and it will be up to electoral registration officers (EROs) to decide whether they are eligible.
However, Electoral Commission director of electoral administration Andrew Scallan told the committee that registration “is not available to all service personnel all of the time”.
Their ability to register depended on their particular circumstances, he said, and it will be for EROs to make a determination based on the information provided.
Assistant Commissioner for the Information Commisoner’s Office Ken Macdonald also highlighted “a possible gap in relation to the children of service personnel”, noting that there is no provision for teenage children living overseas to make a service declaration and “would therefore be disenfranchised”.
Electoral Commissioner for Scotland John McCormick said the Commission was cooperating with the MoD to provide information on the registration options for service personnel.
The Committee said: “The committee is content with the Scottish Government’s proposed franchise in respect of all service personnel.
“What matters now is effective joint working between the Electoral Commission, EROs and the Ministry of Defence in order to provide information to these personnel about the registration options available to them.”
Referendum Bill Committee Convener Bruce Crawford said: “The Franchise Bill sets out who will be entitled to vote in the referendum and also how people, especially 16 and 17 year olds, will be registered in advance of the referendum.
“This committee has scrutinised the Scottish Government’s Bill closely to ensure that Parliament, and the people of Scotland, can have confidence in the franchise arrangements.
“Our committee recommends to the Parliament that the general principles of the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill be agreed to.”
The full Parliament is due to debate Stage 1 of the Bill on May 14, and it is expected to complete its parliamentary passage by the end of June.