TURNOUT at elections among 16- and 17-year-olds was “very, very low” after the voting age was lowered on the Channel Island of Jersey, MSPs have been told.
• 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote in the referendum
• Holyrood’s Referendum (Scotland) Bill Committee took evidence from the States Assembly in Jersey
A Holyrood committee heard “virtually no people” aged 16 or 17 – the group who will be handed the vote in the independence referendum next year – voted in Jersey after the franchise was extended in 2007.
Michael de la Haye, clerk to the Jersey Assembly, told the Referendum (Scotland) Bill committee: “The level of turnout in this age group had been very, very low. I feel with the general message, unfortunately, we didn’t reach the age group. But it would be quite wrong for me to say it was a failure.
“Some would say it’s not about quantity, necessarily. There are some in this age group who are very politically engaged and we should be doing everything we can to get as many people as we can interested in politics. Even if only 10 per cent turned out, that’s 10 per cent we would not have had before.”
He added: “I can’t say to you there was a massive enthusiasm and turnout, that wasn’t the case.”
Jersey elections tend to see a host of independent candidates and youngsters may have struggled to understand what each stood for, Mr de la Haye said, while the referendum in Scotland presents a “very clear, one issue” choice.
But it was a different story on neighbouring Guernsey, where an extensive campaign to encourage youngsters to vote was undertaken at all the schools and colleges on the island, together with Facebook and online information drives.
“We were delighted at the take-up of young people,” said Paul Whitfield, deputy registrar general of electors in Guernsey.
He said more than 50 per cent registered to vote, including 156 aged 15 set to turn 16 by the time of the subsequent election.
“That was quite a positive result and outcome as far as we were concerned,” he said. Schools were out of bounds to politicians on both islands.
Former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has warned that the referendum would “bring politics into our schools”, while election officials last week said the curriculum should include lessons on the referendum.
But Jersey and Guernsey officials said strict controls had been placed on the introduction of politics to the classroom.
The education ministry in Jersey ruled out the prospect of “politicians going into schools individually to talk to groups of sixth formers”.
“They did feel that was not right,” Mr de la Haye said. “There were one or two events organised by schools where candidates came and had a youth hustings. Some of the candidates felt slightly aggrieved that the schools were being over-protective by not allowing people to go in and organise meetings.” He added: “Schools were out of bounds except in a very organised, objective, impartial event.”
On Guernsey, politicians are also kept out of schools. “There is a consideration that individual politicians – because they’re looking for individual seats – it would be inappropriate for them to go around schools in a more uncontrolled way,” he said.