VOTES for 16- and 17-year-olds in Scottish elections yesterday moved a step closer after MPs backed the move in the House of Commons.
The historic vote came as a Section 30 order was placed by Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and it means that the change should happen in time for the 2016 Holyrood election. The decision is the first of the proposals from the Smith Commission on handing more powers to Holyrood to be enacted.
It means the franchise will be permanently expanded for votes for the Scottish Parliament and councils once the move is agreed by MSPs.
However, the franchise will remain the same for elections to the UK Parliament, which is controlled by Westminster.
While Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP have agreed that Westminster elections should also include 16- and 17-year-olds, a change has been opposed by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Speaking to students yesterday, Mr Cameron said: “I know this is unpopular but we have got to have an age of majority and I think 18 is the best age.
“I think that 18 is an age where more things kick in so I don’t agree with extending it to 16- and 17-year-olds.”
Momentum for the first change in the franchise since former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson dropped the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1968, has come after the Scottish independence referendum where 16- and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote.
Mr Carmichael said: “Evidence suggests that having listened to the arguments and participated in the debate, 16- and 17-year-olds voted in the same way as the population of Scotland as a whole.
“That is to say that they voted to maintain Scotland’s position in our family of nations. This is welcome in itself.
“But it also puts paid to the notion that those who are old enough to marry and have children are not old enough to weigh up the issues and decide how to cast a vote.”
Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, Margaret Curran, said the move would also lead to the franchise being extended across the UK.
She said: “Scottish Labour is clear – there should be no two-tier voting across the UK. If young people in Scotland can decide the future of their country, and the shape of the Scottish Government, they should be able to decide on who leads the UK as well.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said that the change would go through in time for the 2016 Holyrood election.
He said: “The Scottish Government has led the way on votes for 16- and 17-year-olds, and the experience of the independence referendum, with the fantastic political engagement it produced among younger voters in particular, has proved it was the right thing to do.”