The voting age is set to be reduced to 16 in Scotland for local polls and elections for members of the Scottish Parliament ahead of the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.
On 22 January, the UK Parliament published draft legislation outlining the government’s plan to implement the devolution of powers promised after the referendum.
An order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 will amend the act to grant the Scottish Parliament the ability to control the franchise for all elections except for those to the UK Parliament.
The Scotsman reports that the process will be completed by March, with the provision allowing 16 and 17-year olds to vote being fast-tracked.
The change was recommended by the Smith Commission, with support of all five of Scotland’s main political parties, in its report following the independence referendum in September.
It will make Scotland the first country in the UK to reduce its voting age. The Crown dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey, and the Isle of Man have all lowered their voting ages to 16 in the last ten years.
While voting reform organisations welcomed the change, first announced last December, advocates noted its limitations.
British Youth Council Trustee and Votes at 16 campaigner Marc Kidson said: “While this is a step in the right direction, the Coalition believes that all 16 and 17 year olds should be given the vote in all public elections and referendums in the UK.”
Others were critical of the manner in which the agreement was made, and stressed the importance of maintaining participation in the devolution of powers.
Willie Sullivan, Director of Electoral Reform Society Scotland, said: “We hope today’s announcement does not end the debate about who has power but is the start of a truly participative process rather than an old-fashioned top down consultation exercise.”
In February 2012, the Student Representative Council passed a resolution in support of lowering the voting age to 16, noting that there are 16- and 17-year-old students attending the University of Edinburgh.
It reads: “Lowering the voting age to 16, combined with strong citizenship education, would empower young people to better engage in society and influence decisions that will define their future.”
A 2014 study by thinktank dpart further made the case for lowering the voting age.
Authored by Dr. Jan Eichhorn of the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, it found that education plays a more important role in voting behaviour of those under 18 than parents’ political positions.
Eichhorn explained “Fears of under 18s being inappropriately ideologised stem from an underestimation of young people’s capabilities.
“We found these fears to be unfounded. Their engagement with politics is complex and they appreciate school as a space to do this.”