It would be good if Scots 16 and 17 year olds get a chance to vote in the referendum on Scottish independence. I’ve supported the case for votes@16 for many years. If a precedent is set in such an important vote in Scotland then surely the right must be extended to all other parts of the UK.
We’ll have to wait and see whether the speculation turns out to be true. It would be surprising if the Prime Minister has conceded votes for sixteen year olds as most of the opposition to such a change has come from his own party. The Lib Dems, Labour and the nationalist parties have all backed votes@16 for all UK elections. I suspect there is a majority in the Commons for such a change at the moment. I am hoping to open a backbench debate on the issue very soon in order to test opinion. I have support from Labour, SNP and Plaid Cymru but have found it hard to find a favourable Tory! Maybe if the PM has conceded the issue in Scotland, we will be able to secure true cross party support for change in all the nations of the UK.
I had a private member’s Bill on the issue in November 2005, which failed by just 8 votes.* Hopefully within a year we could get legislation in place for all elections from 2014 onwards. There are many rights (and obligations) given to 16 year olds. But what has always been most persuasive with me has been my long experience of answering questions on visits to 6th forms and colleges. I have heard from young people who are much more engaged with the issues of the day than people with decades of voting behind them. It is time to trust all 16 and 17 year olds with the vote.
*NOTE – here is the Hansard record of my speech on 29 November 2005, the speech against and division.