Concerns raised about voting age in Scotland

A House of Lords Committee has raised concerns about plans to transfer power from Westminster to Holyrood in a bid to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote…

The proposal to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote in Scotland was met with concern by the House of Lords Constitution Committee, despite having the backing of all the political parties involved in the Smith Commission. The committee said it was worried about the way in which the process was being handled, as well as the impact it would have on the rest of the UK.

However, both the UK and Scottish government have dismissed criticisms, with the former stating the proposal would be fully scrutinised by the Scottish parliament.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) said it was “utter hypocrisy” for unelected peers to “put roadblocks in the way of Scotland’s young adults being given the vote”.

During the referendum for independence, the Scottish voting age was lowered to 16. The Smith Commission negotiations for further devolution to Scotland agreed to transfer legislative power from the UK parliament to Holyrood. This would enable 16- to 17-year-olds to vote in future Scottish elections.

It was hoped this measure would be fast-tracked so it could be implemented in time for the 2016 Holyrood elections.

The Section 30 order, which would be needed to change the law, was backed by both MSPs and MPs. It was expected the amendment to the 1998 Scotland Act would receive approval in the House of Lords on Thursday.

However, the report from the Constitution Committee said parliamentary scrutiny was lacking. The report also raised concerns about data protection for teenagers on the electoral register.

Furthermore, it stated that the move went far beyond the proposals set by the Smith Commission.

The report said: “The changes do not directly affect the franchise for UK general elections, European Parliamentary elections, or local government elections beyond Scotland, and therefore the order has no immediate constitutional implications for the rest of the UK.

“However, it seems likely that the Scottish Parliament will legislate for a reduction in the voting age for all future Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government elections and this may lead to pressure for similar changes to the franchise in the other devolved territories.”

The report added that the “potentially piecemeal and incremental approach” contrasts significantly to a previous commission that took evidence before the voting age was lowered to 18 in the 1960s.

“A voting age of 16 remains very uncommon around the world, and is not a change which any of the UK’s main European neighbours has adopted. Nor is it known to be UK government policy that the voting age should be lowered,” said the report.

“The House may wish to consider whether sufficient consideration has been given to the effect of this proposal on the United Kingdom constitution as a whole.”

A spokesman for the UK government said: “The main point to make here is that the proposal to give votes to 16 and 17 year olds at Holyrood elections will receive proper scrutiny – by the Scottish Parliament.

“A bill will need to go through the Scottish Parliament on this matter before it becomes law. It will be considered in detail by MSPs.

“The UK parliament is being asked to consider whether to give the Scottish Parliament the power to be able to do this.

“The 1998 Scotland Act allows for powers to be transferred to Holyrood and the Section 30 route is the way that this is done.”

He added: “The Section 30 route was approved by the UK Parliament when it passed the 1998 Scotland Act so it is wrong to say that it is not the appropriate way to proceed on this issue.”

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: “The fact a Tory former Scottish Secretary and a group of unelected peers want to put roadblocks in the way of Scotland’s young adults being given the vote speaks volumes – it is utter hypocrisy and shows how out of touch Lord Lang and his House of Lords colleagues are.

“The involvement of 16 and 17 year-olds in the independence referendum was a huge success and contributed massively to the democratic engagement Scotland witnessed.

“These unelected peers believe that giving young adults the vote in Scotland will ‘lead to pressure’ for it to be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds in other parts of the UK – they are quite right, but that is something to be welcomed, not condemned.”

The General Election in May will see the voting age remain at 18 and over, as this is controlled by Westminster.

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