Page last updated at 22:12 GMT, Saturday, 19 September 2009 23:12 UK

Bid to lower referendum vote age

Ballot box
The Scottish government wants to hold a referendum next year

A Scottish government minister has said 16-year-olds should be allowed to vote in a proposed referendum on Scottish independence.

Constitution Minister Mike Russell made the announcement in a letter to an SNP backbencher.

Opposition politicians criticised the move, which they said was motivated by political self-interest.

The Scottish government hopes to have a referendum on the country's constitutional future next year.

But there appears to be little prospect at present of opposition parties helping the SNP government get a referendum bill through Holyrood.

In a letter to SNP MSP Aileen Campbell, Mr Russell said: "I can confirm that it is the Scottish government's intention that 16 and 17-year-olds are given the opportunity to vote in the referendum that decides Scotland's constitutional future to the extent that this is practicable."

It is SNP party policy that we enfranchise Scotland's young adults and I am delighted our Scottish government is following through on that
Aileen Campbell

He said that, as matters of voting franchise were reserved to Westminster, the issue would have to be specifically addressed in the referendum legislation.

"It is my intention to make provisions to this effect in the Referendum Bill that essentially reflect the approach taken for the elections to NHS boards in Scotland," he added.

Legislation passed earlier this year provided for 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in two pilot elections to be held next year for the Dumfries and Galloway and Fife health boards.

And Mr Russell said: "We will continue to work with electoral registration officers to ensure that as many 16 and 17-year-olds are able to vote in the referendum on Scotland's constitutional future as possible."

He said that in the longer term, the Scottish government wanted to lower the voting age to 16 for all elections.

Ms Campbell, an MSP for the South of Scotland region, pointed out that 16 and 17-year-olds have to pay tax, can serve in the armed forces and get married.

'Manipulate the result'

She added: "If they are deemed responsible enough to make these very important decisions, they deserve the right to have their say on the future of the nation.

"It is SNP party policy that we enfranchise Scotland's young adults and I am delighted our Scottish government is following through on that."

But Lib Dem finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis said: "It is insulting that the real priority for the SNP is to focus on their party interests rather than on the needs of young people now, who are worried about getting a job or a college place.

"An unprecedented number of young people are being turned away from college in Scotland now. Yet the SNP thinks its top priority should be a never ending series of referendums."

Labour's constitutional affairs spokeswoman Pauline McNeill added: "This is just desperation from the SNP.

"They have lost the argument on independence, the polls are running at less that 30% support and now they come up with yet another scheme to try to manipulate the result they want.

"The Referendum Bill is another example of the SNP putting their constitutional obsession ahead of jobs and frontline services. Let's remember that the Referendum Bill has no budget line against it so if it goes ahead what services and jobs will have to be cut?"

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