Scotland will be viewed as a world leader by fully engaging and empowering its 16 and 17 year olds as fully franchised citizens active in the political life of the country.
The past few months have clearly marked a new era of democratic engagement. The Independence Referendum engaged young people in the political landscape in an unprecedented way. Over 100,000 16 and 17 years olds registered to vote.
Evidence shows they were amongst the most informed, engaged and questioning voters, carrying out their own own research and using multiple sources in order to come to their own personal decision. Many young individuals dedicated countless hours to campaign for both sides. On September 18th 2014, queues of young people entered polling stations for the first time in order to have their say on Scotland’s future, valuing that responsibility and casting their vote.
We, as an alliance of Scottish Youth Charities, representing 1.1 million young people, are united in our belief that we cannot let young people down and must continue to fully engage them in the democratic process. We as a country need to capture this emergent enthusiasm for the democratic process. We need to stimulate their ongoing involvement and we need to value their contribution.
We are therefore calling on Lord Smith to recommend a mechanism for the franchise for all future elections in Scotland to be extended to 16 and 17 year olds.
The Smith Commission should build in enfranchisement of our young people as a key principle and a core value in a fully engaged and effective devolved administration.
This ground-breaking enfranchisement of young people will ensure their voices are heard now and for generations to come.
We, as national third sector organisations working with young people in communities across Scotland, stand ready to support them.
Louise Macdonald, Chief Executive, Young Scot, said: “Young people have put to bed the myth that they are not interested in being involved in the democratic process. The huge level of engagement in the Independence Referendum vindicates all those who have campaigned for the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds. The truth about Scotland’s young people is that they are switched on, engaged and passionate about the difference they can make to their local communities and to tackling local and national issues.
We know that young people are doing amazing things to make their local communities a better place to grow up every single day. We look forward to continuing to work with them to support them to become active local, national and global citizens, whose contributions are valued and acted upon, and where young people – as shown throughout the debate – are leading the future of Scotland right now.”
Louise Cameron, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “The referendum has proved young people take the right to vote seriously. Over 80 per cent of young people registered to vote, and we have earned an extension of the voting age to all elections.
“I urge Lord Smith, the Prime Minister and the UK Government to look to our experience in Scotland when considering a new devolution settlement for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The ability to lower the voting age to 16 for all Scottish elections should be part of this settlement.”