It seems likely that the First Minister will get his way and that 16 and 17-year-olds will also have their say in the referendum, subject to the practical concerns about registration set out here by Tom Peterkin and Duncan Hothersall. Those will have to be overcome and younger potential voters will have to be registered somehow or other.
This approach is hardly a Salmond conspiracy, either, given the most recent polling showing opposition to independence ahead by a factor of more than two to one.
It’s also not quite the first time under-18s have voted, as anoraks amongst you will recall. They’ve had their say not just during the health board pilots in Fife and D&G, but they can also vote for members of the Crofting Commission. Gripping stuff.
I’ve long supported extending the franchise to include those young people motivated enough to go and vote, not just because I don’t think age correlates directly with engagement or common sense, but also because “votes at 18″ assumes there’s an election when you turn eighteen. With a four year term for a given institution, the average age of your first vote for it is 20. Now we’ve moved (unfortunately) to longer terms both for Westminster and Holyrood, the average age you’ll get a vote for the first time is 20 and a half. Even allowing 16-year-olds the vote for Holyrood would still give an average first voting age of 18 and a half.
So this would be good news all round, especially if is indeed part of a deal which sees a single clear Yes/No question on the ballot. It’s also the perfect place to start: if it’s frustrating for an engaged young person to miss out on a regular election, how much more frustrating would it be to miss out on what will hopefully be a one-off opportunity to help set Scotland’s course? It’ll also make the case for other elections – if young people can help make a decision this momentous, why not let them vote for their councillors and MSPs too?