News Archive

Scotland, Estonia, UK: Vote at 16 on the move across Europe

June 22, 2015

June has been a busy month for vote at 16 in Europe, with important decisions made (both good and bad) in Scotland, Estonia, and the United Kingdom.

On June 5th, the Estonian Parliament approved a constitutional change to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. State broadcaster ERR reports that an estimated 24,000 people will be enfranchised by the decision, after sixty-two MPs voted in favour, with ten against and two abstaining. The Estonian National Youth Council (ENL) and other civil society groups have long pushed for the change. In Estonia, lowering the voting age is seen as a way to better engage young people in politics at the level closest to them, and to ensure that an aging national population doesn’t have disproportionate influence on decisions affecting young people.

In the UK however, recent news has been more mixed: on June 18th, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to lower the voting age to 16 for local and national elections, but this decision came less than an hour after the wider UK Parliament rejected making the same change for the upcoming ‘Brexit’ referendum on EU membership.

In Scotland, the voting age was first lowered to 16 for last September’s independence referendum, resulting in a huge turnout of 75% for this age group. After the vote, the Scottish Parliament received the power to lower the voting age for its own national (Holyrood) elections, with all political parties supporting a vote at 16. However, the voting age for national UK elections and referenda remains in control of Westminster, where the dominant Conservative Party opposes the change and defeated last week’s bill.

The Youth Forum welcomes the progressive, engaging decisions by the Scottish and Estonian Parliaments to lower the voting age to 16. Last year’s referendum in Scotland has demonstrated (again) that a lower voting age can have a clear, positive impact on youth engagement and young people’s political knowledge: research from the University of Edinburgh found that Scottish young people are now more politically informed than elsewhere in the UK. When 16 and 17 year olds from across the UK were asked if they would have voted in the general election (if they had been eligible), 67 percent of young Scots surveyed gave the response “very likely”, whereas only 39 percent of those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland said the same. Furthermore, the survey found that the civic attitudes of 16 and 17 year-olds were mostly influenced by classroom debates, rather than the ideas of parents or friends.

In the UK, Westminster’s decision to restrict the right to vote to those 18 and over is deeply disappointing. It’s clear that, when given the opportunities and the right support, young people are eager to engage and get involved politically. Youth Forum Secretary-General Allan Päll has previously called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to match the Scottish example and give young people across the UK the right to vote – it’s a shame that Prime Minister Cameron has missed this opportunity. The UK’s decision to remain in or leave the EU will have a profound impact on the futures of young people there, and the Youth Forum will continue to advocate for their right to participate.

Read more:

Young Scots more politically engaged:

16 and 17-year-olds given the vote in Scotland, on the same day they are banned from voting in EU referendum:

Estonian Parliament lowers voting age to 16 for local elections:

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