Engaging young voters

The Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill was passed on 18 June 2015. All 16 and 17 year olds meeting the criteria for the electoral register are now eligible to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections. This has been the first Scottish Parliament election in which 16 and 17 year olds were eligible to vote.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013

The former Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy, Bruce Crawford, indicated the Government’s  support for reducing the age of eligibility for voting in all elections, as well as the independence referendum, in March 2012:

“The Scottish Government believes that reducing the voting age to 16 would encourage participation by young people in Scotland’s democratic processes and would give them a vote on matters that affect them. We support lowering the voting age to 16 for all elections – not just the independence referendum.”

(Scottish Government 2012)

The Scottish Government consulted twice on extending the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds before presenting the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill. The main consultation, “Your Scotland, Your Referendum” from January 2012 to October (2012), provided 24,777 valid responses which were then analysed and published by the Scottish Government. The responses indicated that 56% “agreed” with the proposed age reduction and 41% “disagreed” with allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the independence referendum.

The Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 27 June 2013. One of its main provisions was extending the franchise to allow 16 and 17 year olds a vote in the 2014 independence referendum. The referendum saw 109,593 16 and 17 year olds registering to vote, and studies from the Electoral Commission (2014) found that 75% of those surveyed voted.

Issues concerning young people and political engagement

A study conducted by the British cross-party think-tank, Demos (2014), revealed that the issues young people (those aged 16-25) are most concerned about are living costs, affordable housing, unemployment and the NHS. Areas which prompted least concern amongst young people across the UK were topics such as the EU, transport, tax avoidance and leisure facilities. 

What Scotland Thinks, a website analysing attitudes to how Scotland and the UK should be governed, published a poll from May 2014 that asked people aged 14-17 to what extent they agreed with the following statement:

“Sometimes politics and government seem so complicated that young people find it difficult to understand what is going on?” 

The results, shown in the figure below, indicates that the majority of those asked (58%) either “agreed” or “agreed strongly” that this was the case, whilst only 12% either “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed”. Unfortunately we don’t have data for other age groups.

 Percentage of young people who agreed or disagreed with the above statement



(1,006 respondents. Source: What Scotland Thinks, 2014)