Andrew Burns: Votes at 16 will be good for local democracy

16 and 17-year-olds had a�higher turnout�rate , than those aged 18 to 24 and  25 to 34 in the 2014 referendum. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

16 and 17-year-olds had a�higher turnout�rate , than those aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 34 in the 2014 referendum. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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On Thursday May 4 this year, 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to vote in local council elections for the first time here in Scotland. Personally, I very warmly welcome this extension of the electoral franchise.

Evidence from the 2014 referendum, here in Scotland, shows that 16 and 17-year-olds had a higher turnout rate (75 per cent), than those aged 18 to 24, and even those aged 25 to 34.

Edinburgh City Council leader Andrew Burns. Picture: Scott Taylor

Edinburgh City Council leader Andrew Burns. Picture: Scott Taylor

And academics have also demonstrated that voting is habitual; one of the best predictors of non-voting is not having voted in the first election for which you were of age.

And in a time of declining turnout, it’s right that politicians from across the political spectrum should get behind measures to boost the rate of first-time and habitual voting, encouraging more citizens to elect their representatives and to hold politicians to account.

So yes, I do welcome the fact that in June 2015, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed a law to let 16 and 17-year-olds vote in all future local elections.

No political party argued against it, and we should all be doing everything we can, between now and May, to promote as high a participation rate as possible.

This is a positive challenge for us all to embrace – as individuals, as political parties, for schools – to equip our younger citizens with the tools and the know-how to get informed and to get involved.

And Scotland is by no means alone, or the first, to extend the franchise in this way. 16 and 17-year-olds can already vote in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey; while Wales is considering similar measures to those of Scotland. In fact, those elections where 16 and 17-year-olds are not yet allowed to vote (most notably Westminster general elections) are looking increasingly isolated.

But like all potential voters, 16 and 17-year-olds do need to be on the Electoral Register, and I would strongly encourage those who will be eligible to vote to check that they are duly registered.

It’s very easy to do – it literally takes only a few minutes by visiting: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote; and you have until Monday April 17 to register.

Votes at 16 – combined with balanced high-quality citizenship education – will better nurture tomorrow’s voters, activists and politicians, and contribute greatly to building a better local democracy.

Councillor Andrew Burns is leader of Edinburgh City Council