The enthusiasm with which 16 and 17 year olds embraced the opportunity to vote in last year’s referendum should be supported by schools in the run up to other elections, a Scottish Parliamentary Committee has recommended.
The recommendation – that consideration be given to ensuring that 16 and 17 year pupils feel able to discuss election issues in a ‘pre-election’ period – was one of several contained in a wider report by the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee on the electoral management of the Scottish independence referendum.
The report congratulated all those involved in “managing and administering the referendum for the successful delivery of the most significant electoral event in Scottish political history”. However the Committee also identified areas for consideration around future polls.
Committee Convener Bruce Crawford MSP said:
“If last year’s referendum presented an unprecedented demand and expectation of electoral management, it is clear that those involved rose to that challenge - they have earned our gratitude.
“For the first time ever in the UK, 110,000 16 and 17 year olds were able to vote and the overwhelming majority took advantage of that opportunity. However during our evidence gathering it became clear that there were different attitudes in different schools to how and when referendum related issues could be raised and discussed.
“While the majority of local authorities positively encouraged their schools to provide imaginative opportunities for their pupils to engage in issues around the referendum, some were more restrictive about issues being raised with teachers in the 28-day period prior to the referendum itself, the ‘pre-election’ period.
“We found that this difference in approach was a matter of frustration and concern to school pupils and their teachers. That is why we are asking the relevant authorities to consider, along with the Electoral Commission, how rules might be relaxed to enable free discussion in this ‘pre-election’ period for schools across Scotland.”
Among other things, the Committee recommended that improved electoral public information about the count process be provided ahead of future elections; and that, with the new requirement for each eligible voter to register individually, specific measures be considered to help some groups and individuals fulfil this requirement.
A copy of the full report can be found here.
More information on the Committee’s work can be found at http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/83973.aspx