Following Scotland's example, the Welsh Assembly hopes the move will lead to an increase in democratic engagement.
Following Scotland’s example, the Welsh assembly hopes the move will lead to an increase in democratic engagement
Ministers in Westminster have confirmed that the Welsh assembly will be handed the power to decide if 16 and 17-year-olds should be given the ability to vote in any referendum on income tax varying powers.
Last year, the prime minister and deputy prime minister announced that the Welsh devolved institutions would have the ability to gain certain powers to determine income tax subject to a referendum.
A series of amendments was made yesterday to the Wales Bill by Labour and Plaid Cymru, calling for the franchise in Wales to be lowered. In response, the government confirmed that it will provide the assembly with the power to determine the franchise for a referendum on income tax powers.
Confirming the move in response to pressure from peers, the secretary of state for Wales Stephen Crabb yesterday issued a statement in which he explained:
“New income tax powers are a valuable tool to help the Welsh economy become more dynamic and make the Welsh government more accountable. I want to make sure that the Welsh government gets these new powers.
“I know that there are strongly held views on allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in a referendum but I have listened to the views in the House of Lords and decided that this is a matter on which the assembly should decide.
“The Assembly has the power to call an income tax referendum – and it is right that they decide the age of those who can vote on this issue.”
The move comes after the Scottish independence referendum which saw 16 and 17-year-olds gain the vote for the first time – a move that saw many teenagers politically engaged for the first time and was dubbed a ”resounding success” by Alex Salmond.
It has been warmly welcomed by the Electoral Reform Society Cymru, with director Steve Brooks calling the move a “momentous decision.”
“Electoral Reform Society Cymru have been pushing hard for this crucial change to the Wales Bill. We were pleased when peers backed our call, and are now delighted that the UK government has accepted that an amendment on this issue be included.
“The inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds made a huge difference to democratic engagement in Scotland, and is likely to have a lasting impact. This could make for a similar transformation in Wales. It is vital that steps are taken to ensure that young people are registered in schools and that civic studies are made a core part of young people’s education to make the best use of this historic opportunity.”
However he went on to argue that the decision should be “one further step toward extending the franchise across all UK elections.”
In his conference speech in September, Ed Miliband pledged that Labour would legislate for votes at 16 if it is successful in next year’s General Election. Lowering the voting age is also a long standing policy of the Liberal Democrats.
The Conservatives remain resolutely opposed to any change, arguing that 18 is largely accepted as the point at which someone transitions from being a child to an adult.
Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.