Monday, 15 June 2015

The EU is young people’s future. They must have the vote in this referendum

In the days since the general election, David Cameron has set his sights firmly on Europe and shortened the potential timeframe of his planned referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.

But it’s worth remembering that the Tories managed to win only one out of 59 seats in Scotland, and that they had their worst ever general election vote share north of the border since 1865. Cameron’s mandate among the UK’s “family of nations” – to use his own term from the Scottish independence referendum campaign – is dubious at best. In light of the result in Scotland, the prime minister must recognise that it cannot be business as usual.

Cameron has promised to govern with respect. To have any hope of achieving that, it is vital to his own credibility and to that of the government he leads to apply core democratic principles to the EU referendum bill ,which is expected to be published on Thursday.

Best practice from the independence referendum must be followed – and that includes extending the vote in an EU referendum to 16- and 17-year-olds across the UK. Scotland’s 56 SNP MPs will certainly seek to amend the legislation to ensure that young people are able to take part in the vote.

Restricted franchise in EU referendum would make a mockery of democracy
Letters: David Cameron must give me and fellow Brits living in other parts of the EU a say in our own future

My own interest in this matter goes back many years – including devoting my maiden speech in the House of Commons in 2001 to the case for lowering the voting age to 16 across the board. Interestingly, when Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election in 1967, her maiden speech called for the voting age to be cut from 21, as it was at that time, to 18.

Progress has been made, and one of the great successes of last year’s independence referendum was the franchise being extended to young adults. Scotland sent out the message loudly and clearly that 16- and 17-year-olds should have the right to shape the country they live in.

And as a nation we were not let down: 16- and 17-year-olds turned out in huge numbers to vote, and did not stop there. Young people in Scotland have embraced participative democracy like never before.

I don’t agree with having a referendum on EU membership – but if it is to go ahead, then Cameron has a responsibility to help ensure it can be an enriching and open debate. Young people are our future. It is their UK – and their Europe – so they must have their say.

Sixteen- and 17-year-olds can pay taxes, get married and join the armed forces, so it is only right and fair that they should also be entitled to vote.

The opposition benches must send a message to this Tory government that they cannot ride roughshod over our future
We will also seek to amend the legislation to ensure that no constituent part of the UK can be taken out of the EU against its will. We will propose a “double majority” rule, meaning that unless England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each vote to leave the EU, as well as the UK as a whole, Britain would remain a member state.

If Cameron continues to refuse to accept this democratic protection, then his independence referendum vow that Scotland is to have an equal voice will be in tatters.

We also support the idea of EU nationals living in the UK having their say. If a vote for the UK to leave the EU was successful, it could have deeply damaging consequences on the lives of those people who have chosen to live and work here, and on their families. Just like young people, and the UK “family of nations”, European nationals deserve a voice too.

North of the border, EU citizens can vote in Scottish parliament elections and local authority elections – and, of course, they had their say in the independence referendum. Although this is not yet the case for Westminster’s general elections, it would be wrong to exclude them from a vote on the UK’s European membership.

Cameron will be accountable for his rhetoric and his actions, and the SNP will – as we promised during the general election campaign – work to promote progressive policies.

And we will look to work across party lines in these objectives. As well as from our friends in Plaid Cymru and the Greens, we will also seek support from Labour MPs and the remaining Lib Dems.

It is important that the opposition benches send a strong message to this Tory government that it cannot ride roughshod over our future.

SNP MPs at Westminster will do all we can to ensure that everyone has a fair say on our future European membership – including the UK’s youngest citizens.

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