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  A Scottish Government bill that will give every 16 and 17 year old the right to vote in next year’s independence referendum has been introduced in a historic day for the Scottish Parliament today.

The Scottish Referendum (Franchise) Bill will allow young people aged 16 and 17 to participate and help shape Scotland’s future.

The planned legislation will see those who will be sixteen by the time of the 2014 independence referendum, allowed to register their right to vote. 

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the extension of the franchise would give those with the biggest stake in Scotland’s future the opportunity to vote for an independent country where the most important decisions on economic prosperity and social justice are taken by those that live and work in Scotland.  

The Bill sets out who will be able to vote in the referendum and will place young voters on an equal footing with other electors, helping to engage them in the democratic process.  It will give electoral registration officers the power to register those who will be 16 or over on the day of the vote and will provide safeguards to ensure that data is treated sensitively and responsibly.

Young Scots for Independence convener David Linden said:

“I am proud of an SNP Government that is bringing forward this exciting extension to the democratic process in Scotland, and I hope that it receives cross-party support in the Scottish Parliament.

"Young Scots are not the citizens of tomorrow, they are the citizens of today - they have the biggest stake in Scotland’s future, and this Bill will ensure that everyone aged 16 and above on the day of the referendum will have the chance to have their say.

"The need for an independent Scotland - the 'why of independence' - is a compelling message for people of all ages.

"With independence, Scotland always gets the governments we vote for - instead of the disgraceful situation of having the Bedroom Tax imposed on vulnerable people, which over 90 per cent of Scotland's MPs voted against.

"We will get rid of Trident nuclear weapons by voting for independence - a No vote means a new generation of weapons of mass destruction based on the Clyde for another 50 years.

"And a Yes vote means building on the achievements of the Scottish Parliament, and protecting vital services such as free education for young Scots.

"Independence is about opportunity for Scotland - and opportunity for all the people who live, work and are building their future here."

The plans were welcomed by all the Holyrood parties with the exception of the Scottish Conservatives.

Former Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said: "The Scottish Conservatives are not hostile to debate on the different age limits for different activities, but are not supportive of singling out the independence referendum for a trial extension of franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds."

Labour MSP Neil Bibby backed the legislation, but said that any system should ensure that those eligible to vote should be able to do so: "Questions have been raised about the practicalities of ensuring that everyone who is eligible to vote, is able to vote and we will scrutinise the legislation closely to ensure that these have been answered.

"There is now a short amount of time between the legislation being submitted, debated, passed and it being implemented across Scotland later this year."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, added: "Giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote in the independence referendum is an important step in our efforts to build a fairer society.

"Scottish Liberal Democrats will be proud to support this move and hope that it will open the door to wider reform across the UK."

Voter eligibility for the independence referendum will be the same as that used for the Scottish parliamentary elections and local authority elections.

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