A LEADING Scottish children’s charity has called for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given a vote in all UK elections, referendums and polls, claiming that their under-representation is a civil rights issue.

The call, being made by Children in Scotland’s chief executive Jackie Brock, is one of 25 actions the charity claims will make Scotland a better country for children and young people.

The manifesto was launched last week to celebrate Children in Scotland’s 25th anniversary and was drawn up in collaboration with some 500 organisations and individuals.

It covers issues from education to food and from poverty to mental health. However, Brock chose to highlight voting as a key issue, claiming that young people had the right to have a say on decisions that affected their future.

In the Brexit referendum, 73% of those under-24 voted for Remain, while research by political researcher professor John Curtice suggests that if a second vote was held up to 82% of the demographic would vote to stay in the EU.

During the Scottish independence referendum the voting age was lowered to 16 for the first time. In June 2015, the Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to reduce the voting age for elections for the Scottish Parliament and for Scottish local government elections. The Scottish Youth Parliament was among organisations that campaigned for the change.

While stressing that Children in Scotland took no political stance, Brock said the youth vote on Brexit indicated that young people were struggling to have their voices heard by the political process.

“I think Scotland has led the way in terms of realising the rights of young people aged 16-18,” she said. “It’s been an important civil rights issue.”

Young people on a panel supported by Children in Scotland fed back that they also wanted a say over issues that were not devolved. “There are significant matters that are not devolved, critically the economy, taxation, civil defence,” she added.

She claimed that the fact that younger people were voting meant more policies to address inequality in that age group were being brought forward. Meanwhile, campaigns – such as Living Rent, highlighting renters’ rights and Better Than Zero, campaigning for young workers’ rights – were being driven by young people.

“It means that politicians are forced to take into account the intent and views of young people, who are going to be voting. It makes for better-informed policy and process,” added Brock.

“There is lots of research in terms of the positive impact that were seen on young people becoming more engaged. It inspires them to become political participants.”

The issue of youth political participation was also raised at the Festival of Politics yesterday, with sessions on both the “Youthquake” being felt around the world as a result of youth-led political movements, and on young people and Brexit.

Jack Norquoy of the Scottish Youth Parliament and chair of yesterday’s session on Brexit, welcomed Children in Scotland’s call. “It’s my belief that it’s one of the best ways of getting young people involved in making decisions and having their voice heard is fundamentally through the ballot box,” he said.

“In recent years 16 and 17-year-olds have been able to exercise their rights and vote in Scotland. But it’s an absurd situation where if you are a 16-year-old living in Dumfries you hold the right to vote in all Scottish and local elections but if you are 16 and live 30 miles down the road in Carlisle you don’t have that right. I think that’s an injustice.”

Norquoy was still 15 at the time of the 2014 independence referendum, but says that the fact that many of his friends were able to vote was an important factor in him becoming politically active.

“To then be locked out of UK elections and Brexit feels like a complete injustice,” he added. “We are living in such a turbulent period. I think there’s this realisation that it is our generation who will inherit the full consequences of those decisions.”

A Cabinet Office spokewoman said: “The UK Government has no plans to lower the voting age. Parliament has debated the question of lowering the voting age in a number of contexts, and has repeatedly voted against lowering it.

“The age of 18, not 16, is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult. Full citizenship rights – from buying alcohol, to betting, to voting – should be gained at adulthood.”

The Enfranchisement and Education Bill, which seeks to reduce the voting age to 16 in all UK parliamentary and other elections faltered last year but it is due to have a second reading in Westminster later this month.