ONE of the first benefits of the Smith Commission’s recommendations to actually take effect will be the lowering of the voting age to 16 in Scotland.

The first formal step in that process was taken yesterday when the Scottish Government’s Bill to lower the voting age to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in Scottish Parliament and local elections was published. Westminster and European elections will continue to be only for those aged 18 and over.

The National can reveal it will cost £1.4 million over the next two years to alter the electoral registers to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote, plus up to £300,000 per year for future registrations.

With the Bill enjoying all-party support, the new law and relevant changes will be in place to allow the new young voters to take part in the Scottish Parliament elections in May next year.

Announcing the publication of the Bill, the Scottish Government stated: “The involvement and enthusiasm of young people was a highlight of the referendum and their engagement with the issues and participation in the campaign has left them keener than ever to remain actively involved in the political process.”

Full powers in relation to Scottish Parliament and local government franchise and registration are expected to be devolved to Scotland as part of the wider package of Smith Commission-related transfer of powers through the UK Government’s proposed Scotland Bill.

The Scottish Government’s proposals on lowering the voting age come after the Privy Council decision to approve the Section 30 order that handed power to legislate on the voting age to the Scottish Parliament as recommended by the Smith Commission.

The additional costs of up to £1.4m – all to be paid by the Scottish Government – relate to the amounts needed to extend the franchise and include public-awareness campaigns which are likely to be targeted at those aged 14 to 17 who will need to register themselves in order to vote at the next Scottish Parliament and local elections.

There are approximately 110,000 people aged 14 or 15 in Scotland, according to National Records of Scotland estimates, so that will be the maximum number of young voters that could register during the 2015 canvas. The registration rate among 16 and 17-year-olds at the referendum was around 90 per cent.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said: “September’s independence referendum stimulated an unprecedented level of political engagement in Scotland, not least from the 16 and 17-year-old young people who grasped the opportunity to vote for the first time with both hands. This was a truly inspiring period that led to a level of political engagement that few would have predicted and that can only be positive for Scotland going forward.

“I warmly welcome the broad cross-party support for the Scottish Government’s proposal to extend the right to vote in Scottish Parliament and local government elections to include 16 and 17 year olds.

“I am pleased the legislation has now been introduced to Parliament for consideration, in good time for the Scottish election in May 2016.”