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The Compelling Case for Giving 16 and 17-Year-Olds the Vote in the EU Referendum

12/10/2015 17:48 BST | Updated 12/10/2016 10:12 BST

Just as last year's referendum on Scottish independence had huge implications for Scotland's young people, so too the looming referendum on EU exit would fundamentally change our country for years to come and deeply impact on young people, especially on their job prospects.

One of the successful features of the Scottish independence referendum was the extension of the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds. Most schools held hustings, where the young voters were able to hear the case for the respective sides and ask questions of the protagonists. In many cases, the schools organised a follow-on mock ballot, which introduced the prospective young voters to the concepts of polling cards, polling stations and ballot boxes, so that when the actual polling day arrived, they were familiar with the likely procedures. Whilst the turnout among this age group didn't reach the overall 84% turnout, it was still higher than the average turnout in this May's general election.

It is to be hoped that there is arising generation of Scots, familiar and comfortable with the mechanics of democracy and willing to play their part in future elections. Indeed, such was the success of the initiative, that all of Scotland's political parties agreed that 16 and 17-year-olds should be entitled to vote at future Scottish Parliamentary and local elections. Earlier this year, Westminster devolved the power for the Scottish Parliament to pass the required legislation, and the Act is now on the statute book.

Liberal Democrat policy has long been to allow votes at 16 in all elections. After all a 16-year-old in Britain can get married, pay tax and join the army, so why on earth should they not be allowed to take part in the democratic process, especially when it involves a decision that greatly affects them?

On Tuesday, the House of Lords will debate the second reading of the EU Referendum Bill. All parties are reconciled to the fact of the referendum. With the respective campaigns being launched, it might be said that there is a will to get on with debating the issues out in the country.

Liberal Democrats believe staying in the EU gives us the best chance of future peace, tackling climate change and keeping our economy strong. We shall be making an aspirational case for IN. But as these issues are of crucial importance to Britain's young people, and their future, we will be arguing, as the Bill goes through the Lords, that there should be provision for 16 and 17-year-olds to have their say on their future. We hope we can gather support from other parties. Given the successful engagement of young new voters in last year's Scottish referendum, there is surely a compelling case for involving them in the next great decision on their future and ours.

Jim Wallace is a Lib Dem peer and the leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords