So great was the drama of last year’s referendum on Scottish independence that the inclusion of 16- and 17-year-old voters seems like a footnote to the story. Yet it looks likely to be one of that campaign’s enduring consequences. Already this cohort has been enfranchised for next year’s Holyrood elections. This week the House of Lords endorsed their inclusion in the vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
That decision is contained in an amendment to the referendum bill and the Commons may yet strike it down. The government opposes the change but with a slender majority and opposition parties in favour of it, the outcome is uncertain.
Everything hinges on the handful of Conservative MPs who are minded to go along with the peers’ judgment. Their motives flow mostly from tactical – and contradictory – considerations around the referendum result. Some pro-Europeans believe younger voters are likelier to support the case for Remain. Limited polling evidence supports that view, although the impact is dulled by the pattern of younger voters failing to turn out compared with the more reliable poll attendance of their elders.