5.2 Youth participation in representative democracy
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LAST MODIFIED ON: 01/10/2020
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Young people as voters
The voting age for European Parliament and UK Parliament elections is 18.
For Scottish Parliament and Scottish local elections, the Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Act 2015 extended the franchise to 16 and 17 year olds.
The franchise for the referendum on independence for Scotland in 2014 was also extended to include 16 and 17 year olds. However, the minimum age to vote in the UK and referendums remains 18, including the European Union referendum.
There are no special provisions in the electoral rules for young people or specific groups of young people.
Turnout in recent elections
European Parliament elections – Overall turnout for Scotland at the 2019 European Parliamentary election was Turnout was 39.7 per cent, higher than in 2015 when it was 33.5 per cent. No breakdown is available by age.
Scottish independence referendum – Overall turnout in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014 was 84.6 per cent. Public opinion research carried out on behalf of the Electoral Commission, found that young people were the least likely of any age group to report having voted. Of 16 to 34 year olds, 69 per cent said that they voted in the referendum, compared with 85 per cent of 35 to 54 year olds and 92 per cent of the 55 and over age group. Self-reported turnout amongst 16 to to 17 year olds was 75 per cent, which is significantly higher than amongst 18 to 24 year olds (54 per cent).
Scottish Parliament election – According to a briefing from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, overall turnout in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election was 55.6 per cent for the constituency vote, and 55.8 per cent for the regional vote. There was no breakdown shown by age. The next Scottish Parliament elections will take place on May 6th 2021.
EU membership referendum – According to the Electoral Commission, overall turnout in Scotland in the referendum held on 23 June 2016 on membership of the European Union was 67.2, compared to 72.2 per cent for the UK overall. Based on post-election sampling it has been reported that the turnout for 18-24-year-olds was 64 per cent.
Local government election – A report for the Electoral Commission on the 2017 local elections showed overall turnout at 46.9 per cent. There was no breakdown shown by age.
UK General election –Research published by the British Election Study Team in 2018 found that turnout by age in the 2015 and 2017 elections ranged from between 40% and 50% among the youngest voters to over 80% among the oldest. Polling research from Ipsos MORI suggests that turnout in 2019 ranged from 47% among 18 to 24-year‑olds up to 74% among over-65s. This is a wider gap than in 2017, when the same pollsters measured turnout at 54% and 71% respectively in these age groups. However, Ipsos MORI caution that it uses pre-election survey data to derive these turnout estimates, which for several reasons it describes as one of the “hardest challenges” of analysing such data.
Data published by YouGov, which based their findings on a survey of over 40,000 adults, found that as in the 2017 election, age continued to be the biggest dividing line in the 2019 election. The data indicates that little has changed on this front over the past two years, with Labour still winning a majority of younger voters and the Conservatives miles ahead among older Britons.
Young people as political representatives
Young people as party members
There is no legislation governing young people as members of political parties. The age at which they can join, other eligibility criteria and the benefits of membership are matters for the parties’ own rules. Most of the major political parties have youth wings and/or special membership categories for young people.
Young people as candidates
Candidates for election must be 18 years old or over. The same age limit applies to European and UK Parliamentary elections, Scottish Parliament elections (for both constituency and regional candidates) and local elections.
There are no quotas for young people.
There are no functions reserved for young people in either the UK or the Scottish Parliament.
Further information on standing for election to the Scottish Parliament (as applicable to the most recent election) is available from the Electoral Commission.
Young people as elected representatives
UK Parliament – According to a House of Commons Library Briefing Paper of the Members elected to the UK Parliament in 2019, 49 per cent were aged over 50, a decrease from 52 per cent in 2017. The number of MPs aged under 30 increased to 21 (3 per cent) (compared to 2.2 per cent) in 2017).
Scottish Parliament –
A Scottish Parliament Statistics paper 2018-2019 provides information on the average ages of MSPs in May 2019, broken down by party:
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
Scottish Green Party
Scottish Liberal Democrats
Scottish National Party
No Party Affiliation
The paper also broke down age by gender where both female and male average for all parties was 52 years old.
Local government – According to the findings of a survey of local councillors in Scotland, published in April 2018 by the Improvement Service, 67 per cent of the councillors that responded were aged 50 or over and 5.9 per cent were under the age of 30.
Community Councils - Community Councillors in Scotland are aged 16 and above.