Kiran Stacey Votes at 16 – a clever Lib Dem plot?

Alex Salmond and David CameronDavid Cameron will meet Alex Salmond in Edinburgh on Monday morning to put the seal on a deal to transfer the power to the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence.

As part of that deal, the British government will make sure there is a straightforward, single question, while giving way on allowing the Scottish government to give 16- and 17-year-olds the vote.

This is being treated with some consternation at Westminster, where many fear it will undermine the current constitutional settlement of only allowing adults to vote. Lord Forsyth, the Tory peer, called it a “backdoor way” of changing the voting rules, arguing that it should be debated properly in parliament.

Many MPs are likely to accept the agreement, happy that Mr Salmond will not get the chance to muddy the waters with a second referendum question, offering further devolved powers but not full independence.

But there is another possible interpretation. The man leading the negotiations for the coalition is Michael Moore, the Scotland secretary. Moore is a Lib Dem, and his party’s official policy is allow 16-year-olds to vote everywhere across Britain, including at general elections. What he has done by signing this agreement is make a long-held Lib Dem policy much more likely. An ally of his told me today:

Lib Dems are very clear that 16- and 17-year-olds should be enfranchised, so we are not too concerned with giving that power to the Scottish government.

There is one proviso to this line of reasoning however. One reason the Lib Dems wanted to extend the franchise was that younger people were more likely to vote for their party. Post-tuition fees, that might not be so likely any more.