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Ensuring young voters are registered is vital

When the Prime Minister David Cameron and the First Minister Alex Salmond signed a deal on the Scottish referendum two years ago, both sides claimed victory.

Mr Cameron was satisfied there would be only one question (yes or no to independence); Mr Salmond was pleased about the extension of the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds. Supporters of independence believed young, first-time voters would be more likely to vote yes.

The truth of that belief will be proved or disproved in a few weeks' time, but in the meantime there is another challenge to be met: ensuring that as many of these young voters as possible register to vote.

Already, there are signs that the referendum has engaged young people like never before - they are out campaigning for both sides, they are taking part in mock referendums in schools and universities and they are engaging with the issues on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

However, every effort still has to be made to encourage every young voter - indeed, voters of all ages - to register and a new campaign by the Electoral Commission and Facebook could play an important role.

The campaign means that from today, people over 16 using Facebook will be able to add a "registered to vote" label to their page on the site. Not only will this be a public declaration of the intention to take part, it is also designed to raise awareness of the registration process and the Electoral Commission's referendum guide, which contains factual information on how to register.

The campaign is a welcome attempt to extend the franchise as far as possible and will hopefully reach many 16- and 17-year-olds. It was right that they were given a vote (why would they be denied a say in the future of the country when they can get married and pay taxes?) but they arguably have even more invested in the future of the country than older voters.

The fact that the Electorial Commission is making its appeal partly through Facebook is also a reflection of how important social networking has been in the process, in good and bad ways. The bad has been the vitriol and nastiness against some politicians, celebrities and ordinary people expressing their views. The good has been the way that Twitter, Facebook and other sites have encouraged millions of people to debate, question and discuss. In many ways, the sites are the new town halls.

What the sites cannot offer, of course, is a way to vote - only the traditional registration process and the pen and paper in the booth can do that, which is why the Electoral Commission's campaign is so important. Yes or no, as many people as possible must be registered for the vote. No-one should miss out on deciding the nation's future.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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