With support for independence also higher among the young, lowering the voting age for the referendum to 16 becomes a blatantly political move by the SNP to help secure the result it wants.

Reducing the voting age has been under serious discussion since today’s 16 and 17-year-olds were in primary school and is currently out for consultation among a wide-ranging constitutional shake-up initiated by Gordon Brown. The prime minister has advocated lowering the UK voting age, provided it was done in conjunction with citizenship education. It is agreed party policy for the Liberals, Greens and SNP and the SNP has already passed legislation to allow the inclusion of 16 and 17-year-olds as a pilot scheme in two of the health board elections to be held next year.

In general, however, politicians have been wary. In 2004 the Electoral Commission conducted a major consultation on the subject of the voting and candidacy ages and recommended that the voting age remain at 18 and in a free vote in 2005, MPs voted against a bill to reduce the voting age to 16. However, the wide-ranging Power Inquiry into how political participation can be increased included among its recommendations reducing the voting and candidacy age to 16 and suggested that individual voter registration at 16 should be introduced in tandem with the allocation of National Insurance numbers.

That recognises one of the strongest arguments for lowering the age: that 16-year-olds can pay tax and therefore should be entitled to a say on how public money is spent. No democracy can ignore the justice behind the rallying call: “No taxation without representation.”

Even more emotive is the slogan: “If you are old enough to die for your country, you’re old enough to vote”. That is no longer the anomaly it was for centuries.

Young people can still join the armed forces at 16, but since 2003 have no longer been sent into action on the front line under the age of 18.That is an illustration of how the age at which young people lose the protected status of a child and acquire the rights and responsibilities of adults has been rising. The result, however, is inconsistency. Sixteen-year-olds can leave school, although they are increasingly encouraged to continue their education and Gordon Brown has proposed raising the school leaving age in England. They can marry and those who earn enough are required to pay taxes. Yet the minimum age for buying tobacco has been raised from 16 to 18 and the SNP has proposed a power to raise the age for buying alcohol from off-licences from 18 to 21 in areas where there have been problems.

This inconsistency between preventing a 20-year-old from buying beer and allowing a 16-year-old to cast a vote which will affect the future governance of the country makes it impossible to regard the intention to lower the voting age for the referendum as anything other than political opportunism on the part of the SNP.

If the Referendum Bill succeeds and it includes a lowering of the voting age, around 125,000 teenagers would be added to the electoral roll for the referendum next year. At 3% of the total and keen to exercise their new power, especially on a single issue vote, they would be a significant group, more likely on the evidence of all the opinion polls to vote Yes to independence than their elders.

There are sound arguments for enfranchising 16-year-olds. The decreasing turnout at elections is a democratic deficit which must be put right and engaging young people at an early age is the best hope for the future, but party politics should never dictate such a significant change.