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Scotland: Let 16-year-olds vote on independence

LONDON-- Scotland's leader said Wednesday that 16- and 17-year-olds should be eligible to cast ballots in a referendum on Scottish independence.

First Minister Alex Salmond announced the Scottish government's preferred options for the vote on whether to sever ties from Britain, which it plans to hold in the fall of 2014.

He told Scottish lawmakers in the Edinburgh assembly the ballot would ask "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" but could also include a third option, for increased autonomy short of full independence.

And he said the voting age should be lowered from the current 18.

"If a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the army, get married and pay taxes, surely he or she should be able to have a say in this country's constitutional future?" Salmond said.

The details are subject to consultation with Scottish voters -- and negotiations with the British government in London, which insists it has the final authority to authorize a binding referendum.

Opponents of independence want to hold the vote as soon as possible, because polls suggest only about a third of Scots are in favor.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the ballot should pose a straight yes-no question, and not include a third option, which has been dubbed maximum devolution or "devo max."

But Salmond said that "if there is an alternative of maximum devolution which would command wide support in Scotland, then it is only fair and democratic that option should be among the choices open to the people of Scotland."

Cameron stressed Wednesday that everyone in Britain, not just Scots, should have a say in any changes to Scotland's status.

He said "the point that everyone needs to understand is that options for further devolution, options for changes across the United Kingdom, are matters all of the United Kingdom should rightly discuss."

Scotland and England united in 1707 to form Great Britain. Scotland gained significant autonomy after voting in 1997 to set up the Edinburgh-based Scottish Parliament. But some Scots want to go further and make the nation of 5 million people an independent country within the European Union.

Salmond, who leads the separatist Scottish National Party, said that independence would bring "a new, more modern relationship between the nations of these islands -- a partnership of equals."
He said an independent Scotland would keep Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, but would not send troops to Afghanistan and would order the removal of nuclear weapons from Scottish soil.

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