Giving Young People the Right to Vote

As you will likely be aware by now, I’m Scottish and hence following the buildup to the Independence Referendum quite closely. However, one issue that you could notice without needing to pay too much attention, is that of the voting age being lowered from 18 years of age, to 16 years of age. For the first time in British history, people under 18 will be given the power to vote in a referendum. However, this has attracted mixed reactions, many of these reactions have been positive, not least from the young people themselves, but from a large number of adults in Scotland. That said, there are various groups, namely in the Better Together campaign, who do not agree with the move; having said this, that doesn’t mean one side if for it and the other against, but the debate surrounding it has been going on for almost as long as the independence debate itself.

Personally, I’m for it. Now this isn’t because I am a 16 year old in school, I am of voting age, it’s much more than that; at sixteen one can join the armed forces, one can get married, obtain full time work and be required to pay taxes, yet at 16, one cannot vote. After nearly three hundred years, the old slogan of the American colonists, “No taxation without representation” seems to be quite valid here. Surely, if you can expect a 16 year-old to serve his country in the armed forces, it is only right that he should be able to have his say in who runs the country he defends. Surely the sixteen year old girl, planning her wedding and perhaps a family, has the right to decide who runs the country her children will live in.

But it is more than that still, it’s not simply about what they can do at 16, its about what they are to this country. Since the dawn of civilisation, young people were taught to ‘respect their elders’, which was basically posh speak for ‘can it, Daddy’s in charge.’ In one way or another, the younger generation have always been stifled in politics, and culture in general, with no real ability to put forward opinions or fight for change. In the modern day, this still exists, but it exists in a different light; young people are either portrayed as lazy and apathetic, or violent and degenerate criminals. The modern idea of ‘youths’ has created a new image, like all before it, of young people that should not have a say in society.

The simple fact of the matter is this; these young people are this country’s future. In an independent Scotland, they would be the first generation to live and raise families in that new country. We are not simply creating a better country for ourselves, but for out children and our children’s children and so on. It therefore stands to reason that these young people, this country’s future, should be given a say in the creation of that country. Not only this, but it is my firm belief that this voting age should be not simply put in place for the referendum, but for all referenda and elections henceforth. This would allow the young people of this country to have real representation and a real ability to hold the elected officials to account.

Now there are many arguments against this suggestion, many of them, unsurprisingly, originating from the ‘No’ camp. Some of these are genuine concerns, others are just plain silly and pathetic, but let’s crack on, nonetheless.

“Young People are not experienced enough to vote, nor will they be ready to vote.”

Firstly, this is a genuine concern that some people have, that young people are not informed enough to vote on this matter, that young people in fact do not have the experience to vote. I can see where people are coming from when they mention this, but I should mention a couple of things here: Firstly, to say that young people are not informed enough is simply not entirely true; young people have been listening to the radio, watching the television and reading all the same articles as anyone else has. As a demographic, they are no less informed than any other age group, what’s more, most of these young people are interested in the debate. Young people across Scotland are very much interested by the debate on Independence as it is one that, they know, affects their future quite directly. It should also be mentioned, that any age group will have its share of uninformed or inexperienced voter; there are first time voters in all age groups along with plenty of people who know less about what’s going on than some young people do. To say that they don’t have experience or the right information to vote is simply not true, or perhaps the better together campaign want to exclude voting once more to men over 30 with large estates?

Secondly, this idea that they won’t be ready to vote, is nonsense too. Much like I said above, all age groups have first time voters, we must also remember that voting in this country is voluntary, if people don’t feel ready to vote, then they simply don’t vote. It’s like that for every age group, we are not talking about forcing people to vote. But the idea that young people especially won’t be ready is also ludicrous in itself. Whilst political rights for young people are still far from perfect, there are institutions up and down the country that allow young people to get involved; namely the U.K. Youth Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament, both of which allow members to be elected from their local areas to represent the views of young people in a parliamentary setting. Quite often these groups have sat in the chambers of their senior mirrors, the House of Commons and the Chamber of Holyrood respectively, to debate issues affecting young people.

The organisations communicate with young people and with government and provide a link between the two and even petition the government on issues affecting the young people in their areas or in the whole country. This does mean that, to an extent, young people are already involved in politics and have already taken part in various types of elections. Hence, to say that these young people are not ready to vote, is a gross insult to the whole demographic. These young people are as ready to vote as any other older citizen of this country.

“The young people are too apathetic, they cannot be bothered to vote.”

Now this, in my view at least, is not really an appropriate argument against allowing them the vote, for the simple reason that it’s not really true. The fact is, that whilst there is political apathy in Scotland, and Britain as a whole, the idea that this exists solely in our 16 and 17 year old citizens is insane. Political apathy is a problem right across the board, with people of all age groups deciding that they can’t be bothered. As a matter of fact, with rising youth unemployment and youngsters coming out of school finding it harder and harder to find a job or a university place, the interest taken in politics by our 16 and 17 year old citizens is growing.

As I said above the two sections of the Youth Parliament in this country exist as a testament to that, combine that with their growing presence in recent years, and it becomes quite apparent that young people are indeed not as politically apathetic as some would lead us to believe. Most young people face real issues everyday, whether they come from elders telling them what to do, not being able to find a job, being unable to secure a place at university, whatever, young people face issues everyday and more than ever need to be given a voice. What’s more is that these young people also realise this, they realise that they need a voice and they are willing to fight for it. Giving young people the vote would give them this voice, and I put it to you, that they would use that voice.

I am aware that there are other concerns, but I am also aware that this post is becoming very long. So I will say this, in my view, there is no real reason why the vote should not be extended to 16 and 17 year old members of society. But, as usual, if you have an idea, a question, or indeed a point you’d like to challenge me on, please feel free to open up the debate in the comments section.

For now, however, thanks for reading.

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