Young People’s Rights

16 and 17 year-olds thrown into the spotlight as they fight for the vote.

Last week’s referendum on Scottish Independence (I know when will this guy shut up about it?) was a first in many respects. It represented a triumph for democracy as for the first time ever 16 and 17 year old Scots were given the chance to vote on the future of their country. The proposal was pushed through mainly by the SNP and by other pro-Yes groups who saw 16/17 year-olds as the future of this country. The plan was to allow them the vote in the referendum, but the powers in Westminster kept brushing calls for the vote to be extended in general under the carpet.

However, now that the referendum has drawn to a close, the entire country is now looking ahead to the UK General Election which takes place in eight month’s time and the question of allowing our younger generation to vote in such elections. The idea was backed by the Scottish Youth Parliament who spoke to Kevin Bridges on his BBC Programme “What’s the Story? Referendum Special”.

There are a number of arguments for it from a purely ‘mechanical’ view; a lot of youngsters are of the impression that if you can pay taxes, get married, have children, join the army, etc., why shouldn’t you be able to vote? Voting for the people who are setting your tax rates, deciding whether you can or can’t get married, or sending you to war only seems fair after all.

The younger generations are seen, by those who support the move, as the future of our country. They are seen as those who, in a few years time, may well be our big CEOs, doctors, teachers, politicians, etc. There are also a vast number of 16 and 17 year old people in smaller jobs, toiling away to pay their bills and keep our world ticking over. We are, as a species, only mortal and our hopes and aspirations for society inevitably rest on the shoulders of those yet to come.

So what’s all the fuss about then? Well it seems to come from the older generation who feel that young people simply aren’t capable of voting properly. It’s immensely insulting but the arguments go along the lines of “they don’t know any better”, “they aren’t engaged enough”, and, one of my favourites, “they aren’t independent enough.”

The last one was a reason given by someone phoning into a radio show on BBC Scotland this morning. The reasoning was that they still live at home and hence aren’t independent enough to make their own political decisions. This is to say nothing of a large number of adults who still live at home or elderly people who now reside with their children for support. Are these people too dependent? Should we take away their votes too?

As a 16 or 17 year old, you are fighting for your own independence, you’re at the age where your parents are “cramping your style” and “bumming you out” (god I feel old saying those things…), all you want to do is be your own person with your own identity.

As for the previous two citing that young people are either wholly unengaged or simply don’t know any better is quite annoying to put it mildly. The referendum debate saw young people more involved in politics than many of their parents or older relatives, groups such as Generation Yes sprang up providing a platform for youngsters to get involved in the campaign. Some of the most well informed people I spoke to were young people who were being allowed to vote for the first time.

This can largely be attributed to the advent of the internet and social media. Things such as Facebook and Twitter are predominantly used by the younger generations and the vast amount of information and debate out there was thrown right at them, and they responded brilliantly. Young people were all of a sudden engaged in politics and fervently discussing their countries future. I am, as a matter of fact, convinced that the decision to allow teens the vote forced their, perhaps otherwise apathetic, parents to engage in the debate too.

At an age where they are in their later stages of school, 16/17 year olds generally delight in being able to take in new information and debate it with their peers, their families and their teachers. School debates and mock referenda across the country provided some great questions and answers.

Contrary to this is the opinion of a fair portion of the older generations who seem completely set in their ways or otherwise “see no point in voting”. My thought is that the established powers see the naturally progressive views of much of our younger generations and fear for what they may well do at the polls.

I grant you, it was a big issue, and an 85% turnout cannot be wholly attributed to young people’s votes, however, the flare and enthusiasm for the debate that young people brought to the debate can’t have hindered it. I, for one, would love to see that same kind of youthful flare brought to a general election.

And if they’re not engaged enough? Then they simply won’t vote, a situation no different than with the rest of the population. And in a country that sees some of Europe’s lowest turnout rates it certainly couldn’t hurt.

The Right to an Education

If you come from Scotland, or indeed anywhere in the United Kingdom, as I do, you will be aware of the on going debate surrounding University tuition fees. If you come from somewhere else or were just not aware of that fact, then, yeah… that’s what’s happening. The reason this debate is going on, and has been going on is because of the polar-opposite approaches taken on either side of the border; in Scotland university tuition is free for all Scots studying their first degree. In England and Wales – still part of the same country – this is not the case, with universities being given the ability to set their own levels of tuition fees. Currently, these fees are capped by law at £9’000 pa, however, that still leaves students with a possible debt of £27’000 as soon as they leave university, and that’s not including extra loan amounts for living expenses. The fact that our young people have such a large debt looming at the end of their degree course, in an economic climate where getting a job upon leaving university is not guaranteed, even unlikely, is simply not acceptable and is causing more and more young people to drop any hopes of going to university on financial grounds.

The fact of the matter is, that university is once again becoming a class segregated affair, and I don’t mean teaching classes, I mean that university is becoming something only the middle classes can easily aspire to. With fees at their current level, and the government looking at plans to raise or even scrap the cap, we may begin to see a situation where prices simply spiral out of control leaving the students from the poorest backgrounds unable to partake in higher education. The argument given is generally that the economy cannot cope with the cost of introducing government funded tuition fees, however it still manages to support things such as MPs’ pay and expenses, the royal family and trident? It is simply not a valid argument. It has been estimated that scrapping tuition fees would cost the taxpayer around £4 billion, in comparison the cost of the U.K.’s ‘Trident’ nuclear deterrent is closer to £15 billion of taxpayers’ money, now I’m only a physicist, but I’m sure 15 is a lot bigger than 4.

The idea that young people should be priced out of education due to the economic climate is not a god enough answer; the NHS complains about a lack of doctors and nurses, school class sizes grow due to a lack of teachers, businesses collapse because of poor financial advice, British manufacturing and technology production slump due to a shortage in qualified persons. It’s almost as if there is a link between these cases and the rise in the number of young people not attending university. With fewer people holding degrees and advanced qualifications, of course our economy is going to suffer.

There is also the argument that young people need to know how to manage money, how to pay off debt and that if they start of with debt they will feel like they have to work harder to pay it off. Nonsense, in a country where even people with years of experience and multiple qualifications are struggling to get a job, what chance does the young graduate with little work experience have? And to start that with 27k and upwards already needing to pay off? It is simply not fair, nor is it feasible, to expect young people to cope with such a situation.

And what about the class situation? Why should that be fair? That only those who have come from a wealthy family should have the chance at an education? Again, unfair and completely unacceptable in modern society. Why is it then such an issue? People claim that it will demean degrees, or that people will go to university not wanting to go or simply doing a ‘Mickey-mouse’  degree. There seem to be so many reasons that people seem set against it, that it will somehow undermine everything British and that the economy will collapse and all of England will be sucking into a gaping hole in the Earth’s crust. But it is nonsense; we need only look at the situation in Scotland.

In Scotland, all Scottish young people who wish to go to university to study can do so, with their fees paid for by the Scottish government. What’s more is that it is sustainable, it works. Young Scots have the ability to study in higher education regardless of financial background, with the knowledge that when they come out the other side, the only debts they will have are those for living expenses. The degrees are not diminished either, there are not a flood of people with pretend degrees walking around. Why? Because the universities don’t offer silly degree titles and people tend to study at university because they want to do so; many people choose not to and just go into employment from school or go to colleges. But the simple truth is that it works.

The other truth is this; it is their right to receive an education, based on their ability, not on the size of daddy’s wallet. As much as the Tory led government would have us believe, not all poor people are idiots, and not all rich people are clever. I know plenty of people from less well of backgrounds who simply couldn’t have dreamed about going to university had tuition fees been in place, yet are excelling in their fields at university level. If people want to be educated, and have the ability to do well in their field, then they have every right to be educated.

I cannot abide by this idea that one should be excluded from such a basic right as education simply due to financial background. If we continue to impose tuition fees on our young people, we will suffer in the long run; with fewer doctors, teachers, politicians (not necessarily a bad thing), scientists, architects, etc. Tuition fees are not good for the economy, in fact they may well prove to be quite detrimental to our economy and to the country as a whole. Britain has had a fantastic record of world leading education, world renowned scholars, philosophers and scientists. Let’s keep that record up and scrap tuition fees.

 

I apologise for the rather rushed nature of this post and the absence of posts for a while, but I have been engaged in the nitty-gritty world of politics, I will explain in my next post. For now, however, thanks for reading and, as usual, feel free to leave comments and continue the debate in the comments section.

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.