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.