That phrase sparked a revolution and whilst it may be a slightly hyperbolic way to start, it lays out the debate over the voting age quite nicely. This week is Votes At 16 Action Week, called by the Votes At 16 Coalition to support the e-petition in my name on this issue.
The argument itself is a fairly simple one. At 16 you can start a family, join the armed forces, marry and most crucially be taxed on your income (assuming you’re not on Workfare!) but you cannot vote for those that tax you, those that decide where we go to war, in fact those who decide pretty much every aspect of your day to day lives and the society in which you live. This, it would seem, is a pretty bizarre situation to be in.
If any other group who qualified to do any of these things was denied the right to vote there would be considerable justified outcry. Imagine today that women were still denied the right to vote. It’s almost inconceivable in a modern democracy and yet the situation is strikingly similar for 16 & 17 year olds.
The arguments against lowering the voting age have come into popular debate once again as the serious possibility of 16 & 17 year olds getting to vote in the Scottish referendum has appeared. Yet again, we’re reminded of just how bizarre they are.
“16 year olds are too immature to vote. They don’t have any real experience of the world”
Basically, we’re too stupid and not to be trusted with something that requires experience to use. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t it just a bit of a sweeping statement to say that all 16/17 year olds aren’t mature enough to vote? In 2009 almost one million people aged 18 and over voted for a party I would consider as immature, reactionary and fascist. They didn’t vote for the ‘wrong’ party, i just strongly disagreed with their choice but I would never dream of taking their vote from them on these grounds and I doubt many others would either.
‘Real world experience’ is also an odd term. At 16 you will have been a direct daily recipient of government services for at least the past 11 years through education. You are also far more likely to have spent time in hospital, something else controlled by the government (for now!) each year than most middle aged people. If experience is everything then why does this experience count for nothing?
I could talk of the huge decision of joining the military without any ‘experience’ but i fear I’m beginning to ramble.
“Most 16 year olds wouldn’t vote anyway so what’s the point?”
This has to be the worst argument against votes at 16 but it is also the most popular. If we follow the maxim behind that to its logical conclusion, if most members of a group don’t want to do something ie vote, then the whole group shouldn’t be allowed to vote. In that case, we’d have stopped bothering with elections to the Scottish parliament after 2003 as less than half of the electorate came out to vote. We’d certainly never bother with council by-elections, they can go as low as 13% (Glasgow Hillhead, 2011). In fact, the voting age should really be 35 by that argument as that’s roughly the age at which over half of voters begin to turn out.
Voting is not for those that don’t vote, it’s for those that do!
In the context of the Scottish referendum, there is a legitimate debate to be had over the administration of lowering the voting age, the issue of parents registering their children before their 16th birthday etc. but there has been an odd silence from the usual suspects who object to votes at 16 on principle.
There have been some crass accusations of gerrymandering on the part of Alex Salmond simply because a tiny amount of polling drew the conclusion that teenagers are more likely vote yes to independence (see the above argument that we can’t have the vote because we might vote wrong). What the accusers fail to realise is that votes at 16 in principle has been SNP policy for years and they’ve introduced it at every opportunity (Health Board elections in Fife and Dumfries and Galloway).
Parliamentary support for votes at 16 has, in theory never been higher. The Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, SDLP, Sinn Fein and the other small parties support it and supposedly so do many in labour, including Ed Milliband (who voted for 16 year olds to get the vote last year for the AV referendum).
In reality though, this is quite different. Whilst the smaller parties have remained vocally supportive, Labour have fallen silent on the issue and the Lib Dems have had another spectacular u-turn. In October of last year, Michael Moore MP, Secretary of State for Scotland made a speech to the Scottish Youth Parliament in which he layed out his unequivocal support for the issue. By January, when the chance came for him and his fellow Lib Dem MPs to put their money where their mouth was not only did they abandon a key policy and personal promise to young people but they actively spoke out against lowering the voting age for the referendum. Apparently, for them it’s all or nothing on votes at 16. I would suggest that’s the same attitude they’ve taken to the Conservative manifesto and they clearly didn’t fancy the second option……
When the politicians fail, it’s the people who pick up the slack and this week has been a spectacular example of this. All across the UK supporters of votes at 16 (old and young) have been gathering signatures, speaking in schools, youth groups, community meetings and all other manner of activities to get the message out there. They have shown the passion and ability that proves why this campaign is so important and why the solution is obvious.
Votes At 16. We’re Ready.
You can sign the e-petition here: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/28
You can ask your MSPs to support Patrick Harvie’s motion on Votes At 16 – S4M-02227