As many of you will know, I was a Member of Youth Parliament for Plymouth for three years and, for the majority of the time with UK Youth Parliament, the organisation supported giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote. As a politically aware and engaged 16 year old, I wanted to support the idea for no reason other than it benefited me. Now I am old enough to vote, and have cast my first vote in the local elections this year, I feel more strongly than ever that the right to vote should be extended to those over 16.
I’ve seen much discussion on both sides of the argument, and some strong arguments at that (and, of course, some ridiculous) There are many things you can do at 16, but still not vote – you can become a director of a company, join the Armed Forces, have sexual intercourse, get married, give consent to medical treatment, change your name by deed poll and vote in internal party elections or decisions. The most glaringly obvious is that fact that at 16, you can work, earn money and pay tax, but you play no part in the political decision of who spends your money, and what they spend it on. And we’re not talking about the fact that “kids pay tax whenever they buy a chocolate bar”, we’re talking about tax which is taken from what they earn to spend on services in this country. I’m a strong believer in “no taxation without representation”
People say “Oh, well if you give 16 year olds the vote, they might vote for someone stupid like the Official Monster Raving Loony Party”… And? Your point being? There are clearly people over the age of 18 who vote for the OMRLP, are you going to stop them from voting too? The minute you start dictating who people “should and should not vote for” is the minute you remove democracy from their decisions. Who people vote for is their choice.
And the same goes for those who choose not to vote at all. “Well, most 16 and 17 year olds don’t really care about voting, so why bother giving them the vote?” Number one, democracy. But number two, there are millions upon millions of over 18s who decide not to exercise their right to vote. The same as there will be over 16s who are desperate to have their say at the ballot box – politically engaged and aware young people who want to take part in democracy. There seems to be one rule for adults and one rule for young people – it’s perfectly fine for adults not to use their vote, but young people can’t have the vote in case they don’t use it. Logic dictates, clearly.
One of the things you find out as you pass through your teenage years is that there is little more frustrating than middle-aged people thinking they know what’s best for you. That they can make decisions on your behalf, based on no substance whatsoever – no consultation, no discussion. Only young people know what they want, and it’s about time a younger demographic was represented at the ballot box. I think its wonderful that the Scottish Independence Referendum will allow over 16s to vote too – after all, it is their country too. Now to extend that to every local, national and European election in all nations.
72% of the public were in support of extending the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds when they were last surveyed by the Electoral Commission. Austria do it, Brazil do it, Germany do it, even our neighbours the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey do it. It’s about time the government stood up and extended democracy to those who need it most.
And it won’t be a minute too soon.