In 2014, the Scottish Independence referendum sparked a debate about the age at which people should enter the franchise. The ‘Yes/No’ vote gave 16 and 17 year olds the right to have their say. This caused speculation regarding whether or not the UK as a whole was ready to see this change.
The argument lies in the fact that in a democracy, we should have universal suffrage. However, the right to vote comes with adult responsibilities. This is where discrepancies lie in the system as 16 and 17 year olds are legally allowed to get married, have sex, and drive – but not vote.
Implementing the change would therefore allow 16 and 17 year olds to have a say on laws that directly impact their lives now, instead of the next election in five years. Raising university tuition fees is an instance which resulted in many protests and strong disapproval from young British people. This is an example of a policy that 1.5 out of 64 million people could have changed.
Allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote could potentially prevent political alienation. The Scottish referendum acted as a microcosm, with 75% of 16 and 17 year olds turning out to vote, according to an ICM survey. 97% of those 16-17 year olds who voted said that they would vote again in future elections. Turnout for the General Election in 2015 was 66.1%, showing this a convincing argument for why 16 and 17 year olds should have the vote.
Interestingly, those aged 16 and over can vote in many parties’ local elections as well as for mayoral candidates. We are close, but the UK still has some reservations when it comes to the General Election.
This is perhaps because, it can still be said that 16 and 17 year olds don’t hold responsibilities that many people have at 18. Some simply just aren’t mature enough.
Many would agree that the voting age should match the age at which people get their adult rights. However many would argue that this is universally 18.
Under 18s are legally bound to some sort of education and honestly, most are still dependent on their family for financial support. This means that to an extent they lack knowledge and experience and frankly many may not care, as they are unable commit to a full-time job or pay the resulting taxes. Along with property or children, responsibilities like these are crucial to political mandate and stances on policies. They lack life experience and consequently may feel no civic responsibility.
The problem with extending the vote is that across the world people have fought to have the human right to vote. Therefore, there’s an added pressure of civic duty which leads to rushed and uninformed decisions due to apathy. This results in the main problem of socialisation, because many young people will vote with the guidance and advice of their friends and family – the people who influence their lives the most. This then leads to a lack of independence which two extra years may grant.
However, the Scottish referendum as well as countries such as Cuba and Austria have proven that the vote can be successfully extended to young people. The only debate is whether they are ready. And if they are then the problem with the system is that they are too young to vote on having a vote.