Rory Gillis

Naked Politics Blogger

As the famous quip goes, ‘your vote is your voice.’ Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds do not have the vote in British General Elections or Referendums. Consequently, within the mainstream political establishment, they have no voice. Although protest politics can often seem attractive and exciting for younger people, voting is the basis of our democracy and electoral system, and to stop people from 16 to 18 voting is to diminish their responsibilities, understanding and ultimately, importance.

For starters, the cut-off point of 18 is nonsensical. The main idealist argument that skeptics of votes at 16 make, is that 16 years old is not the point at which a person reaches adulthood. It is instead, in their mind, two years later that one becomes an adult in the eyes of the law and is given more important responsibilities. Although this is an interesting argument, it’s solely based on convention. The idea of someone becoming an adult ‘in the eyes of the law’ seems to have no real correspondence with one’s particular responsibilities, for example employment, or taxes. Instead, it is simply a term designed to demean 16 and 17-year-olds from their current responsibilities, and to retain the status quo. There is no reason that someone becomes an adult at the age of 18, but rather, it is the way it has always been seen. Biological adulthood has instead been confirmed to begin at around 25, but societal adulthood should continually be debated on reason, not tradition.

The underlying political worry of older generations is that there is an increasing political apathy plaguing the young population. Although this is an important point, as many decreasing numbers of 18-24 year-olds are not exercising their hard-fought right (or duty), where this apathy stems from how it can be tackled must be questioned.

Political apathy derives from a lack of reasons to vote; the stereotype and characteristic that politics is a game, which may provide debate and even the occasional joke on a Facebook page, but provides no real change. This is especially important considering that young people are generally very liberal and left leaning in their outlook. This apathy will not be increased by reducing the voting age, but rather revealed to a greater extent. Although voter turnout increased by 71% in the last election, it remains low  and so by adding more people into the equation, the number of people who will vote will almost definitely go down. It will force a reassessment of the establishment, in how they can engage with young people who currently are being ignored, especially by the current Conservative government, who have continually neglected the interests of the younger population by not providing free transport to school in rural areas, and whose austerity measures disproportionately impact the young, with services such as youth clubs being closed which are continually relied upon by the most impoverished people in our society.

The establishment made similar arguments when women fought for the vote. It became a stereotype that all women were stupid, and instead this has been replaced with young people by being labeled as apathetic. This fails to consider that 85% of schools have a school council, and that armed with the vote, young people would be able to mobilise social media in order to increase political engagement in a way that has not been seen before. Just think of the impact that Milifandom had in the 2015 General Election.

Other countries have already made the step to give 16 and 17-year olds the vote, and it has worked incredibly well. Political engagement was shown by young people in the 2014 Scottish Referendum, and in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey young people already have the vote. In order to make progress, the idea of allowing 16-year-olds to vote when they enter into a partnership or employment may even be a tactic to tackle youth unemployment, but would certainly tackle face on the argument about 16 year olds having a lack of responsibilities.

This leads me on to the final reason to supporting Votes at 16 – not letting perfection be the enemy of the good. If you have read through this article and you agree with nothing I say at all, it has to be remembered that, should a bill pass allowing 16-year-olds to vote in General Elections or the European Referendum, if none of them vote, or if there are any other issues, the right can be taken away. Making progress does not have to come at a cost. No doubt the system implemented will not be perfect (as the UK voting system is not), however it is the next step in order to decrease apathy, and give the government more legitimacy for some of the most hard-working people in our society.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018