Reducing the voting age: Should we take note from Scotland?

AT SIXTEEN, teenagers can do may things, from getting married, having sex, joining the Army, to living on your own. However at 16, they are still unable to vote and I believe this should be changed.

BallotboxRecently in Scotland, as you are probably aware, there was a referendum on whether or not Scotland should become an independent country. In the end, those eligible to vote decided against independence. But for the first time, those eligible to vote, included 16 and 17-year-olds. This historic change was mainly as a result of Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader, who argued for their inclusion when negotiating the referendum details. Although probably done to garner more support for the ‘YES’ side, this decision still meant 16 and 17-year-olds were given a political voice. This referendum hopefully highlighted to the rest of society, that 16 and 17-year-olds are mature enough to vote. If they were being trusted enough to decide such a historic and important decision in Scotland then surely they, and the 16-year-olds in the rest of the UK, should be trusted to vote in upcoming elections.

Opponents to lowering the voting age argue that at 16 and 17, do young people have enough life experience to make an informed decision? However, do you really have more life experience at 18? I would suggest not. Personally I wouldn’t say that there is a huge difference between those 2 years. Yes, you may mature slightly, but I am sure we all know of immature 18-year-olds, yet they are still able to vote.

Further criticisms of plans to enable 16 and 17-year-olds the vote, suggest that they will simply follow their parents views. This view hasn’t yet been proven in the recent Scottish referendum. Similarly to assume all 16 and 17-year-olds will do as their parents say is, as I am sure many of us will know, unlikely. Furthermore 16 and 17-year-olds throughout Scotland were being applauded for their involvement on both sides of the referendum, with schools and colleges praising students for making their own informed decisions.

The recent example in Scotland also showcased how powerful lowering the voting age could be, in increasing voter turnout, particularly within young people. It must be said that a vote on independence is very different to the vote the electorate is faced with every five years. Consequently the extraordinarily high turnout of 84.59% is unlikely to be seen at the general election next year. Nevertheless it did get people and in particular many young people talking about politics which hasn’t previously been happening. The disengagement between young people and politics is worrying, as many young people feel a million miles away from the decisions made in Westminster. Allowing 16-year-olds the vote would hopefully start to re-engage young people in politics, even if they choose not to vote.

As an International Politics student, I feel passionately that people should engage in politics and ultimately vote. But I am not naive in believing that if we lowered the voting age, that all 16 and 17-year-olds would suddenly become engaged in politics and decide to vote. I still do think it would be a step in the right direction. It would hopefully allow those who are interested in politics to have their voice heard. Change in this field could soon be on the horizon as the Labour Party recently announced at their party conference that they would lower the voting age to 16 if elected into power next year. Similarly the proposed change was in the Liberal Democrat manifesto for 2010. However not all of Westminster is convinced, with the Conservative Party still showing little support for the idea.

Nevertheless allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum has only increased calls in lowering the voting age for all upcoming election. It’s about time that voting should also be added to the list of important things that society currently allows 16 and 17-year-olds to do.