The case for votes at 16
Published on Oct 19, 2012
This post was written by Mevan Babakar from Bite the Ballot, a grassroots campaign inspiring young people to engage in politics.
A lot of coverage of the Scottish referendum and its bid to include younger voters has been presented quite pessimistically, with Lord Cormack, a Conservative peer and constitutional expert, saying “If we have a situation where in Scotland people are voting at 16 and in the rest of the United Kingdom they are not, as night follows day, a precedent will have been walked into”, this quote almost always described as a “warning”. Likewise, Lord Forsyth says “I think once that has happened it will be impossible to argue that 16 year-olds should not have the vote in all elections.”
But is that really so bad? And bad enough to warrant a warning? 16 to 17 year olds are old enough to start careers, start driving, start further education- so why not start their political engagement? These are the very ones who are two years away from joining the ‘real world’: possibly getting Jobseekers Allowance or housing benefit, paying tuition fees or getting loans! Why shouldn’t they get a say in how their lives are governed for that coming-of-age transition?
It’s easy to argue that young people haven’t been the most active in voter turnout; the number of young people turning out to vote hasn’t reached over 50% in 25 years. Arguably this has been visible in the changes that have taken place, tuition fees hikes and housing benefit cuts are just the start, while the demographic most readily found on the electoral register, and most likely to vote, the over 60s, have had far more of their issues tended to.
The general consensus seems to be that the youth of today are politically apathetic, so why bother with them? They aren’t votes worth winning; after all, based on the 2010 figures for the general election even though there was a 7% increase in the numbers of 18-24 year olds voting (44%), it’s still less than half of all eligible young people compared with the overall turnout of 65%. But if we look deeper into the heart of the matter, you find studies   which show that young people are considerably more motivated by issues instead of party allegiances. In one particular study 67% said they were interested in national issues but only 38% said they were interested in ‘politics’. Where better to prove this than in the Scottish referendum?
This is why as Bite the Ballot we are championing issues. We are encouraging 14-25 year olds to take this survey, as part of a project called My Manifesto. My Manifesto is a unique and exciting initiative. For the first time, with the backing of official manifesto writers, young people will have the opportunity to influence what policies go on all the party manifestos. Not only will this help to bring about a change in the way politicians perceive young people and their views (hopefully doing away with some of the pessimism!) but, more importantly, it will also give young people something to vote for. If you're aged 14-25, please fill in the survey today.
So I personally wholeheartedly back the Scottish referendum’s inclusion of younger voters – I’d even put money on record numbers turning out to vote. And maybe, just maybe, if this is the case, just as night follows day, a precedent will have been walked into; one worthy of celebration.