It is fair to say that constitutional reform is rarely a topic that inspires great enthusiasm, and, dare I say it, this is particularly the case when it comes to engaging young people in the political system. The rather bemusing language of politics and the seemingly bizarre ceremony of the House of Commons are a world away from the lives of ordinary people, and are more than enough to disengage the young people who will be the next generation of voters and decision makers.
In Scotland, the success of the ‘Votes at 16’ campaign, and the independence referendum, has provided an attraction to learning more about government, and a commitment of politicians to listening to youth issues. I believe that giving votes to 16 year olds is not only common sense, but also provides hope for the future of politics.
The case for votes at 16 is simple. At 16, you can pay taxes but not vote for the government that spends them. You can join the Army, yet you can’t elect the politicians that preside over where you could later be deployed. You’re even old enough to marry your MP – in theory, that is – without be able to cast a ballot in any election. This is ridiculous; a 16 year old is in most respects an adult, with adult responsibilities as well as rights.
Indeed, I myself am 16 years old and it’s not simply because of this that I support votes at 16. At the next general election I will be eligible to vote anyway, but I feel that I am now at an age to cast a vote sensibly based on the values and policies of each political party, as do most people my age. The internet, and social media, means we all have greater access to decision makers and young people now have a greater understanding of government and the issues that affect them.
The Times columnist and former Conservative MP Matthew Parris said when giving a speech at my sixth form, that after listening to the way that the young people conveyed their arguments in a debate about votes at 16 that he is now in favour of giving the vote to 16 year olds.
The Suffragette saying “no taxation without representation” should apply to young people. After all, why should I be eligible to pay taxes to a government that doesn’t represent me, or pay an adult fare if I don’t have the vote? I hold an adult passport, so why doesn’t politics treat me like an adult?
These are the questions that the young people in my youth parliamentary constituency of Mendip ask. To me, this seems wholly inconsistent and constitutionally unfair.
Though it should also be said that there is a much wider benefit to giving 16 and 17 year olds suffrage. Electoral turnout is dropping at an incredible rate; proof that it isn’t just young people who feel disengaged in the politics of 21st Century Britain. At the last general election only half of 18 to 24 year olds bothered to vote.
My argument is that if young people start voting early – and thus are actually taught about the voting process in school – then more young people will know about the basics of politics, so are therefore more likely to turn out; and continue to vote in later life. If you had to go to the voting booth with your parents, that might make all the difference in sustaining voting levels for years to come.
A YouGov survey last year showed that two-thirds of people support giving 16 year olds the vote, and this already happens in the Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man. Out of all of the parties that hold seats in the Commons, only one disagrees with this notion. Furthermore, whichever of these parties fully embraces this will not only benefit possibly from the new votes, but will also have the opportunity to be seen as in touch and genuinely progressive.
By Jake Pitt