Any functioning democracy should embrace giving more people the vote, not fear it.
Just 50 years ago today 18-year olds in the UK were given the vote. Before then only those 21 or over had the right. It seems almost unbelievable that it took so long: 18-year olds had gone to war for the country, they had paid taxes that contributed to the establishment of the NHS, they had been marrying and having families. And yet it took until the 1960s to give them the vote.
Half a century later and the same disenfranchisement persists. In the 2016 EU referendum and the latest general election – two of the most pivotal electoral decisions for generations – those most affected were silenced before they got to the ballot box.
Yet 16-year olds have proven that they are responsible enough to be given the vote. They have taken part in Scottish MSP elections and we have seen them increasingly use their democratic rights to urge our government to change course. Just a few months ago, thousands of them gathered in London to demand that the Conservatives urgently tackle climate change, and we saw many take to the streets to call for a People’s Vote. When they can vote, 16- and 17-year olds have higher rates of turnout than 18 to 24-year-olds, with 75 per cent voting and 97 per cent saying they would vote in future elections.
So why the hold-up in giving them the vote? For years, Liberal Democrats have campaigned to give them the right and now voices from across the political spectrum are joining us in that campaign. The calls are getting louder, and it is very difficult to see that there is any real justification for the Conservative government’s steadfast refusal.
Not only have 16-year olds proven themselves to be democratically responsible enough, but they pay income tax and National Insurance, they can work full-time, and hold many other responsibilities besides. Not giving them the vote means they have all these responsibilities without any influence on the decisions that affect them. It means denying them an influence over their representative in Parliament and leaving to chance whether their MP will take any action on the issues impacting them. To those who say they aren’t engaged and don’t know enough, I say, go speak to them. Most are articulate, passionate and well informed. Some feel they aren’t ready, but we do not have mandatory voting and so they would naturally opt out, just as many people over 18 already do.
We’re in the middle of one of the most tumultuous periods in British politics. Who knows what might happen next. Liberal Democrats have been leading the fight for a People’s Vote and we’re getting closer to that with each day. There are calls for a General Election, and we have both local and European elections just around the corner. All of these will be crucial to deciding the direction of the country.
Yet young …read more
Source:: New Statesman