If our country upholds democracy as one of its British values, when it comes to voting, why are we excluding our future generations and those who make up a vast proportion of our society? In fact, with this year being the centenary of women’s suffrage, there have been arguments which suggest similarity with opposing young people the vote – comments like: ‘individuals can be influenced’, ‘other people will represent their views’, ‘they cannot reason properly’ and ‘they are not mature enough’. The problems with voting are not, by any means, age-specific problems. If we are arguing in terms of competency, should we limit older people from voting? Or, would that be potentially considered as age discrimination? Without a doubt, some young people are much more capable of making sensible decisions in comparison to many adults. It is crucial than one lowers the voting age to ensure that our voting process is not ageist, nor undemocratic.
Let us look at the recent EU Referendum – a divided vote, which can only be judged in the history to come, when one can assess the impact. Young people have missed having a say on such a crucial choice, which will change our future, as well as the choices that we are making now. Decisions could have potentially swung in the polar opposite direction and a whole generation have missed out.
At sixteen years of age, there is a plethora of decisions that one can make, for example: getting married or entering into a civil partnership, becoming a director of a company or a member of a trade union, joining the armed forces or paying income tax and National Insurance. Adulthood is a gradual process: it does not happen overnight. Sixteen years old is a reasonable cut-off point for voting because most people have a wiser and more detailed perspective on international affairs. Consequently, one needs to establish an appropriate, balanced age limit in order to prevent seven-year-olds from voting because it essentially lowers the value of the vote, if one is aimlessly ticking a box without knowing how to spell the name of the party, nor their manifesto. In contrast, at sixteen, there are many opportunities for voting to be intertwined with their other roles and responsibilities. However, under our current system, sixteen-year-olds are incapable of voting which means that our political system is failing to recognise their abilities.
An example of voting success was in the Scottish Referendum, where turnouts were the highest of all time amongst young people. If voting was lowered in the UK, it is more than likely that turnouts would significantly differ. Elsewhere, a myriad of countries exercise this, for instance Austria, Argentina and Serbia, as well as the Isle of Man and Guernsey. This would take into account the life experience that young people face – whether this be living as a young person in the modern world or sharing their concerns for the future of the environment.
With many suggesting that the millennials are of the ‘most educated of all time’, it seems ambiguous for them to not be entrusted with putting their political knowledge into practice. For Votes at 16 to flourish, there should be more Government intervention to associate this with educational schemes, so people of all ages are aware of what is going on, how politics works and its necessity. Being in a ‘post-truth’ generation is a major problem across the political spectrum because there is a blurred line between facts and deception. What we need is to increase political education, which is not one-sided and purely raises awareness of what is going on in the ‘bigger picture’, for example embedding it within the Personal, Social, and Health Education curriculum.
Decision-makers: engage young people. Voting from 16 will allow all generations to work together, determining what is best for our country, not like our current structure, which has a central focus on tactical party politics.