You might’ve come across a petition from the Young Greens, or heard about Labour’s hope to amend the referendum bill in the Lords, and dismissed the efforts of such parties as desperate attempts to save our membership of the EU – young people, so the story goes, are more inclined to vote for us to stay in Europe.
However, not only do I see this as overly cynical, but whatever the result of 16 and 17 year olds being given the vote in the referendum, it’s absolutely vital that our voice is heard.
16 and 17 year olds are often depicted by the media and imagined by the general public to be either apolitical morons or naïve, easily swayed fools. On this basis, they shouldn’t be allowed to engage in the political system, and quite frankly wouldn’t even if they could.
The best example of 16 and 17 year olds voting in a referendum shows how utterly unfounded a lot of misconceptions about 16 and 17 year olds voting are too – according to a survey done by the Electoral Commission, 75% of 16 and 17 year olds voted at the Scottish Referendum, and 97% said they would vote again in future elections. These figures actually beat those of other age groups – most notably voters aged 18-24 who barely scraped passed the halfway line – so if anything, giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote for the EU referendum will actually slash at voter apathy amongst young people, and thus future generations.
Setting the voting age at 16 would reinvigorate a generation that has been constantly sold off and ignored by politicians (and we all know who I mean when I say ‘politicians’), but what are the perceived downsides?
Well, many Tories, and indeed some people who don’t walk the party line in other parties, would like to argue that 16 year olds are easily swayed. Now, firstly, this takes a very simplistic view of growing up – such people imagine that teenagers are naïve, gullible beings that suddenly transform into rational adults at 18, when obviously it’s a gradual process, but ultimately the main sentiment that runs through this argument is a patronising promoted by people obsessed with preserving a status quo that serves them. They also ignore the fact that the Conservative Party (and also Labour) allows people as young as 14 to join and let their ‘easily influenced’ minds be flooded with a constant stream of party propaganda. This is, if anything, proof that the main reason they would like to bar 16 year olds having the vote is because it might not serve them, as when under 18 engaging in politics serves them, they’re perfectly fine with it.
16 is an obvious but off point for many more reasons too – below 16, you have very few legal rights, whereas they start trickling down to you from 16 onwards – at 16 you can marry, pay taxes, join the army and much more – so it’s clear that, yet again, when it’s convenient, those with power are fine with 16 year olds having responsibility, but when it poses a potential threat, they’re not (and again, when I say those with power, I mean one particular major party).
So it’s clear that there’s no coherent compelling argument to support limiting 16 and 17 year olds from involving themselves in the political process, just a barrage of counter arguments born from power grabbing self interest.
Votes in the general election is to big a target with the Tories in power, but the EU referendum gives us a marvellous opportunity – having the voting age set at 16 would reinvigorate young people, slash at political apathy and most importantly let the voices of those who will be most effected be heard.
It’s a no-brainer, so I call on any like-minded reader to sign the petition and get campaigning to improve our democracy.