After the historic and monumental decision by the voters of England, Wales and Cornwall to exit the European Union and to take Scotland and the North of Ireland out with them, the question on everyone’s mind was who voted to leave, and more importantly, who even voted.
Most polls conducted before the vote indicated a small majority for ‘Remain’ and most newspapers had taken the editorial decision to support the remain campaign. People saw this as an indication that older people would vote to stay as they are more likely to take calls and to answer questions from polling companies and to read newspapers than people in their teens and in their twenties. After the vote, it looked like the majority of leave voters were over 50 years old and that got people thinking: would the vote have the same outcome if 16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to participate?
16 and 17-year-olds were allowed to vote for the first time ever in Britain during the Scottish Independence Referendum, and according to polling company ICM, around 75% of the estimated one hundred and twenty-five thousand Scottish 16 and 17-year-olds voted in the referendum, even more than 18-24-year-olds, at 54%, and people aged 25-34, 72%. According to a survey, commissioned by Conservative peer Michael Ashcroft, it stated that 71% of young Adults under 18 voted for independence, and although it wasn’t enough for a ‘Yes’ vote, they certainly were instrumental in achieving 45% of the vote.
Of course, there are people who disagree with this position. They say that we are not mature enough or that we don’t understand the voting system well enough to be able to vote reasonably. This argument simply does not make sense– teenagers today are by far more informed about current affairs than any other generation before them as a result of being exposed to all kinds of media since a young age and the number of sources of information they have access to has increased exponentially during their lifetimes.
Another argument is the fact that we are not legally adults although this argument is just irrelevant. If you can drink alcohol during a meal, if it is bought by and you are accompanied by an adult, if you can drive when you’re seventeen, if you can get married in Great Britain and the north of Ireland at the age of sixteen with parental permission, or join the British army on the same conditions, why shouldn’t you be allowed to vote? Why should an 80-year-old person who more than likely won’t see the next election have more of a say than you in the country where you might live for next 70 or 80 years.
Of all the major parties in Britain, the majority support votes at 16. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru all support giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, as do the Greens in all jurisdictions of the Anglo-Celtic Islands and even the leader of the Scottish Tories. The Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament, Ruth Davidson, has said that she is, “A fully signed up member of the ‘votes at sixteen’ club.” The Stormont Assembly voted in 2012 in support of votes at sixteen with Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, the Greens and the Ulster Unionists voting in favour of the motion, but alas voting is not a devolved matter in the north of Ireland and as such only Westminster has the power to legislate on such issues. In the Free State, the Fine Gael/Labour government promised a referendum on the issue back in 2013 to be held at the same time as the Equal Marriage Plebiscite in May 2015, although eventually abandoned that plan. The European Parliament voted 323 to 276 in favour of a joint bill from MEPs Jo Leinen, of the German SPD, and Danuta Hübner, of the Polish Civic Platform, which includes giving votes to 16 and 17-year-olds.
This shows us that there is a will in the political world of Westminster, Stormont, the Dáil and Brussels, so why is nothing being done?
Voting at the age of 16 holds so much potential, and can help us make democracy more democratic.
Photo: Flickr/Adam Scotti