Last week, the Scottish Youth Parliament celebrated our 50th National Sitting.
For more than 13 years we have been committed to ensuring the voice of young people is heard by those in power in Scotland. At the heart of our work has been the campaign for votes at 16. By allowing more young people to vote we instantly ensure the issues young people care about are more relevant to Scotland’s politicians.
Needless to say, we are delighted with the Bill the Scottish Government brought to Holyrood yesterday. I don’t believe there can be any argument against the young people who are the future of Scotland being allowed to have their say over Scotland’s constitutional future.
However, perhaps just as importantly, extending the franchise for this referendum sets the stage for votes at 16 for all elections. If 16-year-olds can be trusted to vote on whether Scotland should be independent then it can hardly be argued they are not equipped to vote on the other issues of the day.
SYP have always been clear on this. We believe 16-year-olds should be treated as full citizens. The government already trusts 16-year-olds to marry and bring up a child. The government already affords 16-year-olds full legal capacity to enter into contracts. The government already trusts 16-year-olds to leave school, or to leave home. We believe the anomaly here is voting. The fairest and simplest solution is simply to confirm what is already the case – that 16-year-olds are full members of society.
This helps the principled case, but what of the many spurious practical objections that are made against votes at 16? The Scottish Government’s bill clearly shows it is feasible, and not even especially difficult, to ensure all 16-year-olds can vote. We hope people will stop arguing it’s too hard to put into practice when that’s clearly not the case.
But beyond the arguments there’s a real need for votes at 16. Around a fifth of young people are unemployed. Services for young people are being squeezed. Generally, young people are very reliant upon public services, but they have no say over whether austerity is the best way forward. At every level, the big decisions in society are being made by leaders who have no obligation to listen to young people.
That’s what giving 16-year-olds the vote changes. By providing younger voters with political power political leaders have to take action. It’s not just about the manifesto pledges; it’s about prioritising issues that can make a difference. The Scottish Youth Parliament has been able to get politicians to listen to young people – but much more could be achieved when all young people are listened to, not just their representatives.
There’s one final reason to give 16-year-olds the vote. Young people are constantly portrayed at the edge of society. It’s time to change that. It’s time we accepted young people are valuable members of society – that our opinions matter, that our issues are important, and that we deserve the same chance to choose our representative in parliament the same as everyone else. That’s why the Scottish Youth Parliament will continue to campaign until every 16- and 17-year-old can vote in every election.
• Andrew Deans is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament
TREND THAT LEADS DOWNWARD
IT is tempting to think of the voting age of 18 being set in stone, but that has only become common in the last 60 years. Before that, it was 21 in most Western democracies. Czechoslovakia lowered it in 1946 and was followed by most others over the next 20 to 30 years. Ireland reduced the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1973.
Voting at 16 is becoming increasingly common around the world with the vast majority of countries which have adopted it doing so in the last 15 years. Is it a trend that is set to continue?
Austria became the first EU country to reduce the voting age to 16 for all elections in 2007, just 15 years after lowering it from 19 to 18.
Voting at 16 is becoming ever more common in local elections in Europe. Seven out of 16 states in Germany now allow it, as well as one canton in SwiTzerland, and Norway is experimenting with the idea in an attempt to rejuvenate interest in local democracy.
The British protectorates of the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey all lowered their voting age to 16 years between 2006 and 2008.
Nicaragua was the first country to adopt 16 as its voting age, in 1984, when it was lowered from 21. Brazil followed soon after, when it rewrote its constitution in 1988.
Outside of Europe the voting age is also 16 in Cuba, Ecuador and the Philippines (local elections only if you are married) and 17 in East Timor, Israel (for local elections), Indonesia, Seychelles and Sudan.
In some states of the United States, 17-year-olds can vote in primary elections.
Estonia lowered its voting age to 16 in 1990 – from the age of 22 – only to raise it again two years later when it rewrote its constitution.