With less than a week to go until the Westminster elections, Holyrood’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee has just taken evidence on the Scottish Elections (Reduction of Voting Age) Bill, which would give young people aged 16 and 17 the right to vote in all Scottish elections. We hope this can be in place from next May, in time for the Scottish parliamentary elections.
This right was granted for last year’s referendum on independence, but the new legislation would extend it permanently. It would be an important milestone for Scotland and demonstrate the value and respect we have for our young people’s views. We want them to be allowed to participate directly in the democratic process, and I’m calling for this right to be extended to all future UK elections.
There are a number of logical reasons for lowering the voting age, the first of which is about consistency. At 16 in Scotland, young people can leave school, marry, have children, leave home, pay taxes, work full time, and join the armed forces. In these key areas, they are considered adults, so surely they should be able to cast their vote as adults?
This also ties into the need to protect young people’s rights. At Children in Scotland we are passionate about promoting and supporting a rights-based approach to our work, and giving young people a powerful voice.
We often hear about our “disaffected” youth. But this myth was blown away by their engagement in the referendum. Who didn’t feel pride in how articulate and passionate our young people were in communicating their views, irrespective of whether they were Yes or No supporters?
Research has shown that the earlier people engage with politics, the more likely they are to be lifelong voters and, as we have witnessed, an electorate that is engaged can support more effective democracy, resulting in better, challenging debate and an increased turnout at the polling booth.
Children in Scotland recently launched its manifesto for the Westminster election. Our key campaigning priorities are: supporting families and tackling child poverty; supporting children and young people; and equalities and rights for children and young people. Lowering the voting age is an important part of realising these priorities.
In 2015 we find it inconceivable that women were once considered “unfit” to vote. So it will be for the next generation when they are told that until the early 21st century, this tright only officially began at 18.
Jackie Brock is chief executive of Children in Scotland (www.childreninscotland.org.uk)