It comes around every so often and it’s currently being promoted yet again – the idea that 16 and 17-year-olds should have a vote in general elections.
This time Jeremy Corbyn is suggesting it and it is easy to see why. It’s all part of his attempt to win over the youth vote – and it should be exposed for such self-interest.
It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that voting is about what happens in the future and so young people should have a say in what will affect them.
It’s perfectly logical – but logic can make a mockery of common sense – for the logical extension of that concept is to say it should be extended to 14-year-olds or 12-year-olds. Where should voting begin? That may seem a rather ridiculous point but when one considers that across the world there are different ages for being criminally responsible or for being able to marry, we can see that there is no consensus on when people become mature for certain responsibilities.
The argument of holding an interest in the future was used to justify giving 16 and 17-year-olds a say in the Scottish independence referendum – but of course there was also a vested interest, as those advocating the franchise being extended also thought the new extra voters would turn out in their droves to support the Yes vote. Only they didn’t.
Indeed extending the franchise actually reduces the percentage turnout for it is the youngest age groups that have the poorest levels of turnout. Extending the franchise to lower age groups merely reduces the percentage turnout further.
More importantly though, there is a great deal of inconsistency in the appeal for extending the franchise to 16s and 17s. Take the Scottish Government’s policy on having a ‘named person’, a state guardian, with a responsibility for looking over the shoulders of young people. Bizarrely this policy extends to cover those that are 16 and 17 – meaning the Scottish Government believes they are not old enough to be responsible for themselves but are responsible enough to vote for the people who make the laws they are to adhere to.
There are more inconsistencies like this – 16-year-olds need consent to vote for their favourite X Factor contestant – yet would be able to vote for an MP? They are also not allowed to use a sunbed. They cannot buy superglue. Try buying a knife or an axe if you are 16. You cannot sell alcohol or tobacco in a shop if you are 16. You cannot watch any movie you want, buy most types of alcohol or get into many nightclubs. You cannot take out a loan or a credit card – or buy a house.
I would understand the idea of 16 and 17-year-olds having the vote if those restrictions I listed were all changed to be allowed to the over-15s – but who is suggesting that? Are those restrictions not there for a good reason? Could it be that adult society believes 16 and 17-year-olds are not ready to handle such responsibilities? Why then should we allow the same people the ability to choose the very politicians who will set those laws and restrictions?
I recall when I asked my sons if, having reached the tender age of 18 they were looking forward to vote – and they admitted to me they were not sure they were ready to. They felt that in many respects they still had a great deal to learn. They certainly did not think that giving the vote to 16-year-olds would be wise, they felt at that age they were even more ill-equipped to decide what to do.
Voting from 18 does make sense. It is now, in so many ways, the age of maturity. Let’s leave it at that.