On Friday, the UK Parliament will vote on the next stage of Jim McMahon’s Votes at 16 bill. Although it will have many more hurdles after that, if it can get past this point there’s a very good chance it will become law. The Scottish Young Greens are strong supporters of votes at 16, and we call on all MPs to vote in favour.
Speaking personally the principle seems really simple – it’s about whether we trust young people to make big decisions. And in lots of ways, we do. At 16, society expects you to start taking your own decisions about life. It expects you to decide whether to continue in education. Whether or not you do, you’re also expected to take employment seriously – either by finding a part time job to help support you, or starting your career.
You’re considered mature enough to take decisions about your relationships. And you’re given greater responsibility for your own health, both in terms of your capacity to take informed decisions about treatment and to pay for things like dental and eye care if you’re not in full time education. If we’re expecting 16-year olds to take all these decisions and more, then how can we deny them the right to vote? Every single one of these decisions is shaped in one way or another by government policy.
Education policy is a particularly good example of something it’s worth having young people contribute to, both as voters and as elected representatives. We often hear that young people don’t have the life experience necessary to take informed decisions in politics. Yet older people who haven’t sat an exam for decades and haven’t the foggiest what it’s actually like moan about how easy they are these days. And having paid not a penny for their own education, they demand the young pay through the nose. It’s a similar story for housing, with your average MP only experiencing sky-high rents from the perspective of being a landlord raking them in.
Here in Scotland that logic is widely accepted. Votes at 16 is a reality, at least for council and Scottish Parliament elections. If we trust these young people to vote on healthcare, on education, on policing, on taxes, on transport and so much more, isn’t it absurd we don’t think they can do welfare, defence and foreign policy? And if Scottish 16-year olds can vote, why not English, Welsh and Northern Irish?
The phenomenal engagement of 16 and 17-year olds was one of the best things about the independence referendum. Both sides recognised the incredible contribution young people made to that debate, and the Scottish Parliament unanimously backed giving them the permanent right to vote afterwards. That unanimous approval obviously included the Scottish Conservatives, who now have 13 MPs in Westminster. We’ll be expecting every single Scottish MP to back this bill, and to convince their colleagues from other parts of the UK that Scotland is proof this is the right thing to do.
Votes at 16 has been on the agenda for years – it’s time to make it a reality. And if there are any MPs still set on opposing it, then they may want to keep in mind that those same 16 and 17-year olds won’t be that young forever. At the next election, they might just decide an MP that didn’t think their views were worth listening to is an MP not worth voting for!