On Friday November 3rd, Labour MP Jim McMahon will introduce his Private Members’ Bill – aiming to lower voting age in UK elections and referendums to 16 – into Parliament.
I’ve been a follower of the Votes At 16 campaign since 2014, when voting age was lowered for the Scottish independence referendum. Surveys and interviews suggest that young people and MPs alike agree that lowering the voting age for the referendum hugely increased Scottish young people’s interest and engagement in politics, as they were finally being given the opportunity to have their say in a vote that would hugely affect them.
This is why I believe 16- and 17-year-olds should be given the vote; issues voted on in elections and referendums will affect their lives directly. For example, a prominent topic in the 2017 general election was tuition fees, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to scrap tuition fees for both current and future university students. To me, it seems ridiculous that 16- and 17- year olds, an age bracket that alteration of tuition fees and other educational topics hugely affect, were not allowed to vote to help determine the outcome of the election.
The average government term in the UK is 3 years and 10 months, and can be up to 5 years; this means that, most likely, 16-17 year olds will have become adult members of society in the midst of a governmental term, but will not have had the opportunity to choose which party will dictate their early adult years; this is unfair, surely?
A common argument for not lowering the voting age is that 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t “educated” enough to vote knowledgeably and sensibly; surely, then, the government should be taking steps to bring better political education into our schools.
Before September of this year, when I started my A-Level in Government & Politics, I had received little to no education in school regarding anything to do with current affairs or how the UK’s political and voting systems work. I had PSHE lessons once a week, which followed a hugely ineffective specification and did not teach anything of transferrable use, especially not regarding the world of politics. It is my strong belief that, in order to combat the Conservative Party’s supposed belief that young people are not socio-politically aware enough to vote in elections and referendums, political education should be improved and made compulsory, in order to prepare them for voting at a younger age; this would be both beneficial to young people, who can have a say in their future, but also to the country as a whole – equipping the country’s citizens with a wider political knowledge can do nothing but good.
241 out of 261 Labour MPs support the Votes At 16 campaign, a movement founded in 2003 in the hope that the franchise would be expanded to young people in the UK aged 16 and 17. Whilst a 14-year battle without success seems quite a long time, it’s important to note that it took 41 years since the 1928 Representation of the People Act – in which it was stated that all eligible citizens over 21 could vote – that the voting age was lowered to 18, in 1969. In today’s era of powerful social media lobbying, campaigning, and e-petitions, however, it is easy to imagine that it would not take as long to lower voting age to 16; it is only a matter of expanding political education, awareness, and responsibility to the young people who are the near-future of the UK. Friday November 3rd could be the catalyst for change in the journey to lowering the voting age in the UK to 16.