Are we more progressive or politically blind?

Posted on 25/10/2014 by


Broughton High School student Ross Cowper-Fraser says it’s now time that sixteen and seventeen year olds get to vote in all elections:

referendum flags

The referendum may be over, but the question of whether 16 and 17 year olds are to gain the vote in the UK general and Scottish elections continues to loom over the politicians at Westminster and Holyrood.

According to the official count 3.6 million Scots engaged in the vote on 18 September: 100,000 were 16 & 17 year olds voting for the first time

A poll of young voters conducted by Lord Ashcroft found that 71% voted yes.
Since the group was gathered relatively quickly only a modest number was interviewed and this does not show the main view of this age category in its entirety. It does raise a question: are the younger members of the Scottish public more progressive than others, or is it that most do not have enough life experience to make an informed decision?

image002 (1)I discovered this when I was taking pictures on the night of the referendum vote when these three girls were shouted at for looking: “f**ck**g twelve!” Similar comment came from both sides of the debate and struck me as quite bigoted from ‘adults’, yet the media cameras flocked in like hawks towards the three girls! This was either for the abuse or the speck of red white and blue (Three young girls are highlighted within a sea of yes voters at the Scottish Parliament., above).

This was the first time many young Scots have voted, and many sceptics have spoken out on this. Nevertheless it has been well documented that the level of engagement has been of a high standard: I know myself from fellow senior peers in my year and at least three years below in S3 (although they could not vote) have all been engaged in discussion.

Not only do I think our age group far exceeded the participation of the vote from sceptical people, I also think that some young people’s knowledge surpassed the awareness of plenty of adults, from watching Andrew Neil on Daily Politics to discussing the papers in the morning. This may be partly to the use mass of the social media platform: young people gained their information most of the time probably used links, friends and posts to gain knowledge.

Then there were the door to door talks, public meeting and school debates across the country as Scotland prepared for possibly the biggest decision of its people for many years.

This may be all well and good but now, how will the franchise age be lowered?  At the age of 16 you can do things like pay taxes, join the army and get married, but without having any right to vote how the country can be called fully democratic?

I emailed Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian asking what she and her party thought of widening the electorate, and she replied: “After their brilliant contribution to the referendum debate, no-one can seriously argue that 16 and 17 year old’s should not get to vote in all future elections.

“As the debate around more powers for Scotland continues, the Scottish Greens want the rules to be changed in time to allow 16 and 17 years old’s to vote in the Westminster election next year, and certainly for the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.”

“It has long been Scottish Green Party policy to extend the franchise to 16 and 17 year-old voters and we would like to see this happen in time for the UK General Election next May and 2016 Holyrood election.”

At Westminster, the Conservatives do not believe that this group should gain suffrage, and the UK independence party follow the Tories in this belief: funny really when the don’t agree on much more that not giving young the vote! This could work against them in the future: it may give a foundation of disconnection between them and future voters. Parties like Labour, Greens, SNP and the Liberal Democrats may become the main choice: either way, Scotland and especially the UK could change dramatically.

So essentially the youth vote could be a source of political advantage for the future – David Cameron may have to resort to swearing again so he can try and relate to the ‘impressionable youth’!

However less than half of 18 to 24 year olds voted in the last UK general election: this was much lower of the nation’s average voters. And there is nowhere in the UK where there is a huge number of young people centralised within one area, so spread out like this, can young people make much of a difference to the current flows of decision-making? For years youth groups have tried to be heard and get noticed, so it can be said that many do take an interest in politics. And due to recent events the youth voice may become a more important and relevant factor in current affairs.

I also contacted MSP Sarah Boyack to find out Scottish Labour’s position. She responded: “In the final months before the referendum I met young voters on both sides of the campaign who were keen to debate the issues and play their part.

“It was really exciting to see young people keen to engage in politics and it’s important that we do not allow that enthusiasm to disappear. Many young people are already active in our communities and we need to make sure that their skills and knowledge are fed into decision making.

“I believe that the time is right to extend the voting age for all elections to 16 and 17 year old’s and Labour is committed to this step at a UK level too. It is also important that this is backed by an extensive programme of civic education in schools and work to encourage more involvement in initiatives such as the Scottish Youth Parliament.”

So no-one under the age of 18 will vote in next May’s general election, but if you are an optimist then this may change depending on the party elected in 2015. Say Labour achieved this, then the voting age may be lowered for future Westminster elections. Meanwhile in Scotland this looks like a real possibility for the upcoming elections in 2016, as most parties agree to this movement for change.

Westminster may be left behind, swaying from the road to total democracy. Finally will the irony of placing total focus upon the Smith Commission place this matter in the dark? Let’s hope not.

Ross Cowper-Fraser