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Friday, 25 July 2014

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Of course 16 year olds should have the vote

Sometimes the answer to the question is so glaringly obvious it’s embarrassing – even before the question is asked.

Should young people be allowed to vote in elections at the age of 16? Don’t be daft... of course they should.

You don’t think so? Ask the question another way – why shouldn’t 16-year-olds have a vote? What are you opponents so frightened of?

The latter is a genuine mystery, which is by no means a new one. The same will have been posed when women campaigned for a vote – and only married women were granted one. They were thought to need a man to tell them how to do it and who to favour.

How do intelligent, educated, grown-ups become so windy and wobbly about sharing privileges they enjoy with others who can’t?

Perhaps they fear loss. Maybe they’re nervous of change. New ideas growing from young people engaging with how their country is run... and finding a better way?

Wow, how scary might that be.

Last week the question – to which there’s only one answer – was bubbling around Cumbria, as the campaign to enfranchise younger people moved in.

It wasn’t a bells and whistles affair. No banner-carrying, hoodie-wearing, drug-dealing kids stormed the Civic Centre. Isn’t that what old sharp-suited politicians believe youngsters to be?

Quite the opposite was true. It was extremely low key – disappointingly so. Perhaps sixth-formers discussed the issues but the rest of us had little or no opportunity to hear their views.

Instead, older fogies aired theirs – some on BBC Radio Cumbria – mostly with recoiling horror at the thought. No, said one. He’d had no interest in politics at 16; no understanding, in fact. He wouldn’t have known who to vote for.

“Ooh, me neither,” chirped a presenter. “In fact, I only voted at 18 because I could. Don’t know that I understand much more now. You have to read a lot, to know about politics, don’t you?”

How many 16-year-olds cringed at all that? How many keenly interested, deeply understanding, highly engaged young people sighed heavily at again being judged by the standards of others (who don’t read much) and being rudely patronised into the bargain? Voting at 16 would empower 16 and 17-year-olds, through a democratic right to influence decisions that will define their future. Is that the scary part? Probably, at least to those who have their futures neatly mapped out.

In Scotland 16-year-olds will be voting in the Independence Referendum and frankly, I’d invest more faith in them making an informed judgement of what the future holds than any of the scrapping, point-scoring, ego-waving characters hogging the hustings limelight at the moment. At least the kids have a future.

There’s good reason for middle aged career politicians to tarnish the reputation of youth in general with imagined specifics of dimness. They’re frightened that young, fresh, free-thinking initiative will elbow elders from their seats of power. It might. And goodness – what a fresh breeze of change that could be.

You can be 16 or 60, read or not read, and still be undecided as to where your vote will go. And isn’t that the point? You think about it, weight the pros and cons, consider the likelihood of promises being kept, count the ones that have already been broken.

The way we want our country run requires thought beyond the colour of a rosette. I trust 16-year-olds to give it that thought. They have a greater investment in the future than any ageing gravy-train MP, looking for career comfort and tidy pension. Give the kids a chance. Give them a voice and for God’s sake, hope they will upset our trundling old apple cart.

Have your say

I don't believe that 16 year olds should get a vote, in fact the voting age should be raised to at least 21. I myself at that age had no idea what living in the real world meant. There are a lot of very sensible 16-21 year olds out there who would take the responsibility of voting seriously, but there are an awful lot more at this age who get away with acting like spoiled children who think the world owes them something, and refuse to think of the consequences of their selfish behaviour. Do we really want to live in a world dictated by the whims of a generation who think sleeping around and having children, taking drugs and destroying other peoples property just because they are bored is acceptable?

Posted by Elen Jones on 3 April 2014 at 15:08

No way! 16 year olds know nothing, the age should be raised to 35 and only if you are paying taxes.

Posted by Ian on 31 March 2014 at 20:15

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