It was clear that Alex Salmond’s motive in extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds was a bid to get a much higher ‘YES’ vote in the Scottish Referendum. It was even suggested that with such a tight margin, the younger vote could solely make the difference to the overall outcome of the election. However, after the polls have closed and the votes have been counted UK politicians are now left questioning whether allowing younger people to vote is actually such a bad idea?
Scotland saw an overwhelming turnout at the referendum; 84.6% of the population turned out to cast their votes, more than 100,000 of these people being aged between 16 and 17. Whilst it was estimated in a poll by Lord Ashcroft that an overwhelming majority (71%) of these young people would vote ‘YES’ it is then asked why their voices should be any less valid than their older counterparts?
The point is that Scotland reignited its excitement for politics; regardless of what side of the fence you were sat there was a feeling that all was to play for and that your vote really mattered. Sadly this has been lost in recent elections and in the 2010 General Election less than half of 18-24 year olds bothered to vote. Lowering the voting age gives young people a voice in which they can vent their frustrations and a rebirth of the lost love for politics in this country.
It seems keeping the voting age at 18 facilitates a double standard to be imposed on young people. At the age at which you are legally allowed to be married, become a parent and pay taxes, you are still too young to have a say in how the country is run. No wonder young people are becoming disinterested and alienated from politics when they cannot participate in something which so directly affects their lives. Some policies solely affect young people- for example the huge decision to raise tuition fees to £9,000 a year was made by a government not voted in by the people whom that policy directly affected.
Whilst Salmond is to call for the voting age to be lowered permanently in future elections in Scotland, it is looking likely the same will happen in the UK if Labour win a majority at the next election. Milliband has been a long-time supporter of lowering the age of the electorate and he is set to commit himself to implementing it if he is voted in as Prime Minister. Cameron has firmly rejected the idea for fear of ‘politicising the classroom’ – but why shouldn’t it be politicised? The key is to properly educate- the fear of many is that young people are filled with blind optimism and nationalism and therefore their vote will not be rational or fully informed. However, the real issue is that politics of any sort is not compulsory on the school curriculum. If the voting age is lowered it is key that education of the political system in this country is dedicated to being taught in schools- how can such an important part of everyone’s lives be completely omitted from the teaching that our young generation receives?
Time will only tell whether lowering the voting age will become a pivot point of the next general election but one thing is clear- the Scottish referendum has re-sparked the debate and split politicians over what is such an important issue in our constitutional framework. Surely this kind of debate and excitement, no matter what the outcome, can only be a good thing.