Votes at 16 has reared its head once again. How do the country’s main parties view the issue?
The announcement from Welsh Assembly Cabinet Secretary Alun Davies that Wales will introduce votes at 16 for the local authority elections in 2022 has put the issue into the spotlight once again, as reported by the BBC. The prospect of votes at 16 is not one of the most exciting issues, nor is it one of the most important issues, but as it concerns the very question at the heart of our democracy – who can vote? – it deserves further scrutiny.
Here’s how Great Britain’s seven main parties see the votes at 16 issue.
Jeremy Corbyn’s party is a recent convert to the votes at 16 cause. According to the Independent, the party only came out in support of the prospect of extending the franchise in 2014 under the leadership of then leader Ed Miliband. The promise to allow 16 and 17-year-olds was then included in the 2015 manifesto, and was also included in the manifesto two years later.
2. Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats have been long-time supports of lowering the voting age to 16, and their 2017 manifesto committed them to that same pledge. According to the BBC, as far back as the 2005 election the party was advocating change.
The SNP have also supported votes at 16 for a long time and were the first party in power to introduce votes at 16 anywhere in the United Kingdom. Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum was significant for many reasons including its allowance of 16 and 17-year-olds to have a say. North of the border, 16 and 17-year-olds can also now vote in Scottish Parliamentary Elections and Local Authority Elections - but not General Elections or UK-wide referendums.
4. The Greens
Both the Scottish Greens and the Green Party of England and Wales supported votes at 16 in their 2017 election manifestos. According to the BBC, the Greens have been calling for votes at 16 since at least 2001.
5. Plaid Cyrmu
Like Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and the Greens, the Party of Wales also support votes at 16. Their 2017 election manifesto included a pledge to back any such changes.
Official Conservative policy opposes votes at 16, with the party pledging not to extend the franchise to under 18s in their 2017 election manifesto. However, while this is the official policy, a number of key figures back change including Scottish Tory Leader Ruth Davidson and former de facto Deputy First Minister Damian Green, as reported by the ERS and the BBC respectively.
Of votes at 16, Davidson wrote:
“But having watched and debated in front of 16 and 17 year olds throughout the referendum, I have found myself unable to agree. My position has changed. We deem 16 year olds adult enough to join the army, to have sex, get married, leave home and work full-time. The evidence of the referendum suggests that, clearly, they are old enough to vote too.”
Two findings emerge from this analysis.
Firstly, support for lowering the voting age is evident in the left-of-centre, progressive parties. The right opposes the change, however, there are key figures within the Conservatives who disagree with the status-quo.
Secondly, if Labour forms the next government, whether on its own or with the help of any combination of the SNP, Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Plaid Cyrmu, votes at 16 for all UK elections and referendums is likely to happen.