Background and context
The right to vote is one of the most important human rights. It gives men and women the chance to have a say in the way they are governed. It allows them to get rid of bad governments and makes sure that any government listens to its people, for fear of being thrown out at the next election. It is one of the most important ways in which other rights (e.g. free speech, the right to a fair trial) are protected. Not every country in the world is a democracy, with free elections giving citizens a fair political choice. But the right to vote is spreading and outright dictatorships are increasingly few on every continent. Yet what should that right to vote mean? A century or so ago almost no countries allowed women to vote, and it took decades of struggle for them to win political rights. Fifty years ago countries such as South Africa and many states in the USA limited the rights of black people to vote, but that too has changed for the better. Now every democracy accepts that all adult citizens should have the right to vote. But what does adult mean? In almost every country adult is taken for voting purposes to mean 18. 142 countries have 18 as their voting age. Some others (such as Taiwan and Japan) do not give their young people the right to vote until they are 21. But in several countries the voting age is younger - in Korea, Sudan and Indonesia it is 17, in Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua it is 16, and in Iran it is as low as 15. And in a number of well-known democracies such as the UK, USA and Australia there are growing movements to lower the voting age to 16. This topic looks at the case for lowering the voting age to 16, but the arguments below could be used for a debate about a different voting age (perhaps 14?). Another issue to consider is whether the same age should be used for all kinds of voting (e.g. local elections, state elections, national elections, referenda). And should young people gain the right to stand for election at the same age they get the right to vote? In many countries, such as the UK and United States, you can vote at 18 but can’t stand for elected office until you are 21.
After a massive youth turnout for the Scottish Referendum , where the voting age was 16, it makes sense for Labour to propose a lower voting age and allow 16 and 17 year olds to cast their ballot along with their older peers.
It's been a long time in the coming - that extra couple of years could make all the difference in moulding someone who will be politically disengaged, to someone who will be a voter for life.
So why should Labour open up their demographic to the younger generation?
1. By the age of 16, you are nearly an autonomous adult, not a child
By most people's 16th birthday, they will either be in their final year of secondary school, or first year of college. This means that major decisions about education and which path you choose to go down to lead you into the adult world of careers and jobs will already have been taken. I've said it before and I will say it again: Why should those making decisions about their own future be unable to cast their vote about the future of the country?
2. Young people are far more integrated with current affairs
Frankly, it's an unavoidable point that even the 16-year-old who claims not to know or care about the political system will still have some grounding in current affairs. It's literally impossible not to. Anyone who has Facebook or Twitter is consistently fed news and current affairs, and it's undeniable that it's inescapable. Whether you like it or not, young people today are far more up to date on anything that happens, whether it's celebrity or music news, current affairs or comment pieces. If we could transfer this general modern integration with everything social media related towards direct political engagement, we would end up with a generation genuinely interested in shaping the future.
3. Raise the profile of politics in schools
The level of political education at a secondary school level is genuinely non existent. Oh yeah, "citizenship" lessons are meant to inform young people about the basic political system, but in my experience these often end up being led by over worked teachers who cave and end up shoving the lesson plans off in favour of "revision". This means unless you are actively interested in politics, at school you are unlikely ever to learn anything beyond where the prime minister lives. Maybe if 16-year-olds can vote, schools will better educate their students about the responsibility and privilege that voting brings. If students are actively asking about what it means to have the vote at 16, the education system is forced to get some kind of proper political education in place.
4. A definite increase to the youth voting demographic
At the moment the younger end of the voting spectrum tends to be undervalued by politicians. Lowering the voting age means a whole wealth of young people could register to vote. The more young people registered, the more the parties have to actually wake up and listen to the needs and demands of young people. If all the 16 and 17 year olds in the UK registered to vote, think about how much the parties would want to harness that amount of power...resulting in more policies geared towards our generation.
5. If you involve young people in politics, they will be interested
Take the Scottish Referendum - teenagers in school uniforms queuing up outside ballot boxes. There was a record turnout for voters for the Indy ref , and this was mirrored in 16-24 year olds. And some say young people are disengaged with politics. If you give young people the responsibility to have a vote, they will be far more inclined to use it.
6. Young people are the future of the UK
At 16, you are starting to consider issues like whether you want to go to university, if you want a full time job, potential housing in the future... Yet, in the past, 16-year-olds have had zero say in any of this. Imagine being a 16 or 17 year old at the last election, wanting to cast your vote over tuition fees but being unable to. Then seeing the Lib Dems catastrophically break their promises, with repercussions that will affect you directly if you go into higher education. And here you are now, saddled with debt.
16-year-olds are not children, they are taking steps into adult life. You can work at 16, you can theoretically get taxed at 16 - therefore you should be considered old enough to cast your ballot towards the future of the country, on issues that directly affect you.
The Labour proposals should hopefully be a step in the right direction on our voices getting heard.
The young are accused of not caring: until now we’ve never been given the chance to care.
This vow will give young people an incentive to stand up and cast their ballot – knowing they are an equal and important part of society.