by Edith Critchley
This last year has been defined by the amount of political turmoil that occurred within it. The shock of Brexit, Trump and the French election alike show that this era of either political revolution or uncertainty, depending on your beliefs, is spread through the world - not to mention the snap general election announced by Theresa May after Easter, which has got political correspondents digging their own graves ready to die of exhaustion.
In the last year I've noticed the amount of interest in political matters rising drastically, not just because it's on every news channel constantly but because my classmates and other people my age have all gained their own opinions on the current political landscape. Granted it could be the opinions of their parents, yet even so it completely disproves the stereotype of fourteen year olds not knowing who the Conservatives are and where they sit on the political spectrum. Of course, fourteen year olds aren't getting the vote any time soon, but the campaign for sixteen year olds to vote is gaining momentum. Should they be allowed to vote?
Scotland gave 16 year olds the vote in time for their independence referendum in 2015, and it was an immense success; more than 89% of 16-17 year olds turned out to vote which was more than the percentage turnout for the whole country. Due to the success, Scotland lowered the voting age for all elections. Other countries, such as Austria and Brazil, which have also lowered the voting age to 16, noticed a dramatic increase in voting in that age group and a surprising rise in the turnout for 18-24 year olds, who are usually the weakest age group with regard to voter turnout. This may prove the idea that if you introduce voting early then we are more likely to see the impact of our vote meaning we continue voting later, causing lasting improvements in the country's turnout.
The protest against this proposal of younger votes is not necessarily that they are ‘immature’ but more that your cognitive development is not complete until you are 21, making you impressionable and vulnerable to extremist ideas. Another interesting dilemma is that, on average, 16 year olds aren't directly impacted by nor do they come across many of the important issues in debates, such as home ownership, income tax and pensions. How can you vote on something you've never experienced?
This year, the UKYP (UK Youth Parliament) voted for votes for 16 year olds as their main campaign issue. They call for the voting age to be lowered so a voice can be give to teens. They argue that if 16 year olds can get married, join the army and start learning to drive they are responsible for their lives and should get a say in how their country is run.They want 16 year olds to get a say in matters such as tuition fees. It seems unjust that they were not allowed to vote in the EU referendum, a pinnacle political moment which I am sure we will be discussing for years to come, when it is such a future-shaping moment. That referendum was about deciding the future of the country, yet the future of the country didn't get to have a say. Many of them may agree with the result, but the remainder must feel cheated that they never got the basic right to vote in such a important decision that will affect the country for generations: one that they will have to live through. This generation is the first to receive citizen education and yet isn't getting any of the rights of a citizen. Many people argue that, if the voting age was lowered, then the use of citizen's education would be more effective, not only being able to put the information straight into action but also being able to debate politics in lessons.
So, would lowering the voting age be revolutionary or simply creating a further uncertainty in the political field? I think we should give the vote to 16 year olds in referendums and local elections; this would test the reliability of the idea. If it causes havoc then we can re-think, but giving this age group a say, even in the smallest elections, may in time improve the turn out of the whole country and help make the future the future wants, not the one their parents do.