With the referendum for Scottish independence scheduled to take place in autumn 2014, Alex Salmond has raised the issue of whether 16 and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote on the future of the United Kingdom. Before arriving at a decision as to whether or not this should be the case, there are a number of factors that should be taken into account.
Within the current British voting system, the right to vote is given to those who are aged 18 years plus of course those who also meet the set criteria, and some may argue that this too needs to be reviewed.
However, could this not be viewed as an attempt by the Nationalists to simply stack votes given their popularity among the youth of Scotland? There may be the need to review the current voting rights within the UK, but this should be looked in the context of the right to vote for any of our elected bodies – not simply rushed through to suit the result of a referendum on the outcome of the future of our country.
Furthermore, if the current electorate – who let us not forget elected Mr Salmond with his mandate for the referendum – does not currently include 16 and 17-year-olds, then is it fair to extend them a say in this particular vote?
The Scottish government could also be asked: why choose now to put this forward? As a party who have had a significant presence in Scotland for many years, why has it never chosen to argue for the rights of 16 and 17-year-olds to vote before now.
Much as we may be inclined to agree with the principle that it is the youth of our country who will have to live with the outcome of the referendum, we do not believe it is a fair approach for all concerned to give them the vote now.
On this issue, it is of utmost importance to consider whether or not enough of that age group are truly in a place where they can understand the potential implication of marking an ‘X’ against the possible outcomes come ‘D-Day.’ before extending them the vote.
We accept that there are many young people who are far advanced for their years and who fully understand and could significantly contribute to the argument for and against breaking up the Union, but in realistic terms, is this a true representation of all the 16 and 17-year-olds of Scotland?
Barry, one of our team has commented:-
“Casting my mind back to when I was 16, I recall the varying levels of maturity among my immediate and extended peer group – most of whom were more interested in pursuing their own hobbies and interests rather than gauging an understanding of the British political system. I do accept that there was, of course, the exception to the rule, but the numbers were limited and that is what I feel must be taken into consideration when deciding whether it is necessary to extend the voting rights to those young people now”.
There is definitely a case supporting a review of the current minimum age of those granted the right to vote in the UK. That is not in question and this is not the time.
As the British electorate, if we are saying that the age limit for voting in the UK has to change – after all the individuals involved are old enough to pay tax, join the army and setup home – then let’s have that debate but not linked to the referendum.
Bearing in mind we are still part of one of the longest standing political unions in the world, why would we choose to change the rules now in favour of one party’s preferred outcome? Overall, we believe the existing rules surrounding the right to vote in the UK should not be altered at this time and should still be applied to this, the single most important referendum to face the Scottish people.
What we are against is the potentially opportunistic changing of the voting rights of young people to deliver an outcome that would be favourable for a political party who have deemed it necessary to call the referendum.
We hope that the Scottish people reading this article will agree with the message that underpins it: let’s have a referendum. Let’s give the Scottish people of the United Kingdom their say. But let’s do it in a way that is fair and consistent for all involved.