Alex Taylor, 19, second year History student at Leeds University, aspiring journalist. Editor of The Soapbox for Leeds Student newspaper this year.
The recent plans to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the Scottish independence referendum has again brought the issue of lowering the UK voting age into the limelight. For me, it seems clear that 16 year olds should have the vote, even if it is just a matter of consistency. If someone can leave school, marry, have children, leave home, work full time, fight and die for their country, and pay taxes, then it seems ludicrous that they can not have a say in how their country is governed.
It’s the fact that working 16 year olds pay taxes yet cannot choose how the taxes are spent that astounds me the most. One of the fundamental influences on our idea of government today was the Great Charter of Liberties, which promoted the revolutionary idea of no taxation without representation. To force working 16 year olds to give the state a proportion of their wealth, and then deny that individual a say as to the use of their money is fundamentally wrong.
Of course, critics will argue that 16 year olds don’t deserve the vote because they are ‘immature’ or ‘don’t know enough about politics’. The immaturity argument bothers me for the reasons previously discussed: how can someone be mature enough to have sex, marry, work full time and join the army but not vote? Furthermore, I firmly believe that on average today’s 16 year old knows much more about politics than in the past. Politics is much more accessible to people of all ages thanks to the global media and the accessibility of information. Age has very little to do with how knowledgeable someone is about politics. I have known several 16 year olds who knew far more about politics, and had a much firmer grasp of cultural affairs than many adults I’ve met.
Human rights are also central to this debate. It is only fair that those who are affected by major government decisions are given the opportunity to express their opinions via the ballot box. By those affected, I am again most critically referring to members of the armed forces, people who raise a family and people who pay tax, all of whom may be aged 16. Your voice is your vote. To deny a voice to someone who would be majorly affected my governmental change purely because of his or her age is unjust.
Can we really be surprised by the amount of teenagers we have in this country who feel alienated? Denying 16 and 17 year olds the vote simply signals to them that their opinion is invalid. The lowest age turn out in general elections is 18-24 year olds, which seems unsurprising given the disengagement that is encouraged in youth by denying 16 and 17 year olds the vote. The longer young people are denied involvement in the formal democratic process, the less chance there is of engaging them ever. I genuinely believe that if 16 and 17 year olds were given the vote there would be less anti social behaviour, and it events like the 2011 English riots and the violent student protest of 2010 would be far less likely to happen.
If 16 and 17 year olds could vote our country would not only be more fairly represented, but I also believe there would have less anti-social behaviour by the youth. Its time we stopped treating 16 and 17 year olds like little children. If we want to make them part of the workforce and take taxes from them, then there is no question that in return they should be able to vote.
Don’t agree with Alex? Then read Kerry’s opinion here
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