My Big Mouth: Sorry Scotland you’re on your own, 16-year-olds should not be given the right to vote across UK

By Ben Ireland

The voting age in the Scottish independence referendum, now set for 2014, has been reduced to 16 but that should not mean the rest of the UK must follow suit.

Following this decision, it is considered, with a certain air of inevitability, the voting age across the United Kingdom in general and local elections will also come down to 16.

Turnout at the last general election was a paltry 65.1% and despite a rise on the last two frightful numbers, it is the worst since the war.

Surely reducing the voting age will only worsen the results with statistics suggesting the chance to vote will simply be ignored en masse by younger voters.

There are 16 and 17-year-olds that take a very active interest in politics, without those who do, there wouldn’t be the calls for amendments to the system.

There is no doubt there will always be those who are ineligible to vote that do take an interest, even if the voting age were lowered.

The majority, however, aren’t interested from an early age. Schools introduce politics as an optional A-level subject, which you can start aged 16.

So the people who develop an interest through education could conceivably only just be starting to cut their political teeth when they are asked to vote.

Hardly the most glamorous of subjects to study, the fact is that politics is something you grow into.

Between the ages 16 to 18 you are able to leave school and get a job, yes, you will pay taxes if you do, and yes, you are old enough to sign up to the armed forces, but many of this age group will not bother to utilise their vote.

They are still forging their political opinions based on life experiences that they are only beginning to embark upon.

This isn’t a case of them having better things to do, but most youngsters will put politics to the back of their minds unless the issue is of particular interest to them, in which case they are inspiring.

There are youth councils set up nationwide that offer young political enthusiasts the chance to get involved with their communities’ decision making, and, perhaps more importantly, allow them to make mistakes without public retribution.

It is difficult to put an age on maturity. The fact that the government can’t decide when it should be is obvious too.

Ages that people are allowed to undertake various activities are sporadic. Lottery tickets can be bought at 16, you can drive at 17 and drink at 18.

Each of these requires an ability to make a conscious decision. It would make the argument less cloudy if the government gave us a clear age at which a young person is considered an adult.

If the voting age were reduced to 16, then why not reduce the drinking age to 16?

What the government would be saying is that teenagers are capable of making important decisions on a subject where they don’t see that many tangible effects, but unable of deciding what is sensible to do on a Friday night.

Most age boundaries are increasing. The age at which you can smoke, for example, has risen to 18, suggesting adulthood begins then too.

To members of the public, and especially the younger ones, the youth of today are more aware of their political surroundings than before. Perhaps this is due to the rise of social media, or maybe just a product of the austere times we are living in.

Despite the apparent rise in political awareness of the next generation, the voting turnout remains low.

The turnout in the 2010 general election for 18-24 year olds was 44%, the lowest of all the age groups.

Based on this, one can only assume that the lower the age, the lower the portion of the electorate will vote, and overall turnout will become, perhaps only slightly, even more disappointing.

At a young age, even if they do vote, less knowledgeable voters will be swayed by outside influences, stemming from a lack of understanding and experience.

These influences are likely to be parental, and many voters will follow, or be asked to vote for who their parents do.

Adolescence is notoriously a period in one’s life when decisions are made based on the need to ‘fit in’, so by choosing a political flag to fly you could arguably be putting on a front just like you would be by, for instance, dressing a certain way.

What most people haven’t yet considered is the unavoidable naivety of some adolescents.

The more extreme parties, such as the English Defence League, would be given the chance to prey upon confused teens as a source of easy votes.

It is unfair to suggest that this will be a huge problem, but you can’t discount that it could make a noticeable impact on results in certain contentious seats.

If Scotland’s referendum is opened up to younger voters, then is does not necessarily mean the rest of the UK will follow suit.

If we do, then it is difficult to imagine our turnout will increase, and it is likely that we will get a rise in ‘zombie voters’ who don’t know what their vote is standing for.

With more young people given a voice, perhaps it could change their attitudes on the whole, maybe being able to vote would help them develop political ideals earlier in their lives, and let them know that they do contribute to society.

How far would it go though? We can’t simply continue reducing the age over the years – 15-year-olds with a political interest may feel hard done by, but we have to draw the line somewhere, and if barriers are raising for other activities which are, arguably, less important it seems nonsensical to reduce it for our most basic of freedoms.

Please note: Opinions expressed above are those of the journalist and do not necessarily represent the views of Mancunian Matters.

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