LibLink…Stephen Williams MP: The time has come for votes at 16

On Saturday, Hannah Bettsworth and Jenny Marr of Liberal Youth Scotland encouraged us all to lobby our MPs to vote for a motion tabled by Liberal Democrat MP for Bristol West Stephen Williams calling for the voting age to be reduced at 16.

Stephen himself has now written a post on his own blog outlining why this issue is so important to him.

I have long believed that 16 year olds are mature enough to vote, if they want to. Years of experience of talking and listening to sixth form and college students has convinced me that enough of them have the knowledge about their communities and the wider world to make judgements on how they want the future to look. The curriculum itself and extra curricular activities have made the current generation of late teens the best informed and engaged in our history. Traditional lessons such as history or RE are now taught in a way that enables students to understand their place in society and to weigh up evidence and make judgements. More recent subjects such as PSHE and citizenship give young people more preparation for the world outside the classroom.

Participation in the UK Youth Parliament has grown and most schools now have their own councils with elected representatives. Frankly, I have met many older voters in their fifties and sixties who are remarkably ignorant about the world around them. We don’t suggest taking the vote off people who have no qualifications and stubbornly held but ill-informed opinions. So we should not continue to withhold the vote from the best informed generation of young people.

He went on to talk about how it’s older people’s voices that are most heard by politicians and how giving 16 year olds the vote, as long as they used it, would help to give the electorate its rightful balance.

I wrote recently about how politicians fear alienating the “grey vote”, which is becoming more significant as our society ages. Older people are also more likely to turn out, giving them even greater electoral firepower. Our democracy is in danger of becoming a gerontocracy as the will of the old trumps the needs of the young.

You can read the whole article here. And if you haven’t found time to lobby your MP yet, those lovely people at Liberal Youth Scotland have drafted a letter template you could use. This is something that means a great deal to me as this year will be 30 years since I joined the SDP, on my 16th birthday. It really frustrated me that I had to wait until 1987 to cast my first vote, missing out on the chance to vote for Russell Johnston in the European election in 1984. Over quarter of a century further on, with, as Stephen says, the best educated and informed generation ever, it seems so wrong that we are still waiting for change. Let’s hope he succeeds on Thursday.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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