Let’s get some action on votes at 16

As I said on Friday, one of the best sights of the Independence Referendum was seeing enthusiastic 16 and 17 year olds heading to vote. They were so engaged in the process and it seems so unfair to take it from them now. Votes at 16 has been our party policy for a long time. It was our Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore who, along with Nicola Sturgeon, made it happen for the Referendum. It may not be practical to implement before next May, but we should at least try to get legislation passed this Parliament if we can.

Funnily enough, there is a Bill being debated in the House of Lords, a Private Members Bill brought in by our Paul Tyler. It was introduced on his behalf by Alison Suttie in June. It needs the Government to give up some time for it. This is something that we could make happen.

Unsurprsingly, Alistair Carmichael says it’s a matter of when, not if, 16 year olds get the vote:

The energy and enthusiasm of young people in the referendum campaign is something of which Scotland should be proud.

I have always believed that young people are much more politically engaged than they are given credit for. Never has that been clearer than during the referendum campaign. One of the most active volunteers for Better Together Orkney was in fact fifteen year old Jack Norquoy of Birsay.  Jack spoke at a packed meeting in Kirkwall Town Hall alongside Shirley Williams.  He made a powerful and compelling case for what he believed in.

Our young voters were given the opportunity and seized it with both hands. I believe that it is now only a matter of time until we see votes at 16 rolled out across the UK. That time should be now.

Kirsty Williams has also added her voice to the case for change, backing Lord Roger Roberts’ separate bill to make it easier to get 16 and 17 year olds to register:

Last week’s referendum was the first time that 16 and 17 year olds have had the right to vote in a major ballot in the UK. We can’t allow this momentous occasion to just be a one-off.  The Scottish referendum must be used as a springboard for votes at 16 to be extended to all elections.

It’s terrible to think that many of the young people who took part in such an important vote will now again be excluded.  They have had a taste of democracy and will wonder why the establishment is once more closing its doors.

According to the Electoral Commission, a huge barrier to turn-out for young people is that they aren’t registered to vote.  Lord Roberts’ proposals will make voter registration easier, accessible and engaging, and allow young people to register from an early age.

As with the hugely successful ‘Schools Initiative’ in Northern Ireland, which saw around 57,000 young people added to the electoral register, Lord Roberts’ amendment would encourage schools to highlight the importance of participation in the democratic process and help pupils to complete the registration process so that they can vote as soon as they are able to.

Voting becomes a habit, therefore is it really that surprising that so many people are disillusioned with our democracy when they are excluded from the system at the age of 16?  16 year olds are considered old enough to leave school and pay taxes, therefore it is only right they are considered old enough to have a say in how we are governed.

If someone is old enough to get married (which you can do without parental consent in Scotland at 16), or serve in our armed forces, then they are old enough to vote. Chatting about this on Facebook last night, a friend of mine recounted how he at 17 was serving in the Armed Forces in Berlin during the Cold War. He said that if things had gone wrong, with the job he was doing, it would have taken around 15 minutes for a Soviet missile to find them. If 16 year olds can be spouses, workers and carers, they should have a vote. It really is that simple.



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

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  • Nick Collins 23rd Sep '14 - 2:48pm

    Perhaps your Conference could come up with something designed to appeal to teen-age voters: a pledge to vote against any proposal to increase tuition fees, maybe?

  • If someone is old enough to get married (which you can do without parental consent in Scotland at 16), or serve in our armed forces, then they are old enough to vote.

    I’m afraid I don’t see the logical connection between the three.

    Chatting about this on Facebook last night, a friend of mine recounted how he at 17 was serving in the Armed Forces in Berlin during the Cold War. He said that if things had gone wrong, with the job he was doing, it would have taken around 15 minutes for a Soviet missile to find them.

    Which is a pretty story but again, I’m not sure I see the relevance. If things had gone wrong, it would have taken around half an hour for a Soviet missile to find all the 5-year-olds in Sheffield (or so threads tells us). Should we therefore give 5-year-olds the vote?

    If 16 year olds can be spouses, workers and carers, they should have a vote. It really is that simple.

    But 11-year-olds can be workers and taxpayers too. Daniel Radcliffe was paying probably quite a lot of tax at the age of 11. Should we therefore give 11-year-olds the vote?

    And there are numerous stories of, say, 9-year-olds acting as carers. Should we therefore give 9-year-olds the vote?

    Sorry, but if you want to make a convincing case you are going to have to do better than this mish-mash of appeals to emotion and cute anecdotes.

  • It should be raised, not lowered, stupid idea.

    The voting age has nothing to do with lack of interest in politics.

  • People at the age of 16 should be allowed to vote in my opinion.

    Why should their opinion be of any less value as to someone who is 18-21 etc.

    There are plenty of young intelligent 16-18 year olds who are more worldly wise than some in their 30’s

    We allow people with learning difficulties to vote who might be physically in their 30’s but mentally are in their teens. They are not denied the democratic right to vote.

    The only people who are not allowed are those whose mental health is at such a severity that they are unable to understand the voting procedure.

    16 year olds can sign up to the armed services, they can work and pay taxes, They should be given a voice and a vote in our democratic society.

  • @Matt: there are plenty of intelligent young 14-15 year olds too. Why shouldn’t they get the vote?

    The fact is that, like any other largely arbitrary delimiter between rights, voting age is not based on the abilities of the few who may be smart, engaged and politically astute but on the attributes of the majority. The majority of 16-17 are still in full time education, still living at home and they are not even considered responsible enough to have a pint of beer in a pub. It strikes me as far more of an anomaly that we permit 16-17 years old to marry than it does that we do not permit them to vote.

    What is this policy actually intended to achieve? What is the function and effect of extending the vote to people who are generally considered to be late stage children?

  • paul barker 23rd Sep '14 - 3:43pm

    I cant see why it couldnt be done quickly, the changes neede would be very simple, its a question of will.

  • Nick Collins, yes let’s be hep to those groovy teen-agers daddyo

  • Caracarus – sponsorship is deductible expense.

    We need a threshold for account ability and 18 seems a good one. Put it this way, which would you rather supervise, a sixteenth birthday or an eighteenth?

  • The way I look at it is that anyone who is subject to the jurisdiction of an elected public body should be entitled to elect that public body, provided that they understand what the public body does and are capable of exercising a choice. 16-17 year-olds as a collectivity fall well inside that category. There will some who fall outside it, as do many over-18s.

    The arguments that people advance against extending the franchise to 16-17 year-olds are broadly the same as the arguments that were once used to argue against the extension of the franchise to women. They are based on negative and patronising attitudes towards the demographic in question. In the case of 16-17 year-olds, I think sexual jealousy has a lot to do with it.

    I am reminded of the moral panic over the 1970 Isle of Wight Pop Festival which filled the poorer newspapers for a whole summer. They had long hair, they were having sex, they were no longer bowing down to their elders, etc. Then Eric Heffer denounced the critics as “youth haters”, which shut them up somewhat. He happened to be right!

  • Is this the Michael Moore who said :

    “So far we have not yet heard a convincing argument that says you should change the basis of the franchise on this one-off referendum, otherwise you could start opening the whole debate up to lots of other people saying they should be part of this or certain people shouldn’t be part of it.”

    Mr Moore went on to say that the franchise for the referendum should be identical to the franchise for the last Scottish Parliamentary election which saw a majority SNP government returned to power, saying:

    “I think the fairest basis is to use the franchise that elected the very parliament that gave the First Minister his mandate to have a referendum.”

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Sep '14 - 6:55pm

    Contrary to what has been said :-

    16 year olds cannot marry without their parents permission
    16 year olds cannot drive a car.
    16 year olds cannot join the armed forces without their parents permission.
    16 year olds cannot become policemen.
    16 year olds cannot become firemen.
    16 year olds cannot purchase alcohol.

    If 16 year olds are not deemed to have the maturity to be able to carry out the above, how on earth can they be judged to have the maturity to do their part in choosing future governments. If you do wish to see 16 year olds voting, then you must also expect them to have the maturity to carry arms in violent circumstances, risk their lives running into burning buildings and being warranted to arrest malfeasants.

  • @A Social Liberal

    “16 year olds cannot marry without their parents permission” They can in Gretna Green
    “16 year olds cannot drive a car” They can drive a 3 wheeler i.e robin reliant
    “16 year olds cannot become policemen.” They can join the academy as trainee’s from 16-18 year olds
    “16 year olds cannot purchase alcohol.” Actually in certain circumstances a 16 year old can drink Beer, Wine or Cider along with a meal in a licensed premises. In fact it is down to the managers discretion and Children as young as 5 can have wine with their meal.

    I believe if 16 year olds are intelligent enough to sit exams that will set them on course for the rest of their lives, then they have enough Knowledge to know how and who they would like to vote for if they so wish.

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Sep '14 - 7:57pm


    In that case then 16 year olds also have the intelligence to be put in harms way for their country. They have the maturity to be able to purchase alcohol, shotguns and other firearms. They should be allowed to be placed in situations where they can be sent into burning buildings or placed in front of rioters intent on doing them harm.

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Sep '14 - 7:59pm

    Further, Matt

    You are correct in your comment about young people and the drinking of alcohol. However, you prefer not to say that they can only do so with the permission of their parents.

  • CHIS WILLIAMS 23rd Sep '14 - 8:06pm

    Spot on Social Liberal. Democratic participation is a responsibility as well as a right. In any Democracy participating citizens should be equal in all rights and responibilties.

  • CHIS WILLIAMS 23rd Sep '14 - 8:24pm

    Mat highlights the stupidity of the debate, WITHOUT there parents permission. A CAR has 4 wheels. TRAINEES not PC’s. ALCOHOL with parents permission not able to purchase. Have a go at these.
    AT 16 1. Purchase Cigarettes etc.
    2. Drive a high powered car or motorbike
    3. Have a relationship with anyone of any age from any profession.
    4. Serve in the armed forces in harms way.
    5. Take adult responsibility for any crimes including serving the sentence in an adult prison.
    Politicians ONLY change the Democratic process/electorate when they think it will work to their advantage.

  • A Social Liberal 23rd Sep '14 - 8:28pm

    Sorry Matt – I have only just seen that you replied to some of my other points. However I have to rebut some of your assertions

    The Metropolitan Police state :-

    “Age criteria

    Police community support officers
    18–62½ years old

    Special constables
    18–57 years old

    New constables and experienced officers
    18–57 years old”


    Where did you hear that 16 year olds can drive 3 wheelers, or can be married in Gretna Green – I can find no reference that supports your views.

  • actually chris a robin reliant is classified as a “microcar” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliant_Robin The point is it is a motorized vehicle that is able to be legally driven on the roads from the age of 16. Not suggesting that many youngsters would indeed drive one of these as it wold do nothing for their street cred, however the law allows them to do so if they so wish.
    The Alcohol has nothing to do with parents permission, they just have to be accompanied by an over 18.

    You can fire off any number of circumstances where our laws seem contradictory to one another on what a 16 year old can legally and not legally do, which does not make a lot of sense.
    I doubt debating them though will add anything constructive to the debate.

    I am still of the opinion that a 16 year old has a high enough concept of the world around them and are of sound enough mind to have an opinion that they should be able to express democratically.

    My father is 74 years old whose memory is going to pot, He forgets what has happened in the world of politics over the last week and yet he is still able to have his say on polling day. I would argue that there are many people like him in his situation where his world has become so limited and small, he does not follow politics or News events and yet he is stuck in his ways and he will always vote for the same party, year on year. Should someone who is so disengaged from events and politics still be allowed to vote?

  • In view that the party thinks an allowance for every citizen should be forth coming maybe the vote should be given to babies as well with parents casting vote on said babies behalf

    Yes that is sarcastic don’t you think trying to sort power within the UK may need precedence

  • For what it is worth – below is a list of things you can do at what age from 2002 consultation paper from the Home Office on “entitlement cards” (id cards – It is not an exhaustive guide according to the Home Office). Since then the age at which you can sell someone tobacco has increased to 18 – although it is not I understand from http://www.adviceguide.org.uk/wales/relationships_w/faq_index_family/faq_family_legal_age_drinking_and_smoking.htm a criminal offence to consume tobacco.

    Age Restriction
    5 Alcohol consumption under parental control
    Entry to pubs for which a children’s certificate has been obtained
    (except Northern Ireland)
    10 Agricultural or horticultural employment permitted (under parental supervision)
    12 Entry to 12 certificate cinema films
    Purchase or rental of 12 certificate video films and games
    Ownership of a pet
    13 Part-time employment (up to 25 hours per week) if a work permit is obtained
    14 Employment as a babysitter
    Purchase of airguns
    Entry to pubs without children’s certificates (except Northern Ireland)
    15 Entry to 15 certificate cinema films
    Purchase or rental of 15 certificate video films and games
    Part-time employment (up to 35 hours a week for 15/16s) if a work permit is obtained
    16 Full-time employment
    Consumption of beer, cider, sherry (and in Scotland wine) if consuming a meal
    outside the ‘bar’ area of a pub or restaurant (except Northern Ireland)
    Purchase of tobacco
    Purchase of lottery tickets & scratchcards
    Purchase of knives
    Purchase of sparklers & party poppers
    Purchase of razor blades
    Purchase of liqueur chocolates
    17 Driving a car
    Purchase of crossbows
    18 Purchase of lighter fuel & restricted solvents
    Purchase of fireworks
    Purchase of alcohol not previously permitted as above
    Entry to pubs in Northern Ireland
    Entry to most nightclubs
    Entry to betting shops, bingo halls and casinos
    Playing fruit machines
    Entry to licensed sex shops
    Entry to 18 certificate cinema films
    Purchase or rental of 18 certificate video films and games
    (and R-18 films from licensed video premises)
    21 Entry to some nightclubs

  • CHIS WILLIAMS 23rd Sep '14 - 9:11pm

    Sorry Matt but I think you miss the point. By protecting under 18’s using both the law and cultural norms society accepts that this particular age group lacks some something gives them the ability to become full and active citizens. I accept the case of your father but as has been stated people with learning difficulties have the right to vote and so they should because you were required to take an IQ test to vote then i’ll turn the light off as I get on the boat.

  • “By protecting under 18’s using both the law and cultural norms society accepts that this particular age group lacks some something gives them the ability to become full and active citizens. ”

    Does society accept this? I do not think all of society does, that’s why the subject is up for debate.

    It was not that long ago that you could buy cigarettes at 16. The laws changed but I do not think that it was society that demanded the change in Law, it was the government of the day. ( I am not arguing whether this was the right or wrong thing to do, just making a point. )

    As it has been pointed out already people with learning difficulties can vote, as long as they understand the concept of voting. Why should it be any different for 16-18 year olds? These are people who have gone through rigorous education many gone on to further studies to become lawyers, doctors, nurses, midwives for example. These young people are working towards a career that politics has a direct affect on their futures, why shouldn’t they get a democratic vote and be able to vote for a party that they believe is going to be best suited to further their future interests and profession?

  • I would also argue that there are a vast number of the electorate who have very little understanding or the concept of our politics and yet they still vote.
    Many people do not understand the concept that we do not vote for a prime minister in our country, we vote for a individual parliamentarian to represent us in our constituencies, that person maybe a member of a wider party. A Prime Minister can change without an election as in the case with Gordon Brown.
    There are to many people who see UK elections like US elections as if we are voting for a president.

    I have heard of ridiculous reasons why some people vote for a certain people, embarrassingly in my own family with a sister who voted Nick Clegg as she thought he was the best looking out of Brown, Cameron, Clegg and said she would not vote Brown because of his Beady eye’s, her words not mine.
    My Father votes Labour in every single election but when I ask him why he has absolutely no idea why, he has no knowledge of the party, what they stand for or politics in general, It is just something that he has done religiously throughout his adult life,
    My Mother is the same although alarmingly she is talking of voting UKIP at the next election. She lives in Great-Yarmouth which will be a strong UKIP target seat. When I asked her why she would vote UKIP, what does she think UKIP policies would do for her as a pensioner living on the breadline. She had absolutely no idea and confessed that she was just following the crowd in her local bingo hall.
    That alarms me that even my own parents make these decisions whilst having very little interest or understanding of what they are voting for but yet, it is their democratic right to do so.
    I imagine there are many people up and down this country who are very similar to my parents and their choices have an affect on the type of Government that gets elected.

    On that basis, I have no problems whatsoever with 16 and 17 year olds being allowed to vote.

  • @Social Liberal
    “Where did you hear that 16 year olds can drive 3 wheelers, or can be married in Gretna Green – I can find no reference that supports your views.”

    laws regarding microcars

    police cadets

    gretna Green Marriage
    “Since 1929, both parties in Scotland have had to be at least 16 years old, but they still may marry without parental consent. In England and Wales, the age for marriage is now 16 with parental consent and 18 without.”

  • Looking at it from afar, for me the part played by 16-17 year-olds played in the Scottish Referendum has been tremendously heartening. There is a debate to be had on which age you should be allowed to do certain things. And this country like all others is inconsistent. Other countries are equally inconsistent – in the USA you can drive in some states at 14, not purchase alcohol (essentially) until 21 and vote at 18!
    It is probably correct that we like all other countries are inconsistent! There is also a list of minimum ages for a variety of things at http://www.thesite.org/crime-and-safety/your-rights/what-age-can-i-9102.html. It is a little odd that legally you can have sex at 16 but not watch other people have it! There are a variety of considerations – emotional, physical development and intellectual development. As well as health considerations (if someone does start smoking, the later they start, the more likely they are to give it up later). Employment laws obviously stem from when child labour was rife in this country and trying to make sure that children get an education rather than being sent out to work. But you can work full time at 16.
    There are already British citizens who can vote in elections – in Jersey and on the Isle of Man. For me, we allow people to do a lot at 16 – particularly have children and work full-time. In particular there should be no taxation without representation and I was in a full time job at 17 and had no say on how the tax I paid should be spent. Probably 16 year-olds who have just had their citizenship education know as much or more than many or most older people on politics and political working. In particular it engages people in democracy at an early age as we have seen in Scotland. We should be guided by the significant amount of responsibility (if not complete for a variety of reasons) that we give 16 year-olds including working full-time and having children. Their rights as young citizens. That it will enhance and strengthen democracy. That 16 year-olds will be the most affected by Government decisions as having the longest life expectancy. The experience of Scotland surely shows that it would strengthen democracy. May be starting with national referendums and local elections.

  • Matt, you seem to making a strong case for benevolent dictatorship

  • With 5 year parliaments someone who is just under the age to vote next year will be almost 23 before they get the chance to vote in a general election. They could have been out of school and contributing to society for 7 years.

    I don’t think that’s fair. Give 16 year olds the vote.

  • @JohnTilley

    Lol no you misunderstand me, or maybe I am not getting my opinions across very well. My medication does play havoc with my ability to make sense sometimes and I am not very articulate.

    I was not being snobby at all. I am far from snobbish and it was quite amusing to read that.

    The point I was trying to make about Mum coming to her decisions on voting UKIP was due to her having absolutely no knowledge whatsoever what the UKIP party was about,, what policies they stood for, what it would mean for them as pensioners. I even had to explain to her what it means for a party to be be on the left of politics and on the right of politics.
    I asked her if her and her friends talked about why they were voting UKIP and she said not really, it was more along the lines of thats what everyone else say they are doing so she was going to do the same.
    (following the herd)

    I am not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing. It is their democratic right to vote for who they wish.

    The point I was trying to make in my arguments for 16/17 year old’s being given the vote, was that I did not have a problem with this, especially when we have so many people in our country, especially some from of the older generations, who just vote for the same party over and over again without any thought or knowledge of what they are voting for and it is done out habit. Then there are those like my Mother, who has zero interest in politics or world events and will cast a vote based on actions of the herd.
    I am really not being snobbish or even talking about my parents in a derogatory way, if that is how it is coming across then I apologies as that’s not what is intended.
    My point is that I think most 16/17 year olds would be able to come to better informed choices when it comes to voting if they so had the opportunity and chose to in the first place.

  • Sandy Leslie 24th Sep '14 - 10:31am

    I think that some of the comments are tending to miss the facts of the Scottish referendum
    lets look at a few facts.
    The voting age was 16.
    I understand that about 100,000 16 and 17 year olds registered and the turnout in this group was in excess of 80%.
    Large numbers of these new voters took an active part in the campaign .
    We are now planing on saying to them ” You were old enough and mature enough to help decide Scotland’s future but you are to young and to immature to help decide who represents you in parliament “.
    Please tell me what your reaction would be if you were in there place?

  • We are now planing on saying to them ” You were old enough and mature enough to help decide Scotland’s future but you are to young and to immature to help decide who represents you in parliament “.

    Um, they weren’t ‘old and mature enough’ at all.

    The only reason they were given the vote was because the SNP thought (wrongly, it turns out) that they would be more likely to vote for independence.

    This was not a judgement on 16-year-olds being mature and sensible enough to participate in democracy (as a rule, they are not).

    It was an attempt by Alex Salmond at demographic gerrymandering, and that is all it was.

    And if the 16-year-olds aren’t mature enough to understand that, then they certainly aren’t old enough to vote.

  • Sandy Leslie 24th Sep '14 - 12:17pm

    it might sunrise you to know that during the debates that were held specifically for and by the 16 and 17 year age groups this was one of the points that was brought up again and again.
    By the way the genie has been let out of the bottle
    Good luck in putting it back

  • By the way the genie has been let out of the bottle
    Good luck in putting it back

    All it will take to put it back is two years of inaction, by which time the 16-year-olds who voted last week will be 18 and able to vote anyway, and the new lot of 16-year-olds will never have known any different.

    We already have one year’s grace: there’s no way the franchise could be change din time for the general election in May. there wouldn’t be time to get the registration details.

    And no seventeen-year-old is going to be clamouring to be allowed to vote in local elections in 2016; heck, most people who are able to vote don’t bother to vote in local elections.

    And if there’s one thing the British state is good at, it’s inaction.

    So, actually, I think you’ll find that the genie will fly back into the bottle all by itself. In a few years’ time this will look like a quaint old conversation about a weird anomaly where 16-year-olds were allowed to vote.

  • matt

    Thanks for your good humoured response.
    I am retired and all my children are past being 18.
    But I am tempted to follow the trend of your argument and suggest that the vote should be denied to anyone under the age of 60.
    Those of us who are over 60 have so much more experience and knowledge of the world than all you youngsters.
    We have seen all sorts of politicians come and go and therefore we can form judgements on political parties so much better than you youngsters who know all about playing games on phones and Twitter, but nothing about the real world or even Bingo.
    Anyone who has knocked on doors and asked people to vote for them knows only too well that people vote for all sorts of reasons. People also explain their voting preference in their own way.
    My experience is that if people are allowed to discuss things in their own terms, on their own territory ,with politicians who have managed to win their trust they come out as very well informed although sometimes intuitive voters who vote for the person or the party that they think or just as importantly “feel” will best represent them.

    The community politics approach of working with people in their communities to take and use power provides a chance for political activists to learn from the people they seek to represent. When Liberal,Democrats have followed such a route that have often met with remarkable electoral success in all sorts of communities. Maybe someone should take Nick Clegg to your mum’s Bingo Hall in Yarmouth for a few months, he has more to learn than most.

  • John Tilley

    Just for clarity sake I am 40 years old myself, Hardly a youngster anymore, I don’t have a mobile phone either 😉 that did make me laugh though, maybe I should be flattered that my writing and opinions comes across as youthful lol.

    In all seriousness though, I do not think I am expressing myself or my opinions eloquently enough to be constructive to the topic of debate so I will bow out of the discussion gracefully and leave it to others to express their opinions on the rights and wrongs for 16/17 year old’s to have the right to vote.

    All the best


  • Daniel Henry 24th Sep '14 - 5:39pm

    Very good points being made by Matt in this thread.

    I personally think that the sooner someone is able to vote, the sooner they get engaged and the sooner they become informed. 16 is a good age as they’ve completed their GCSEs and still being in school they can be registered to vote for the first time.

    I think Michael’s observations on 16-17 year old participation were also very relevant, showing that it working well in practice.

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Sep '14 - 7:38am

    If you allow votes to 16 year olds, what on earth is the rationale for denying 16 year olds the right to buy cigarettes and alcohol?

    I posted this question on another thread dealing with this theme but received no answer. Would anyone care to try here?

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