Opinion: Liberal Youth Scotland calls for [email protected]

Votes at 16 has been brought back onto the political agenda at the moment, with the news that 16 and 17 year olds will get the vote for the Independence Referendum in 2014. This decision is probably one of the most important ones people living in Scotland will take in their lives, and young people’s views must be taken into account about Scotland’s future.

16 and 17 year olds can leave school, get a job, and start a family. They can join the army, with the intention of fighting for their country, but are deprived of their democratic right to vote. There is clearly a cross-party consensus on this issue: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland supported the franchise being extended to sixteen and seventeen year olds in their 2010 manifestos.

So why had this become an area of disagreement about the referendum? Concerns that the SNP seek to enfranchise 16 and 17 year olds because they are more likely to support independence are unfounded: 2,457 pupils in S4 were asked if they were in favour of independence – only 26% said yes.

However, this should not just be about the independence referendum. Yes, 16 and 17 year olds should get the vote in 2014 – but in all other elections and referendums as well!

There is no good reason why not. It is widely suggested that young people are uninformed about politics, and that they wouldn’t vote, lowering turnout. The first point, apart from unfairly stereotyping young people, insinuates that those who are informed about issues should be the only ones who vote. If I were to go to Princes Street and ask adults about whether we should scrap Trident, for example, some would have well-defined views on the issue, and others would have no idea what I was talking about. Yet, quite rightly, they all have the democratic right to vote.

Additionally, the Jack Petchey Foundation undertook a survey of young people, in which 61% of those under 18 said they would have voted in May 2010 if they had the right to vote. With regard to voter turnout, the Electoral Reform Society undertook research for the Votes at 16 campaign: this showed that even if no 16-18 year olds voted, overall turnout would only drop by 2%.

As such, Liberal Youth Scotland is running a campaign to reduce the voting age to 16 for all elections and referendums: we believe that there should be no taxation without representation and that young people are qualified to make decisions about their futures.

Liberal Youth Scotland is calling on the Scotland Office to draft legislation to devolve the ability to set the voting age for all elections in Scotland – so that MSPs – a majority of whom are in favour – can move forward to lower the voting age for all elections in Scotland.

If you agree with us, please sign our petition!

* Hannah Bettsworth is VP Comms of Liberal Youth Scotland and on the Executive of Scottish Liberal Democrat Women. She recently spent a year studying in Salamanca and is a former member of the Liberal Youth International Committee.

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