Tag Archives: votes at 16

My first vote and why I’m still #hungry4democracy

I can’t remember if it was February or October 1974 but I do know that it was grey and cold. I was either  6 or 7 and I was walking up Tomatin Road in Inverness heading to Hilton Church Hall where my parents were going to cast their votes. That instilled in me that voting was something that was important to do. I didn’t really understand the issues, but I knew it was important that we were able to choose the Government.

Fast forward a few years to the weeks running up to the 1987 General Election. Although I was away at university at that time, I had decided to have a postal vote as I was keen to vote for Robert Maclennan, the SDP MP for Caithness and Sutherland for whom I had actively campaigned.

As I opened the envelope containing my ballot and, with due solemnity, cast my vote, I reflected that 70 years earlier, I wouldn’t have been able to do so. In fact, even 60 years earlier, I wouldn’t have had that chance. I would have been excluded from the electoral register purely because I was a woman (in 1917) or a young woman with no property (in 1927).  I thought about the women who had fought for my right to vote in different ways. Many had given their lives and liberty and were subjected to appalling treatment by the state as they fought for the right to vote. Their sacrifices made me determined to use my vote on every occasion. I only failed once, but I suspect that both Millicent Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst might have approved. I was working in the target seat of Chesterfield and had been there all week. I simply didn’t get a break from door-knocking to enable me to go home and vote. From that point, I have had a postal vote for every election.

On Tuesday, it will be the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Representation of the People Act which gave around 40% of the women in the country, as well as all men over 21, the vote for national elections. That and further extensions of the franchise don’t mean our democracy is in healthy state, though. Our antiquated First Past the Post system doesn’t give people the Parliament they ask for and it is the worst system for equality of  representation between men and women.

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Christine Jardine MP writes…We are simply the temporary guardians of their future

‘No taxation without representation’ was the call to arms which shook Westminster to its very core, and drove the American Revolution.

And yet nearly 250 years later here we are again. In this country today 16 and 17 year olds can pay tax and national insurance, and yet they have no say, no representation in how that money they contribute to the public purse is spent.

They can also get married and join the armed forces, but they cannot vote and have no say in our society’s decisions on their future. Yet, nobody has provided a reasonable explanation as to why. There have been plenty of excuses but no explanations.

It frustrates me because I have witnessed first-hand what a difference it makes to our politics, and what a contrast there is when sixteen and seventeen year olds join the debate.

On the eve of the European elections in May 2014, I spent the evening with a group of my daughter’s friends.

It was her 16th birthday. They knew I was involved in both the European elections and the forthcoming Scottish Independence Referendum campaign and wanted to chat.

The conversations I had that night were some of the most enlightened, challenging and informed of the entire European or Independence referendum campaigns.

At one point, I noticed that even though there was a constant stream of questions a few of the people were also all on their phones.

I was on the brink of being disappointed, when I discovered that they were actually texting other friends who were sending back their own questions to ask.

Imagine that? Young people so desperately keen to understand and be involved in the democratic process.

All of them engaged, all of them informed, all of them keen to make a positive difference and yet none of them entitled to vote the next day.

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Fighting for votes at 16

In light of the recent referendum result, as a Young Liberal, I have found this result  disheartening and frustrating. Joining the party at 16 and now being 17, I have not yet been able to exercise my voice and vote in any democratic election aside from the Liberal Democrat leadership election. This matter disappoints me and,  I’m sure,  many other politically passionate 16 and 17 year olds massively.

From a personal perspective I cannot help but feel that there is an enormous need for change to cater for this currently unheard voice in politics. I and many other young people have been active  in the political landscape since the day I joined the party yet feel angry that I am not allowed to exercise my passionate views through a vote.

Young people have shouted louder than ever on the issue of the European Union and I feel unsatisfied and discouraged that David Cameron declined me and other 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote on an issue that has shifted the tectonic plates of British politics more than any other issue in recent times.

It is clear that young people favoured Remain by a landslide yet they did not get the decision they wanted. It could be argued that this is down to a lack of a voice amongst young people, but also the lack of action to energise the base of young people in the United Kingdom and galvanise their opinion on the issues that will affect their everyday lives and also their future.

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Labour Lords give up on votes at 16 in local elections

Yesterday in the House of Lords, during Parliamentary ping pong on the Cities and Local Government Bill, the Liberal Democrats tried to secure votes at 16. Labour peers, though, didn’t bother to turn up. This is yet another example of them being much more craven than you would expect of an opposition, especially one that thinks itself to be of a more radical hue than Labour has been for a while. This is a policy which was in their manifesto and they should have turned out to support it.

Ever since the tax credits vote in October, Labour peers seem to have got cold feet, allowing themselves to be intimidated by ministers.

Lib Dem peer Paul Tyler was far from impressed, saying:

This no show from Labour means that over a million people will not get a voice in future local elections.

Despite vowing to give 16 year olds the vote in their manifesto the Labour party are now shying away from standing by their policies.

It is clear that Labour do not have the drive or determination to act as the opposition that this country needs.

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Lord Paul Tyler writes…Votes at 16: Labour flunks it again

As soon as it was known that 16 and 17 year old would have a say in the referendum on Scottish independence, I tabled a Bill in the Lords for a comprehensive change in the franchise. I have long believed that there is a strong case for lowering the voting age, in light of the maturity and political awareness of this group, and the many, much rehearsed adult responsibilities they take on. There is a pragmatic argument too, which is simply that creating a seamless link for as many young people as possible between citizenship education in schools, electoral registration in the classroom, and then actual participation at the ballot box, is likely to instil the habit of voting throughout later life.

With the advent of the EU Referendum Bill, I thought that even those who had reservations would surely accept that 16 and 17 year olds who had so successfully been given a say in the 2014 Scottish referendum could not be excluded from the franchise in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.  Labour told us that they agreed.

Our campaign then started out quite well.  With cross-party support for the principle at Committee Stage (when the Lords rarely votes), and then a thumping majority of 82 for the amendment at Report Stage, we were set-fair to force a government rethink. Or so you would think.

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Alison Suttie writes…Why shouldn’t 16 year olds vote in the EU Referendum

In the wake of the House of Lords voting to give 16 and 17 year olds the vote in the EU Referendum, Alison Suttie wrote about the debate for the Huffington Post.

It’s fair to say she was unimpressed with the Tories’ arguments against the measure:

Some of the arguments we heard from Tory peers against extending the franchise for the EU referendum last night were truly absurd and were the sort of patronising arguments and attitudes that would not have sounded out of place in the House of Lords a hundred years ago in debates about giving women the right to vote. 16-year-olds are mature enough to work and pay tax. They are mature enough to join the army or get married. Suggesting that they are incapable of understanding political debate is patronising in the extreme.

As a Scot, Alison knows only too well the positive impact 16 and 17 year olds had on the referendum.

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Updated: Votes at 16: Paul Tyler’s speech in the Lords debate – and Government defeated 293-211

The Liberal Democrat members of the House of Lords have done some fabulous work. It’s not just the tax credits vote recently, but the work they did in very difficult circumstances during the last government to challenge terrible Tory ideas. Add to that their campaigning work in the run up to the General Election and their constant visits to local parties (over 100 since the General Election) to help with the #libdemfightback.

Today is no exception. They are playing a blinder in the EU Referendum Bill debate arguing for votes at 16 and as such showing themselves to be far more in touch with reality than their counterparts on the government benches.

Update: And it worked! The Government was defeated by 293 votes to 211.

Tim Farron commented:

The Liberal Democrats have been fighting for this for decades, and we are winning the argument.

This is a victory for democracy, we will give over a million people a voice on their future.

In Scotland 16 and 17 year olds proved that they have they not only have the knowledge but also the enthusiasm to have a say on their own future. Taking that away now would do them an injustice.

The Government must now listen and act, Cameron cannot turn his back on 1.5 million young adults.

Paul Tyler led for us today and he added:

We cannot deny interested and engaged young adults such an important vote. This is a say in their future, and with Cameron ruling out future referendums, they won’t get a voice for a long time coming.

Today I am proud that we have taken a small step to improve our democracy following a campaign that the Liberal Democrats have led for decades.

Some of the arguments made by Tory peers were beyond ridiculous. Adolescents’ brains were still developing apparently. It’s vaguely reminiscent of the arguments about women’s brain size during debates on votes for women.

It’s up to the Government now to decide whether to keep this in . If it’s removed when the Bill goes back to the Commons, our peers will call a vote to reinstate it. If there is a stalemate, then the bill could be delayed by up to a year.

Here is Paul’s speech in full:

In Committee I thought that one of the most persuasive contributions – made from the Conservative benches opposite – was from the Noble Lord Lord Dobbs:

“ … the question I am struggling with is; How can it be right to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in a referendum on Scotland but not in a referendum on Europe? There has to be some sort of consistency.”

And he rubbished the official explanation that the extension of the franchise in the Scottish independence referendum did not originate with Conservative Ministers: “… although the coalition Government and the Prime Minister did not specifically approve votes for 16 year-olds, they did acquiesce in votes for 16 year-olds.”

He and others – notably an increasing number of Conservative MPs – have warned that we cannot pretend that Scottish young people are somehow more mature, well-informed and capable of exercising common-sense than their English, Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts. I dare the Minister to repeat that absurdity.

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