Time has come for Government to back votes at 16

Yesterday the Welsh Assembly backed a bill that would lower the voting age to 16 for elections to it.

If this becomes law, 16 year olds in Wales and Scotland will have a say in their future, but 16 year olds in England will not. My son’s classmates were able to vote in the Holyrood elections in 2016 but some of them missed out in 2017 as they hadn’t hit 18 yet. My son only just made it.

The engagement of 16 year olds in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was fantastic. It was great to see so many of them go straight from school to polling station. Since then they have had the right to vote twice more, in the Holyrood election of 2016 and the Council elections in 2017. Unlike England, all of Scotland’s 32 Councils are elected on the same day.

Layla Moran called on the Government to allow 16 year olds in England to vote:

If we are happy to allow a 16 year old to pay tax, be a parent or serve in the army then we should not deny them the right to vote. That is why Liberal Democrats have led on this campaign from the start.

With 16 and 17-year-olds playing an active role in elections in Scotland and now the Welsh Assembly backing plans too, the genie is out of the bottle.

Given Brexit poses so many threats to the lives of young people, they deserve their voice to be heard. It is time to demand better from the UK Government. It is time Ministers ensured every 16 and 17 year old across the UK has the same right to vote.

If you are in any doubt about whether this is a good idea, have a look at this by Jan Eichorn, a lecturer in social policy at Edinburgh University. He cites evidence that shows that support for young people having the vote has increased to 60% since it was introduced and that those young people are more engaged in the political process in other ways as well as voting.

We already know that the younger first time voters are, the greater their participation. This effect is observed in multiple studies and is strongly pronounced for 16- to 17-year-olds. It could also be observed in the Scottish context where the above-cited participation rate for these ages (75%) was much higher than the estimate for 18-24-year-olds (54%). Voting earlier, while still being in school and more likely to live at home, is likely to increase voter participation, not reduce it.

And he also cites Austria as confirmation that these patterns are long-lasting:

The findings indeed suggest that earlier enfranchisement, together with other factors (such as the referendum, civic education, and parental socialisation) had a positive impact on young people in Scotland. Further research will be required to examine whether these positive effects are long-lasting. Evidence from Austria – where the voting age was lowered in 2007 and where similar first-time boosts could be observed – is encouraging, as later observations still confirmed the initial patterns.

The Welsh Lib Dems are also welcoming the move. Leader Jane Dodds said:

I’m pleased Wales has taken the opportunity to do things differently. I urge the UK Parliament to follow the Assembly’s lead and introduce votes at 16 for General Elections as well.

And spokesperson for Electoral Reform Jenny Randerson added:

We’ve long campaigned for the voting age to be reduced to 16. We wholeheartedly welcome this decision which takes us a step closer to achieving this goal for Assembly elections. We urge AMs to pass the legislation necessary to make votes at 16 a reality.

Lowering the voting age to 16 would improve engagement in politics and all the evidence suggests that where 16-year olds are given the vote they approach their choice with enthusiasm and work hard to research the issues involved.

At this time of great of great political upheaval it’s vital we give our young people the say over their future they’ve been unjustly denied.

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

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24 Comments

  • Is it only me that thinks the “England must do it because Scotland has” argument is both utterly counter to the spirit and intent of devolution and intellectually absent. It has, of course, its parallels in our cynical approach to/use of the EU: ‘[tiny state] has done [measure] with which we happen to sympathise, so the EU must legislate for harmonisation, so that the UK must do it too’ – despite the UK having shown no interest in or appetite for any such measure. Key factor in Brexit.

    Pity. Having seen Layla Moran at conference, I was quite impressed.

  • Why 16 ?

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Oct '18 - 11:47am

    nvelope2003
    Why 16? Well, the article answers that fairly clearly. Granted, any age is fairly arbitrary (why not 15? 17? 16 and three-quarters?) – but reducing it to an age that in many ways marks the beginning of the transition to adulthood (age of consent, joining the army, slightly different treatment by statutory agencies) but is still before leaving school (enabling school to encourage their students to participate en masse) makes sense. All this, of course, in the context of the research cited above showing that lowering the age of first voting increases the likelihood of developing a habit of voting. (I’m taking for granted that encouraging people to vote is a good thing.)

  • Just another example of cynical political opportunism. LibDems and Labour think they will get the votes, because young people are minded to be left wing, if young people were minded to be Conservative, this idea wouldn’t see the light of day in left wing circles.

    You can join the army, but you can’t take part in warfighting until you are 18, you think 16 year olds are children, because you seem to think you know better than them when they should be allowed to leave school, you think you know better than them about access to alcohol, or cigarettes or the food they are allowed to eat at school. You don’t think they are old enough to drive, or to have a firearms licence, or a passport without their parents permission. In fact in every area apart from where you see cynical party advantage you refuse to allow 16 year olds to become adults, in fact over the last 30 years you have made it harder by the year to become a fully functioning adult in control of their lives.

    On another matter can the editors explain why they are so quick to delete or block dissenting comments, surely for LibDems to get a flavour of what is going on out there, they need to do a little more than just talk to each other, reinforcing each others prejudice. If I get a comment posted, and it is responded to, nearly every response I then make is deleted, or never appears, as if the site is deliberately trying to control the direction of the debate.

  • The turnout at elections has usually fallen when the voting age has been reduced but as they say if voting changed anything it would be abolished and reducing the voting age is a step in that direction as it will become discredited. Why would anyone take any notice if the turnout was less than 50% ? In Austria it has resulted in a Government including the extreme Right. Be careful what you wish for. Not all young people are left of centre.

  • Morgan-Ross Inwood 11th Oct '18 - 12:21pm

    There is an old saying in Politics, no taxation without representation. 16 year old’s can get married with consent, join the Armed Forces and pay tax but cannot vote. I turned 18 a couple of months after the May 2005 General Election so I missed out.

    There is another side to this coin and I have been commenting on Social Media about it, the other side of the coin is education in particular Citizenship Education which is on the English National Curriculum in 2002 following the 1998 Crick Report. The nature of the subject needs reviewing. I would like to see something more than currently what is taught present but something less than American Civics. I understand the Education Policy Motion passed by 2018 Spring Conference called for good quality citizenship education. Education Policy is a Devolved Matter in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales though I am not sure Citizenship Education is taught though my point covers the whole of the UK

    In addition to the content of Citizenship, Teacher Training courses specialising in Citizenship is not widely offered in England so more Citizenship Teacher Training Courses should be offered. And the part of this argument/point is funding for these courses. I am considering becoming a Citizenship Teacher with a view to teaching Citizenship and A Level Government and Politics and if I decide to do a Citizenship PGCE at a University I would need to take out a Tuition Fee Loan and a Maintenance Loan. Though there is an option to gain a salary whilst training.

  • @ Morgan-Ross Inwood

    No being funny, but we need more teachers in no subjects, like we need a hole in the head. If there is spare money, we need it spent on helping people with pre-existing skills to become teachers who can teach coding, electronics, CAD, 3D design, and the whole raft of technical skill training, that this country needs to upskill it workforce and grow our manufacturing base.

    Bring children up to be good citizens is the role of parents and the extended family, the last thing we need it a bunch of politically correct left wingers indoctrinating our children, anymore than they already are.

  • nvelope2003 11th Oct '18 - 1:02pm

    As most goods have VAT on them no taxation without representation would mean primary school children having the vote. Voters should have some practical experience of adult life and its responsibilities which few 16 year olds would have.

  • Of course @Jack Graham – it is equally why Conservatives OPPOSE votes at 16. There are arguments why 16 – you can have sex, fight for your country, get married, drink alcohol in a pub, enter full-time employment etc. There are many things you can do at different ages – consume alcohol at 5, own an airgun at I believe 14, drive an HGV at 21. I think 14 (or 5) is too young – 21 too old – 16 is about right especially when the Government is going to determine your future for decades to come.


    @nvelope2003 11th Oct ’18 – 1:02pm

    “As most goods have VAT on them no taxation without representation would mean primary school children having the vote…”

    I remember VAT going up from 8% to 15% in one of the first Tory budgets after the 79 general election and the sweet shop immediately sticking an extra 1p on the price of a mars bar that day! A good lesson in politics and the Tory party!!!!!

  • @Jack Graham

    “it a bunch of politically correct left wingers indoctrinating our children, anymore than they already are.”

    The notion that you can “indoctrinate” rebellious teenagers is laughable. We should give them the skills to dissect political arguments, statistical skills, understanding of the rhetorical tricks politicians use etc. etc.

    Although I appreciate your view that people, especially young people should be drones and “wage slaves” tugging their forelocks to their elders and better who really know about these things!

  • @nvelope2003 11th Oct ’18 – 1:02pm

    “As most goods have VAT on them no taxation without representation would mean primary school children having the vote. ”

    I remember the Tories putting up VAT from 8% to 15% in one of their first budgets after the 79 election, and the sweet shop immediately sticking 1p on the price of a mars bar – an early lesson in politics and the Tories!

    As it happens as a child being nerdy and interested in politics I probably knew about the PSBR and current affairs than my parents did.

    As many policies are aimed at children we should young adults a voice before we all forget what it is like to be a child and what is actually effective. We realise this through youth parliaments, councils and youth mayors. But this is sham politics – no power.

    As Lib Dems we should be consulting children and young adult in our communities and giving them a real say and acting on their advice and recommendations.

  • Jack Graham 11th Oct '18 - 4:56pm

    @ Michael 1

    ” Although I appreciate your view that people, especially young people should be drones and “wage slaves” tugging their forelocks to their elders and better who really know about these things! ”

    How on earth did you arrive at that conclusion.

    Over my career I have employed many young people as trainees, training them to be highly skilled, highly paid electronics specialists. I actually believe that gaining and exploiting skills is the only route to success as an adult.

    In contrast, I have watched over the last 40 years, generations of politicians from all parties seemingly more interested in abstract constructs, and airy fairy theorising. I see all around me so called educated people with degrees, but absolutely no marketable skills doing low paid jobs, whilst those who left school at the earliest opportunity are in thew main economically better off than the majority of graduates.

    I have no problem with giving 16 year olds the vote as long as they are treat as adults across the piste, including fighting and dying in wars, otherwise you will have the situation that people of 16 may vote for a party that wants to take us to war, in the full knowledge they would not have to go to war themselves.

    Equality! that means Equality to die in war, equality to be punished and imprisoned as an adult, equality to leave school, equality to smoke and drink themselves to death, and interestingly I wonder how a party that promised to legalise all recreational drugs would perform in a GE with regard to the 16 to 20 vote, very well I would imagine.

    On your second reply to envelope.
    Why don’t you engage with children and young adults, nobody is stopping you!
    As a matter of interest what have the LibDems done for young people other than increase tuition fees the minute they got into government. Now there is no doubt that engaged young people.

  • nvelope2003 12th Oct '18 - 9:40am

    Being a Liberal Democrat supporter I suppose I should support votes at 16 but there are other considerations than party political gain. However, in a society which has infantilised many people I expect it will happen. You can join the armed forces at 16 but you cannot be on active service until 18 however that will be hard to defend if 16 year olds can vote for wars. Do you really want 16 year olds killed on active service ? Probably. Maybe we could give votes to 16 year olds for local councils as they cannot start wars and are responsible for local education.

    Can you really drink alcohol in a pub at 16 – I thought you had to be 18to be served.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Oct '18 - 11:38am

    Almost all EU countries have a minimum voting age of 18 in Parliamentary elections. The exceptions are:

    Austria: 16 since 2007
    Malta: 16 since 2018
    Luxembourg had a referendum on reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 in 2015, which was heavily rejected.
    Italy also has a higher voting age of 25 for Senate elections only.

    One should ask whether if people are considered sufficiently mature to vote at 16, they should also be allowed to enter into credit contracts at the same age.

  • When the voting age was reduced to 18 that seemed to mean that you “came of age” in the quaint phrase of the time. Previously it was 21 (” I’ve got the key of the door – never been 21 before” – 18 does not fit !). Will children become officially adults at 16 if the voting age is reduced ? If so they can do all those things young people are rightly banned from doing because they are neither physically or mentally mature enough to do them even though some of them might. It would then be almost impossible to enforce such rules.

  • The evidence is overwhelming that the younger people start voting, the more engaged they are throughout their lives. Surely the government has run out of excuses to why not introduce this measure. Give a man a rod and he will learn how to use it.

  • @Jack Graham

    Clearly your argument about having to eligible to fight to have the vote does not stand up. Women until recently were banned from front-line combat. Should they have been denied the vote? (Openly at least and until 2000) LGBT people? Conscientious objector? Religious groups like Quakers?

    It is clear that bigger representation for women has seen much more focus on a whole raft of important issues. My concern is that not having young people’s voices does the same. The arguments against giving young adults the vote are reminiscent of those used against women voting. “They can’t get their little heads around the issues”. They are not “economic units” but the property and chattel of their husbands/menfolk. It is men that are providing for them economically etc.

    Of course there is an argument about adulthood and maturity. You can do a whole raft of things starting at 5 and going on to 21.

    For voting, I think that 21 is too late and 5 is too young. Of course when our life expectancy was around 50, 16 was positively middle-aged!

    Mhairi Black’s statement that she was now the only 20 year-old that George Osborne was now helping with housing was powerful because she was 20 and because she was a full parliamentarian.

    There is good work done on youth parliaments, youth councils and youth mayors. But my fear is that they are a sop. “There, there – thanks for that but you will understand the real complexities when you are older.”

  • 2/2

    On engagement. It shouldn’t be about us having to “engage” – that should be part of the democratic process. But yes the Lib Dem group I was a member of had some young councillors in their early-20s and we nearly got an 18 year-old elected but for a handful of votes. We also had older members well into the 70s. We should not be ageist – against the younger or the older – and unfortunately too often we are. Much government is concerned about the young and the old – we should draw on their direct experience. More importantly we should give them some say and power – because we know ultimately that is the only thing that counts! And because it is simply right that you give all adults (and you are more or less at 16!) their say and their vote.

    We are in our politics too male, pale and stale – including me! We need not to be ageist – both against the younger and the older. Making voting younger and perhaps as importantly making the age of CANDIDATURE younger at 16 will see a knock-on effect of younger politicians – even if they have reached the ripe old age of 18, 19, 20! As with women we miss out on a range of important experience that could be brought to our politics.

    On engagement. It shouldn’t be about us having to “engage” – that should be part of the democratic process. But yes the Lib Dem group I was a member of had some young councillors in their early-20s and we nearly got an 18 year-old elected but for a handful of votes. We also had older members well into the 70s. We should not be ageist – against the younger or the older – and unfortunately too often we are. Much government is concerned about the young and the old – we should draw on their direct experience. More importantly we should give them some say and power – because we know ultimately that is the only thing that counts! And because it is simply right that you give all adults (and you are more or less at 16!) their say and their vote.

  • Apologies for the repeated paragraph!

  • nvelope2003 12th Oct '18 - 1:16pm

    Peter Hirst: Where is this evidence ? Only Austria and Malta (since 2018) allow 16 year olds to vote in national elections. None of the serious objections have been addressed. Just expected or hoped for political advantage but the whole edifice of democracy seems to be collapsing in its place of origin, Britain, Western Europe and the USA.

  • @nvelope2003

    “Only Austria and Malta (since 2018) allow 16 year olds to vote in national elections”

    Plus Scotland
    Plus
    Nicaragua, Brazil, Estonia, Ecuador, Argentina and Estonia

    As the BBC reported: “A bill allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish and local government elections has been passed unanimously at Holyrood…. Extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds during the referendum was widely considered a success in terms of engaging young people in politics.”

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-33173488

    Wikipeida lists 13 British political parties in favour of reducing the voting age to 16 including the Scottish Conservative Party.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voting_age

    Of course we (and other countries) have already lowered the age of voting from 21 – and from 30 in the case of women and even more recently the age of candidature to 18 from 21 and of course enfranchised women.

    Wikipedia reports: “Before the Second World War, the voting age in almost all countries was 21 years or higher. Czechoslovakia was the first to reduce the voting age to 20 years in 1946, and by 1968 a total of 17 countries had lowered their voting age. Many countries, particularly in Western Europe, reduced their voting ages to 18 years during the 1970s, starting with the United Kingdom (1969).”

    Not surprisingly when the voting age is cut, it is kept – and there is no outbreak of irresponsible policies such as free sweets for all! Indeed teenagers seem to take it seriously – somewhat more seriously than their seniors.

  • @jackgraham

    “..otherwise you will have the situation that people of 16 may vote for a party that wants to take us to war, in the full knowledge they would not have to go to war themselves.”

    Well people over 60 ( and probably over 40!) can do that now. Should we take the vote away from them?

  • nvelope2003 13th Oct '18 - 1:17pm

    Michael 1: Yes Brazil, Nicaragua, Argentina. Not the best examples of democratic government. Scotland may be a nation but it is not an independent state yet. I do not think voting made much difference in post war Czechoslovakia.

  • Maybe the Government should enact a bill to allow 16 year olds to vote in the forthcoming referendum on the terms for leaving the EU. It would be interesting to see if it made any difference but I suspect that only a minority will vote. People are bored
    with voting as it must be obvious even to the most politically involved people that Governments will do almost anything to avoid doing what the voters want. Maybe that is just as well in some ways but it does raise doubts about the democratic process in the 21st Century. Younger people are very conformist and will do whatever everyone else around them or social media tell them to do because they are afraid to stand out.

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