As a seventeen year old, I am eligible to vote in May’s Scottish Parliament elections, however I am not qualified to vote in the EU Referendum. Considering last year’s Independence Referendum which had high engagement and electoral turnout from young people, this is simply not fair.
Myself, and other sixteen and seventeen year olds, are being pushed back into the cusp of traditional politics where young people are disengaged and silenced.
Time after time we have heard politicians claim that “young people are the future.” And for some, this belief is genuine, but for others it is not.
In Scotland, under the SNP Government, sixteen and seventeen year olds were given the opportunity to vote in the Independence Referendum. This signified a monumental shift in the Scottish political arena which enabled young people to enter the spotlight with a voice, instead of lurking in the silenced shadows. To begin with, this was an area of great contention. However, key political figures have expressed support for the extension of the franchise including Kezia Dugdale (Leader of the Scottish Labour Party) and Ruth Davidson (Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party). It’s reassuring to see cross-party consensus, but once again, the voice of Scotland is rejected.
About 100,000 under-18s – 80 per cent of the eligible total – signed up to vote in the Independence Referendum.
Scotland has identified that the traditional mould of voters has been broken, and as a result, sixteen and seventeen year olds are now able to vote in Scottish parliament elections and local authority elections. This is a fantastic move for the country – thousands of young people will be arriving at polling stations and expressing their opinion on who is best suited to represent them in the Scottish Parliament.
In May, sixteen and seventeen year olds will be voting in the Holyrood Elections. But, in the EU Referendum – which is looking increasingly likely to happen in June – they won’t.
Young people in Scotland have embraced democracy like never before. Yet the UK Government is banning young people from engaging in their future. This tone adopted by Westminster is not only undemocratic but also unprincipled. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has a responsibility to ensure it is an open debate that encourages involvement from all areas of society. It is simply wrong to silence young people.
Sixteen and seventeen year olds can pay taxes, get married and join the armed forces. It is only fair that they should be entitled to vote.
To be eligible to vote in the Independence Referendum and the Scottish Parliament Elections, but then to told that extending the franchise “would damage the public’s confidence in the result of the vote” is outrageous.
The Conservative Government is consistently letting down young people. We are the future. So let’s not be locked out from engaging. Instead, let’s be encouraged, supported and inspired.