As the lead up to voting night on the independence referendum in Scotland grew closer, and supporters of the Yes Scotland and Better Together movements were making their case to the electorate, vot
As the lead up to voting night on the independence referendum in Scotland grew closer, and supporters of the Yes Scotland and Better Together movements were making their case to the electorate, voters aged 16 and 17 were making their voices heard.
They were able to vote, under the agreement signed by the Scottish and UK governments in 2012. Over 100,000 16 and 17 year olds were registered to vote of 4.29 million registered Scottish voters, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal, and their ability to do so has reignited the debate on whether the voting age in the UK should be lowered to age 16.
Calls have been made within the last week to do so by Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and at the party conference this week, Labour leader Ed Miliband said should his party be elected, the voting age would be lowered to 16.
An early habit
Individual 16 year olds have also called for the age to be lowered. Emma Jacobs, an aspiring journalist who is studying for her A Levels, writing in The Guardian, says the voting age should be lowered.
“At my age I can buy a lottery ticket, have sex, drive a moped and leave school,” Jacobs said. “So why am I responsible enough to have a baby or win the lottery, but not old enough to vote? The social contract that governs our society says we should have no rights without responsibilities, but we teenagers have lots of responsibilities without the precious right to vote.”
Indeed, as Dr Rebecca Rumbul, an honorary research fellow of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University, who has testified in Parliament on the subject, says voting can be a habit if it’s picked up early enough.
“Research demonstrates that voting is a habit that endures if it is picked up early enough, and enabling young people to vote whilst still in the educational system will hopefully reinforce the habit through both active discussion in the classroom, and peer encouragement outside it,” Rumbul said, reached by email. “This could also increase the likelihood of young people voting who are not encouraged to do so at home.”
Can it really happen?
Rumbul said that despite the referendum being a constitutional issue, it raised questions on whether these voters would be engaged by the time of a general election. However, it could be picked up by the individual as a habit if they started early enough.
But is the move to lower the voting age currently realistic? Reached by telephone, a spokesperson for Downing Street said Prime Minister David Cameron believed the case had not been made to lower the voting age, and that not lowering the voting age is the view that is shared across the UK.
Indeed, while Rumbul says she hopes the voting age is lowered, it is not high up on the political agenda.
“Young people are not a group that votes in large enough numbers to swing an election, and the grey vote will always take priority,” Rumbul said. “I’m not sure there is great enough political will, and I suspect that the momentum in the argument built up by the referendum will be lost in the constitutional discussion that is ongoing. There are also many practical administrative barriers that aren’t insurmountable, but act as a deterrent.”
What do you think? Should the voting age be lowered to 16? Have your say in the comments section below.