There is no principled reason to support votes for 16-year-olds

EU Commission, October 2007, Amio Cajander

There is something a bit weird about a 16-year-old that is interested in politics.

In fact that’s true of most age groups. However near you are to God’s waiting room, politics is a minority pastime practised by the few and enjoyed by the fewer. Whilst the art about politics tends to focus on inspirational revolutionaries the reality is drabber: a schedule of committees on road marking regulations and evenings spent stuffing envelopes.

As such it seems a fair guess that teenagers would rather spend their free time shagging or acquiring a taste for hard liquor. But you wouldn’t know that from the fury of electoral reformers angry that 16-and-17-years-olds won’t be voting in the referendum on whether Britain should stay in the EU, under plans announced by the Tory government.

The decision follows what was dismissed as a cynical Scottish Nationalist move to include more of the yoot in the ballot on Scottish independence last September. According to a poll by Michael Ashcroft, a Conservative peer, 70 percent of the 100,000 16-and-17-year-olds who turned up backed independence, though it did not shift the result enough to matter.

Now both Labour and the Scottish Nats are hoping to amend the EU referendum bill currently going through Parliament, either by convincing enough Tory rebels to scupper it in the Commons, or by achieving something similar in the Lords.

From my vantage point there is no strong principle that would exclude or include 16-or-17-year-olds in any vote. As the law stands distinctions are made between someone of 16 years and someone of 18 years on all sorts of issues: from what minimum wage you are given to whether you can serve on the front-line during war.

Right now there are bad arguments mustering on both sides of the debate. On the side of the yoot are those who claim “It’s their future too” – a principle that would surely oblige you to include anybody who had left the womb – and on the other are those that claim 16-year-olds lack the necessary experience, though it is not obvious why they have drawn the line at 18.

Indeed few seem willing to admit that the voting age is mostly arbitrary. It is a line we draw as a matter of judgement rather than principle, and what you advocate is often determined by electoral advantage more than good argument.

Should we have more young’uns voting it seems a fair bet that will improve our odds of remaining in the EU. Indeed a study commissioned by the government in 2013 found that only a quarter of young people want to leave the EU, compared to roughly half of the general population at the time.

What this all means is that the cynicism of referendums has begun in earnest. Expect much more over the next two years.

Header Image – EU Commission, Amio Cajander

Jimmy Nicholls
Writes somewhat about British politics and associated matters. Contact

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