Early day motion 31 called for 16 and 17 year olds to be able to vote in the EU referendum. It received 58 supporting signatures in total made up of 28 SNP, 19 Labour and 6 Liberal Democrats with the remaining 5 from various other parties.
The reasons given in the motion for reducing the voting age were as follows:
- The EU referendum is materially different to the general election, in that the outcome cannot be reversed five years later, therefore special rules should apply
- Has a huge impact on young peoples futures
- 16 and 17 year olds can work and pay taxes
- Join the armed forces
- Start a family
- There were high levels of participation from this age group in the Scottish referendum
I find the supporting reasons rather weak. General election outcomes cannot be reversed five years later. Successive governments will pick up from where the previous administration left matters and adjust course through incremental changes. The Conservative party, during the election campaign of 2015, repeatedly blamed the previous Labour administration as the reason for the their own failure to make sufficient progress in economic recovery. They couldn’t simply reverse matters.
The EU referendum has a huge impact on the future of young people including those in primary and secondary education not just those that are 16-17 years old. There are few 16-17 year olds in employment that exceed the single person allowance to qualify for tax. So this point is rather academic. You can join the armed forces at 16 to begin training but the chances of being placed on the front line of combat is very unlikely.
The age of consent enables a 16 year old to start a family but it does not follow that the 16 year old is responsible.
It is in the nature of the young to be bold and different. To try out new ideas and experiences and to some extent rebel from the established ways of doing things. The SNP was able to leverage this and mobilise the young because they offered an exciting new future for Scotland and a rebellion against the established parties. That does not mean young people in Scotland were making a wise and considered decision regarding the future of their nation. The young are full of enthusiasm and ideals but they also can make rash decisions that are regrettable in the fullness of time. High voter participation amongst the young in the Scottish referendum is not a good reason to call for the same in the EU referendum.
Young people are finding their place in the world. Learning, developing and thinking through their political ideas. It is a time of immense change in their lives. Mistakes, indecision, changing of minds are all part of this stage of development. A desire to make a change combined with rebellion against the establishment is the nature of being young. This settles with maturity that comes with age. It is not appropriate for people of such a young age to participate in elections that will have long term consequences based on a decision that they may well want to change afterwards. The EU referendum requires a considered decision to be made by those that have developed an appropriate level of political maturity. Setting and retaining the voting age at 18 goes some way in ensuring that happens.