Currently within the UK, 16 and 17 year olds are denied the vote. This is based on the assumption that younger citizens are not mature enough and lack the intellectual capacity to make an educated, informed decision in the general election. However, as the Scottish referendum has proven, this argument couldn’t be more wrong. Giving 16 year olds the vote in the Scottish referendum was the first step to achieving greater democracy in the UK. I was thrilled to hear that more than 100,000 16-17 year olds went to the polling station and voted on 18th September.
The younger generation has proven their willingness to become involved in politics, which makes it extremely difficult for me to comprehend how they are still denied the right to vote in our modern day democracy. It is unfair, undemocratic, exclusionary and ultimately a breach of their human rights. Article 3, Protocol 1 of the Human Rights Act outlines the participation in free and fair elections as a fundamental human right. So why is it legitimate to deny these citizens the right to vote over others? Sixteen and seventeen year olds in the UK contribute a great deal to society and are personally involved in many public goods provided to them by the government, yet their voices are deemed irrelevant in this ‘democracy’. At the age of 16 you are able to: pay income tax and national insurance, join the armed forces, change your name, get married, have sex, leave school, give consent to medical treatment, obtain welfare benefits and become a member of a trade union. All of these activities are highly politicised, yet 16 and 17 year olds have no influence over potential government policies that affect their every day lives.
Many underestimate the capabilities of 16 and 17 year olds when they claim they are unable to make an educated decision in a general election. Citizenship lessons in the UK are compulsory for students in secondary education, arguably these students have gained more knowledge of the current society and political system than many eligible voters have ever had. It cannot be said that 18+ citizens are more capable of voting than 16+ citizens. When I was 16 I took ‘Government and Politics’ lessons in school and gained more knowledge about the political system than many eligible voters three times my age, and I know this is increasingly the case all over the country.
The exclusion of 16 and 17 year olds from the political system is unjustifiable. Democracy is fundamentally based on the participation of all citizens in free and fair elections – for me, the UK lacks legitimacy as a democratic nation due to the exclusion of a perfectly educated and competent percentage of the population from the political process. Votes at 16 should have been placed at the top of the political agenda years ago; I cannot comprehend how in a modern day democracy we are still denying a vital proportion of the population the right to vote. Age should cease to be an issue in a democratic general election; after all, it is not a person’s age but their views that count (or at least it should be).
Bryony studies International Relations and Politcs at The University of Sheffield. She is 19 and this was the first time she has voted in a General Election.
Follow Bryony – @Bryvince