In 2016/17 the UK will come to the polls to make one of the biggest decisions of the past 50 years – should the UK stay in EU? But one group will be left out of this all-important vote, the group who will be most affected by this change, 16 and 17-year-olds. Having just turned 17 there is a high possibility that I will not be able to cast a vote in a 2016 election, denying my right to be heard. And to paraphrase a young William Hague “Half of you won’t be here in 30 or 40 years’ time”, but others will have to live with consequences”. As someone who would have to live with the consequences of a vote I only see it as fair that I should be able to have a say in the matter.
The main argument against giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote is that 16 or 17 year olds are too immature to make such important decisions. But where’s the evidence? Without resorting to clichés, we can leave school, start a job, or an apprenticeship and chose school subjects that will affect the rest of their lives. In the modern world we are given a lot of responsibilities so voting in elections isn’t too daunting. In school as part of the Welsh Bac we are given lessons on politics and citizenship, giving all 16/17 year olds an understanding of the political system. And the internet allows young people a wide base of knowledge about international affairs. So it cannot be argued that maturity is a reason to stop us voting.
The work that many 16 and 17 year olds do is effected by the EU, and because of this we should be able to have a vote on matters that will regard our current or future careers. For example, Airbus employs over 100,000 people in the UK including a large number of apprentices and young skilled workers. These jobs rely on the EU links between Britain and France, and leaving the EU could put the jobs at risk. The 12% of jobs linked with EU exports include a large percentage of under 18s who work in manufacturing and the construction industry. The voices of people whose jobs depend on this link will not be heard.
Giving votes to us for single elections isn’t a completely new idea. In the Scottish Referendum 16 and 17 year olds were given the right to vote. I believe this was fair, as people who would be most affected by leaving the union got the right to vote. This gave young people a voice for their future for the first time in British history and has been seen as a resounding success by the majority of people. With a high turnout young people in Scotland showed that they were engaged in what was going on and then has allowed people to vote locally and at Holyrood. The Scottish example shows that we as young people are deserving of a vote in all UK elections – we are engaged and politically active. There is support from the SNP and Labour to allow 16/17 year olds to vote because they have a “tremendous vested interest in whether or not we stay in the EU or leave”.
In Austria the vote was given to 16 and 17 year olds to counter the effect of an aging population. The effect of an older population who often vote is that politicians tend to veer towards the “grey vote” aiming more polices towards older people. Young people’s votes could lead to more polices beneficial towards young people, for example, pressure to keep EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance).
All 16/17 year olds should be able to vote in the European election. These votes will have an effect on the rest of our lives. Without the vote, our opinions will not be heard by society and we will not be able to make a difference, even though we have an opinion. As Robert Frost said Thinking isn’t agreeing or disagreeing. That’s voting.