I haven’t bothered reading very much about the Power Inquiry because I’ve heard from some that it’s pretty much predictable stuff (â€œa bit like a reformers greatest hits albumâ€) and from others that it’s not actually that good. Besideswhich, there have been several reports that have made obvious common sense suggestions for electoral reform which have all been ignored by Labour, so there’s no reason to believe why this new one should be any reason to get optimistic.
But I was interested by this post on Jawbox about the votes at 16 idea. Ben Phillips is, if I remember correctly, not yet old enough to vote (please correct me if this is wrong) and it is intriguing that he is not in favour of lowering the voting age.
Before I hit 18 I was in favour of votes at 16, but now I’m not so sure. (And the steady journey to becoming an old Tory codger continues apace.) Of course, it all looks very different when you’re on the other side of the barrier. I know little about it, although I guess fewer men than women were in favour of women’s suffrage, and so on.
Ben is worried that sixteen year olds are more likely to vote BNP or just vote for who their parents tell them to because they’re more impressionable. It’s a good point, although I would have thought that people will always tend to vote the way their parents did, often because of shared heritage, socioeconomic reasons and so on. I probably began disagreeing with my parents at the age of about 14, and today at 19 I probably spend more time disagreeing than agreeing with him. But we’re all different. It’s difficult to believe, though, that people will turn 18 and all of a sudden at the click of your fingers they will no longer vote BNP or just blindly follow their parents.
By the same token, though, there is no reason why that should be the case at 16 either. I also agree with Ben that if a youngster is going to be interested in current affairs and politics, he’s going to be interested anyway, regardless of whether they get to vote at 16, 18, 21 or 6.
18-year-olds are pretty impressionable as well though. There are many who think that the voting age should be set at 21, and at times it’s easy to see why. At university it is difficult to encounter anybody who isn’t busy trying to have the most trendy and right-on political views. Indeed, Edinburgh students have just voted in that enormous bore Mark “Who? (Green list MSP)” Ballard as rector, presumably because he’s a Green, and that’s trendy and right-on.
Does this make their opinions worthless though? Of course it doesn’t. So where should the age limit be set? I really don’t know. I would probably still say 16. But I think the age itself isn’t so important. Growing up, it’s difficult to know when you become an adult. At 16 you can get married (in Scotland at least), are expected to be responsible enough to raise a child, make the decision to smoke yourself to death, and be sent off to fight a war by a government that you haven’t voted for. At 17 you’re let loose on the roads. At 18 you can vote, but there are still many rights yet to be granted.
Moreover, sixteen-year-olds are unique because they have direct experience of one of politics’ greatest hot potatoes, education. By that age, people take their education pretty seriously, so it’s fair to say that they would vote sensibly on the issue according to what they perceive to be their best interests. These are the people that are really affected by education policies, so why are they given the right to vote as soon as they leave school?
That’s why I think 16 is probably right on balance. But who am I to say that the age limits for marrying, smoking, etc, shouldn’t be raised to 18? I’m not all that fussed about it any more — but then it’s easy to say that standing on this side of the barrier.