In amongst so much negativity surrounding the Scottish Independence Referendum there was one significant point of light and hope for the political processes of the United Kingdom. The referendum gave 16 and 17 year olds the vote and this has galvanised discussion about enfranchising this age group for future elections. I have always thought it strange that a 16 year old could be expected to pay taxes and yet not have a vote in elections which may determine how those taxes will be spent. One of my earliest political recollections is the phrase 'no taxation without representation' and it has stuck with me through the years since I began studying political history. I remember casting my first vote in a national election in 1979 at the age of 19 and it was a momentous time both personally and nationally. Needless to say the party I voted for didn't get elected.
Some people have questioned whether a 16 year old is ready for the weight of responsibility that comes with voting. Yesterday I heard two young people discussing the right to vote on BBC Radio 5 Live. One had voted in the Scottish referendum and the other, from England, wanted to know what it was like. It was one of the most insightful pieces of political discourse that I have heard in a long time and the presenter stopped asking questions and sat back to let them engage in debate. I was driving my daughter, also 16, during the broadcast and as it came to an end she simply nodded and gave a thumbs up. We then continued to discuss the issue on the journey. Both the contributors on radio and my daughter demonstrated more political maturity in those few minutes than you will hear across the party political conferences over the next few weeks. If you don't believe me just look at this morning's headlines about Ed Miliband's speech, which have focused on whether he has blown his chances of electoral victory, not because of the merits of policy, but based on his ability to memorise a speech! Is that what we have come to? Sadly, I fear the answer is yes, when the chief quality determining our political leaders seems to be how much like Hugh Grant they can look in a television debate.
So I'm in favour of giving votes to teenagers like my daughter. Let's face it, they can't make more of a mess of this politics business than we have managed over the years.
Update: You can hear the debate on 5 Live referred to in this post at 1:51:25 here.
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